Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Reason to Smile or Time to Introspect ?

People in Manipur woke up with a smile on September 10, 2010 or at least the headlines of the leading newspapers in Manipur made them smile. Previous night, few had the opportunity of watching the news on television. The unlucky ones were kept informed through phone calls and sms(es) by well wishers and friends. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had filed a chargesheet in the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate against the killers of Ch Sanjit and a young pregnant woman Rabina Devi. A year and few days ago, on July 23, 2009, when the Manipur Assembly session was in full swing, both of them were killed by the Manipur Police Commando and five others sustained bullet injuries. Declaration by the Chief Minister on the floor of the Assembly made ripples, and Sanjit remained the usual suspect until Tehelka uncovered the dirt (the staged killing). 
Movement for justice by civil society bodies under the leadership of Apunba Lup including closure of educational institutions for more than three months could not move the solid rock stance of the Government. The culprits remained scot-free. In fact, once again, the July 23 episode exposed the dark side of the Government as usual. Literally, backbones of the civil society bodies were broken using monkey-like motorcycle-riding lathi-wielding commandoes and other police forces or through the sending of numerous civil society leaders to jail under National Security Act. In addition, Machiavellian politics was adopted whereby certain “organisations” were floated by the Government to counter the movement. Education, all of a sudden, became more important than life. Nevertheless, in spite of the sacrifices, as days went by the shell-shocked crying son of Rabina on BT Road and the earthen pot in which the foetus of Rabina was kept by the side of her funeral pyre became distant memories. Tehelka’s sequential photographs revealing the staged murder of Sanjit in glossy Indian magazines became collectors’ item, not a living proof of the decadence that has seeped into the already decadent Manipuri society. Justice Agarwal Commission remained just another Commission – another feather to crown the glory of Indian democracy.

Report of the CBI chargesheet has arrived like the wisp of autumn wind trying to blow away the troublesome naughty monsoon rain except that the monsoon rain has not cleaned the sinner that Manipur is. And the arrival of the report like the autumn wind holds no promises; winter cannot be far away so as to freeze our sorrow all the more and make us numb and immobile. We can only smile at the moment and the report of the chargesheet is simply like a cooling balm to soothe us of the fierce existential crisis just like the hot tropical sun. Thus, celebration is a far away event. The CBI, true to its professional acumen and practical political sagacity, thus, has added the practical reality in the form of a remainder while releasing its report of filing the chargesheet. It reads:

[…] the above findings of the CBI are not the final proof of the guilt of the accused. Under the Indian Law, the accused are presumed to be innocent till their guilt is finally established after a fair trial.

The reminder is more meaningful given the kind of murkiness surrounding every sphere of life in Manipur. We’re an ancient race of people living in an ancient land but whose integrity is strongly challenged. This brings us the necessity to move away from the issue at hand, such as, whether the “guilty” would be punished or not, or whether the civil society bodies that have spearheaded the movement will emerge victorious. Instead let’s try to engage ourselves with some of the inherent contradictions prevalent in our society. For example, let’s take the case of the civil society bodies fighting against numerous odds even when civility is missing in our society. The understanding of civil is not the absence of military per se. And civility is not merely the acknowledgement of another’s existence but also respecting the network of values that enables the community to work together beyond the issues of survival. In the course of our civilizational evolution, we have retained from the days of the yore, a collective survival strategy erstwhile represented by Shinglup. In our case survival still continues to be the basis of collective solidarity. But the issue of a moral community is a sore point and even political in any of its amoebic form need to have a moral basis or the inviolable individual rights. 

This brings us to the question, what is so civil about the Manipuri society today? Only when we’re in a position to address the malaise or the paradox (if one prefers), then perhaps, we would be in a position to predict or even score any kind of victory we dearly dream of. Celebrations would follow naturally. Success of the civil society movement will depend upon the ability to instill a civic sense among the people. This is an issue that needs to be addressed at an equal footing while talking about “civil society organisations” fighting against tyrant acts, corrupt practices and condemn killings staged by the State and others. Yes, killings in any form are condemnable other than ones originating from biological odds. However, while wrangling with the extraordinary, such as deaths that are political and corruptions that are vicious, we also need to realign ourselves with the issues of the mundane and the ordinary, and ask ourselves if we are civil enough in the real sense of term and justified in talking about the extraordinary and the states of exception. Perhaps, cynics would say, death lurks around and so gripping that our engagement with the issues of survival needs to be resolved and give primary. But the problem is while our engagement is such, we have allowed ourselves to be drowned in a parasitic society.
When Geogio Agambem talks about the state of exception, he underscores people (biological as well as ethical) whose lives have been placed under extraordinary sovereign power of the state. Under the extraordinary constitutional situation, such as war, people are given limited rights and probability of death not on account of enemy action but ensuing from the own state is critically high. Even if his focus is on the legal aspect of state, he speaks on behalf of the ethical essence of the people, and thus forbids reduction of the people to its biological species such as the homo sapiens (one devoid of the ethical dimension). From this perspective, removal of the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act, which is similar to the state of exception and have become normal in the eyes of the state, is mandatory and justified. But apart from the operation of a state of exception symbolised by AFSPA, there are other “exceptions” and “extraordinary” that are accepted as normal and ordinary, in the sense that they refuse to evoke awe or even exclamation from fellow Manipuris.
Take the case of Tangkhai chabi. Earlier associated with a form of agricultural practice wherein produce is shared between the owner of the land and laboring party, today, this agrarian practice has been extended in the field of education. Lups concerned with “quality education” are silent on this topic. On the other hand, hill brethrens who are up in arms against exploitation and oppression by the Meitei chauvinists, especially in terms of absenting themselves away from offices of work and educational institutions, still continues to be lured with the proposal of tangkhai chabi.

Admission by students in colleges mainly for the purpose of standing for election in the college students’ union is another issue which none of the students organizations have condemned. Similarly, when newspapers are cluttered with declarations by student organisations for quality education and “making education a free zone”, outfits continue to disturb the working environment of educational institutions. Over and above, at a time when college teachers are up in arms demanding revision of salary in line with 6th Pay Commission (UGC guidelines), colleges continue to be run by around ten percent of the teaching staff. In other words, few teachers have the habit of taking regular classes. Yenning has nothing against the implementation of the new pay structure. But the issue is one of professional ethics.

As have occurred in any memorable episodes of history, two generalities mark our contemporary lives. Blames heaped upon the sovereign, be it on an absolute ruler such as Pamheiba otherwise known as Garibniwas or a modern State such as expressed in the form of the Indian State or armed opposition groups. Fortunately enough, we have “others” to blame for all the woes gripping our lives and none to blame ourselves. Such is the general outlook, and within this framework emerge and operate enumerable civil society bodies for justice. Will the kind of justice be cordial enough to bring about a just society and rid off of the extraordinary and the exception? 

This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, September 12, 2010 

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