Date:

Empathy connects

The ironic yet beautiful thing about empathy is, it is born out of an awareness of humanity’s shared tragic predicament. As well-known American economist and social theorist, Jeremy Rifkin writes in “The Empathic Civilisation”, there can be no empathy in heaven. It is the sense of mortality and an awareness of the impermanence of life which is behind the connectedness of one human to the other. It is indeed not a Utopian phenomenon. A child the time he or she is two and half years old can recognize herself in the mirror, and becomes conscious of her uniqueness as well as relatedness with other humans. By the time she is eight years old, she is fully conscious of death and its inevitability, and that all her close ones, and indeed she herself would ultimately cease to exist someday. It is out of this awareness of the essential tragedy of life that this noble state of consciousness is born. Empathy is different from sympathy or compassion. In sympathy, the observer takes cognizance of the distress of another and extends moral solidarity. Compassion goes one step further and the observer besides taking cognizance of the distress of the other also is ready to extend help. In empathy, it is no longer just about the observer taking cognizance of somebody else’s circumstance, distressful or otherwise, but actually feeling the distress as her own. This empathic connectedness has a scientific neurological basis, as Rifkin points out. Human beings, and many other higher primates are soft-wired to feel each other’s feelings, and sense each other’s sensations to a great extent, and this happens through what are known as mirror neurons. These mirror neurons in one person becomes activated by witnessing another person going through any unique experience, especially distressful ones. You watch somebody else solve a physical problem, and you learn how to do it yourself without even doing it; somebody eats a very sour fruit in front of you and your mouth waters; you spot a spider climbing somebody’s neck and you feel uneasy in your own neck; you see somebody injured badly in a road accident, and you feel faint. These are only some examples how empathy is evident in everybody’s everyday life. Of course there are pathological cases, where a person remains totally indifferent to another’s plight, as for instance in the cases of sadistic and masochistic people.

The other fact about empathy is, its bondages are strongest amongst those sharing similar circumstances. It could be co-religionists, nationalistic feelings, political ideology, economic circumstances, geographical predicament etc. Take a hypothetical situation of an Imphal marketplace shared by women vendors of different communities. If one of the women were to one day tell her companion vendors that she would have to return home early as her husband was unwell and her daughter has a school examination the next day and requested them to take care of her wares, it is only imaginable the empathy bondages that would come alive even if the women belonged to different communities or religion. They intuitively know they it could just as well have been themselves in the unfortunate woman’s circumstance. This is the kind of bondages that places like our badly needs to explore at this juncture. Indeed, in a recent summit organised by the Kohima based Entrepreneurs Associates for fostering a closer fraternity between Nagaland and Manipur through business, as a keynote speaker, the editor IFP spoke on the need for all in these two states to explore such bondages. There is no denying the two states share a geographical destiny as well as political and economic circumstances so closely intertwined that they can hardly do without each other, even if some seem to think this is desirable. Since the circumstances the people in both the states are exposed to are so similar, it should not be difficult for them to feel each other’s feeling and with it build the bondages that only an empathetic relationship can build. This was a meeting of minds of the two states, therefore the focus was on the relationship that are possible between their peoples, but the logic of this bondages would extend to  all others in similar geographical and social circumstances.

Scientists also now tell us now that the empathic civilisation has been on a constant expansion path, dependent on transforming economy and technology, and with them the changes in human consciousness. The hunter-gatherer whose world was limited to his or her immediate blood relatives and clans, to the larger fraternal bonds of religious and nationalistic consciousness brought about by the arrival of settled agriculture and its bounties, to psychological consciousness that come with advent of the electronic communication age etc. The empathic bondages today are no longer restricted to clans, tribes, linguistic and religious communities. In today’s global world, it has even shot past concerns for humanity and the empathy net now has even touched concerns for environment and the earth. This empathic civilisation holds immense possibilities for peace and harmony, and these possibilities must not be laid waste for the lack of an effort to identify and build on them.

