The exposure of the 23rd July episode by Tehelka as a cold blooded staged killing provided sufficient reasons for mass outcry and evident general solidarity to an already aggrieved class of the Manipuri populace. This aggrieved class of people is generally located at the extreme edge of alienation from the state apparatuses and in addition they are lesser beneficiaries of the state resources and there is a possibility of having been victims directly at the hands of state apparatuses. This class of people ought to be prepared to raise a durable voice to ensure justice. Nevertheless, when there is a given situation of extra-ordinary violation of basic democratic norms, the section of people who are comparatively close to the state and benefiting from the state may issue condemnation and extend moral support to the (radical) people’s outcry. But there is a high possibility on the part of such section of people to retract and reverse their positions when the radical movement aimed at addressing a specific concern for justice or certain political objective starts to have wholesome effect on the normal courses of their interest, properties and faculties of resources. Therefore, responses to wider movements would find natural allies and contenders as well. Nevertheless, the failure on the part of a movement to augment well the concerns of the sections of people which it claims to represent and fight for would also lead to unnecessary situations of contentions. This contention may happen between/among communities having similar political history or classes of people. Such a hypothetical proposition has found a suitable explanation in the form of the unfolding political trajectories in the aftermath of 23rd July incident as discussed here.
The ongoing protest movement spearheaded by Apunba Lup in association with three students’ organisations and concerned Joint Action Committees of the victims killed on 23rd July 2009 is gradually becoming a lot more complex than when it was launched. The complexity is because there has been no sight of people’s rights and concerns, as sought by the ongoing movement, reigning over the incumbent government which has been maintaining a deafening silence all these days. There is a massive hammering of the civil leadership on one side and the issue of indefinite class boycott on the other as part of the ongoing agitation which in turn has brought in a wholesome, but debated, feeling of deprivation of children’s right to education in the state. As the protest and demand for dismissal of the police personnel involved in the 23rd July killing and resignation of the Chief Minister go unheeded, the suspension of classes in the schools, colleges and university remain effective due to the strictures set by the agitators.
Except the government, people from almost all walks of life including guardians, private school associations, college fraternity, senior citizens and many more forums have started to respond to the present state of crisis in the state. The widespread response to the situation has become apparently stronger for the main reason that the major chunk of children in the state are not able to go to school. In this way, there are two emergent voices in the state today; one, demand for justice against the 23rd July killing and second, to avail education to children, whatever the consequences may be. These two voices, at present, seem to be placed in un-corollary segments potentially meant to dissect public opinion. In this regard, ATSUM, DESAM, guardians’ association and private school fraternity have expressed their desire to resume classes. As a response, AMSU, MSF and KSA have issued clarifications and determinate expressions to continue the class suspension unless justice is done to the victims of the 23rd July firing incident.
It is in this situation of divided public opinion mainly at the civil society level, the core issue of Justice with regard to the 23rd July twin killing is gradually taking a backseat. Of late, the public debates, commonly shown on ISTV and reported in local papers, and specific strand writings in local newspapers hint to the fact that the Justice debate has taken a detour. For example, the seeming framework of the organizations chipping in lately and the contents of the speeches delivered in the organised ‘Open Discussions’ have shown firmer stands to bring back education to its normal course. The concerning matter in the ‘education first’ campaign lately launched by several organizations including some students organizations, guardians’ association and private schools’ fraternity is the growing irony of a fast internalizing problem which in turn is going to take away the issue from people’s hands. The positions taken by several organizations while giving primacy to education seem to have been largely preparing to poise against the organizations spearheading the movement sparked off by the 23rd July killing and the subsequent class boycott agitation.
The worrying aspect of the ‘education first’ campaign or exclusion of education from the gamut of the movement is that politicians and elites of some sections of the society have started to exploit the situation by raising ethnic cards, making communal gesture, derogatory remarks, political rhetoric, etc. Yenning agrees to the point that it would have been better if the Apunba Lup and the three students’ organisations had issued a participatory call to several major associations and forums in the hills and valley of Manipur as this would have been a visionary ground for a unified movement. This would have pre-empted unnecessary hill-valley and urban-rural debates.
As the positions of several associations are deciding to resume classes sooner bypassing the present unresolved crisis, it could be nothing more than a prelude to harder complexities and highly divided ways of mobilizing public opinion. In other words, it can be said that there are two emergent strands – Justice & Education – of political mobilization that is expected to be played in the state if the situation is not brought to an amicable solution. One of the important roles that can come from the organization intending to resume classes is to locate the question of Justice at the centre of their recommendations as it would help in mounting effective pressure on the government. Organisations and intellectuals writing in favour of resuming classes should not miss out on the deliverance of justice and should discourage pitching civil associations against each other. The announcement to resume classes by 3rd November by some school fraternity might lead to further complication of the situation which would not be helpful in resolving the crisis with a respectable deliverance of Justice. In a highly militarised society like ours where human rights violation including the right to life have become a common and frequent occurrence, any division within the civil society will only benefit the state at the cost of the common mass. It is crucial for the civil society to stand united, and for that matter civil society organisations need to work coherently on all issues including the right to life and right to education.
Having seen the delicate situation in the state, it would be suggestive to the civil society organizations that they sit down together and communicate their concerns and work out a collective consensus.
The civil society organisations and scholars of the state should thrash out the root causes of the durable turmoil in the state. Failure to do so would only land the people in more complex situations and internalisation of all issues. The main problem is not about class suspension or class resumption but about the way in which a government and a state erected on the acclaimed democratic ethos have outrightly remained silent to the people’s outcry. Failure to underscore this fundamental concern would leave serious implications in future as it can eventually lead to dislocation of the problems inherent in the national imagination and its practices in India. The long drawn silence of the state was perhaps expecting this juncture of contradiction within the public opinion so as to affect a natural death of the spearheading organizations and their voice.
Yenning is aware of the fact that the context of the present conflict situation in Manipur is not a law and order problem. However, at present, the main issue should be the question of Justice as the present movement is a specific moment that means to defeat a political culture that is inherent of a regime that oppresses and which is devoid of the basic norms supposed to be featured in democratic political culture. The demand for dismissal of the involved police personnel is a straight fight to nail down the inherent atrocities and to unfold contradictions within a regime that boasts of its democratic successes. Therefore, it would be visionary if we all remain not vulnerable to ideologies which treat the question of life and education as that of chicken and egg chronology.
This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, November 1, 2009