Empathy connects

The ironic yet beautiful thing about empathy is, it is born out of an awareness of humanity’s shared tragic predicament. As well-known American economist and social theorist, Jeremy Rifkin writes in “The Empathic Civilisation”, there can be no empathy in heaven. It is the sense of mortality and an awareness of the impermanence of life which is behind the connectedness of one human to the other. It is indeed not a Utopian phenomenon. A child the time he or she is two and half years old can recognize herself in the mirror, and becomes conscious of her uniqueness as well as relatedness with other humans. By the time she is eight years old, she is fully conscious of death and its inevitability, and that all her close ones, and indeed she herself would ultimately cease to exist someday. It is out of this awareness of the essential tragedy of life that this noble state of consciousness is born. Empathy is different from sympathy or compassion. In sympathy, the observer takes cognizance of the distress of another and extends moral solidarity. Compassion goes one step further and the observer besides taking cognizance of the distress of the other also is ready to extend help. In empathy, it is no longer just about the observer taking cognizance of somebody else’s circumstance, distressful or otherwise, but actually feeling the distress as her own. This empathic connectedness has a scientific neurological basis, as Rifkin points out. Human beings, and many other higher primates are soft-wired to feel each other’s feelings, and sense each other’s sensations to a great extent, and this happens through what are known as mirror neurons. These mirror neurons in one person becomes activated by witnessing another person going through any unique experience, especially distressful ones. You watch somebody else solve a physical problem, and you learn how to do it yourself without even doing it; somebody eats a very sour fruit in front of you and your mouth waters; you spot a spider climbing somebody’s neck and you feel uneasy in your own neck; you see somebody injured badly in a road accident, and you feel faint. These are only some examples how empathy is evident in everybody’s everyday life. Of course there are pathological cases, where a person remains totally indifferent to another’s plight, as for instance in the cases of sadistic and masochistic people.

The other fact about empathy is, its bondages are strongest amongst those sharing similar circumstances. It could be co-religionists, nationalistic feelings, political ideology, economic circumstances, geographical predicament etc. Take a hypothetical situation of an Imphal marketplace shared by women vendors of different communities. If one of the women were to one day tell her companion vendors that she would have to return home early as her husband was unwell and her daughter has a school examination the next day and requested them to take care of her wares, it is only imaginable the empathy bondages that would come alive even if the women belonged to different communities or religion. They intuitively know they it could just as well have been themselves in the unfortunate woman’s circumstance. This is the kind of bondages that places like our badly needs to explore at this juncture. Indeed, in a recent summit organised by the Kohima based Entrepreneurs Associates for fostering a closer fraternity between Nagaland and Manipur through business, as a keynote speaker, the editor IFP spoke on the need for all in these two states to explore such bondages. There is no denying the two states share a geographical destiny as well as political and economic circumstances so closely intertwined that they can hardly do without each other, even if some seem to think this is desirable. Since the circumstances the people in both the states are exposed to are so similar, it should not be difficult for them to feel each other’s feeling and with it build the bondages that only an empathetic relationship can build. This was a meeting of minds of the two states, therefore the focus was on the relationship that are possible between their peoples, but the logic of this bondages would extend to  all others in similar geographical and social circumstances.

Scientists also now tell us now that the empathic civilisation has been on a constant expansion path, dependent on transforming economy and technology, and with them the changes in human consciousness. The hunter-gatherer whose world was limited to his or her immediate blood relatives and clans, to the larger fraternal bonds of religious and nationalistic consciousness brought about by the arrival of settled agriculture and its bounties, to psychological consciousness that come with advent of the electronic communication age etc. The empathic bondages today are no longer restricted to clans, tribes, linguistic and religious communities. In today’s global world, it has even shot past concerns for humanity and the empathy net now has even touched concerns for environment and the earth. This empathic civilisation holds immense possibilities for peace and harmony, and these possibilities must not be laid waste for the lack of an effort to identify and build on them.

Decoding cybercrime maze

Political jhumla-baji emanated from rhetoric of incumbent ‘Bharatiya’ bigwigs resonates time and again in the form of utopian dreams of ‘digitising India’ and ushering in of a ‘cashless economy’. Besides ‘cherished’ dreams like Dick-Harry-mukt Bharat, Opposition-mukt Bharat, Reservation-mukt Bharat and the whimsical list may read on sans anything like ‘Digital Crime-mukt Bharat’. Much of such ‘dreams’ are spread via the amazingly wonderful cyber world where netizens are webbed in computer mediated world of virtual reality which instantly passes on every impact on the physical world. The last Bharatiya demonetisation has pushed Indians to adopt digital platforms like e-banking and e-wallets, albeit with inadequate digital literacy to cope with this shift. Little ironical at it, the call for ushering in a cashless economy aka digital economy through usage of information and communication technology, ICT tools is not as easy as electioneering-bragging simply because the crimes in the cyberspace have their ‘avatar-effect’ in the physical space. With the information superhighway crisscrossing the global village, the physical-world-citizens as netizens are increasingly becoming more dependent on Internet while the cyberspace itself presents exciting new frontiers for every virtual denizen including lay people, intellectuals, and criminals. But, can cybercrimes be far behind when criminals had arrived in the cyber world? From the recent security breaches of Indian banks to the cyber-attack of ‘ransomware’ that hit the world not so long ago, to the arrest of a hacker from Imphal for allegedly posting vulgar pictures from the Facebook account of a girl after hacking it and to the uploading of fake Class X examination results, each incident points at the rise of cybercrime affecting individuals and societies irrespective of country or state. Like in other places, in India too, cases of spam, hacking, defamation, cyber stalking, money laundering, phishing, e-mail spoofing, cyber bullying, child pornography, information and identity theft etc. are rampant though most cases remain unreported thanks to lack of awareness on cyber vulnerability. Besides, the reported hacking of social media accounts of politicians, journalists and industrialists in recent times evidenced the cyber vulnerability in India. Yes, today citizens who live in a physical world with their ‘avaatar’ netizens in the cyber world cannot even imagine that they can't be hacked in the cyber world. Acknowledging the varied criminal acts involving youths in cyberspace, and agreeing to the fact that there is more to cybercrime than the challenges to shaping a cashless economy, one cannot ignore the warning made by the CERT-In that the micro ATMs and point of sale terminals as of now are particularly vulnerable to hackers. Besides, the recent report that Indian debit cards have been compromised owing to a big breach of financial data is scary but service providers as well as customers are really clueless about how to safeguard themselves against such data fraud.
 Nonetheless, pushing for expanding digital infrastructure for smarter e-governance and better economy is saleable but securing the country’s huge amount of citizen databases like Aadhaar is a worry besides the issue of right to privacy. Most citizens are still unaware of the widespread damage that hackers can cause even as they are not fully aware of the benefits of going digital in their economy either. Accordingly, in the process of accomplishing the dreamy act of digitising India which would usher in a cashless economy, it should not be allowed to serve conducive conditions for cyber criminals. In the light of their limitations in technical knowledge citizens should be made aware of their rights and duties as netizens so that they may take up precautionary measures while using the internet or other digital platforms or devices which may go a long way in tackling cybercrime. Leaving aside all demerits of using internet or non-internet digital devices, the authority must take cybercrimes as seriously by passing tough laws and implementing them strictly if the dream for Digital India for a cashless economy is to be pursued seriously. Measures should also be taken at the international level for preventing cybercrime since it is a major threat worldwide as reflected in the suggestion of Microsoft President Brad, that there needs to be something like a ‘Digital Geneva Convention’ to govern vulnerability issues of the cyber world. Governments, technology companies, institution and other related agencies need to take a proactive approach to dealing with cyber vulnerabilities and avoid possible cyber-disaster in economy. It should be remembered that as India goes digital fast, cyber vulnerability is also growing even faster as criminals are always one step ahead and for cyber criminals it is only a matter of a few clicks. Such a scenario calls for, more than the mere trendy political jhumla-baji, moving one-step ahead of cybercriminals to make India a cybercrime-mukt economy. Yes, beyond political bragging a distress call from this would-be cyberspace-based digital economy could be for virtual brooms to clean cybercrimes and ensure a Bharat with Swatch Cyberspace.
Leader Writer: Zeet Nawaz Thouba

Restore Sanity on Road

A promising martial artist was mowed down by a security forces vehicle on June 17 near Minuthong. Seventeen years old Shijagurumayum Rishikanta represented the state in games like vovinam and wushu, and had brought home laurels. According to his wushu coach, the young lad had immense potential to be an international martial artist. As reported, Rishikanta was cycling down with a friend from Minuthong towards North AOC when a prison van knocked him down, and drove away. An escort vehicle accompanying the van stood still and none of the policeman inside came down to help Rishikanta. It took a while for some concerned individuals to transport him to a nearby hospital. For the injured boy it was too late then. Nothing can be more caddish and condemnable on the part of the security vehicle driver to knock the cyclist down and drive away nonchalantly. Equally condemnable, if not more, are the security personnel present at the incident who did nothing to help the injured boy. It is learned that a compromise has been reached between the victim family, local club and the state home department following the tragic incident. An amicable understanding with the bereaved family is welcome though nothing can make up for the loss of a life that was so promising. The matter is too serious an issue to be ignored. Rash driving by security forces vehicles in brazen disregard for other commuters on the road has been a distasteful reality. This is especially at a time when the Modi government in Delhi has been trying to build an image of a “people’s government”, by shedding away the VIP culture. The same image building exercise is being practiced by the Biren team in Imphal as ‘Meeyamgi Numit’.  Meanwhile, security vehicles, particularly those accompanying the ministers, MLAs, high profile politicians and top bureaucrats drive as if they have somehow inherited the roads. This set of people, including their security escorts and their driver should come off this dangerous illusion.
The exigencies associated with the profession of the law enforcers does not give them license to mow down people on the road. Even in congested traffic security vehicles would press hard to pass through by honking down on the people. Security personnel would often hurl abuses with intimidating gestures to the commuters unmindful of the hopeless traffic situation. The image conscious Biren and team must check and regulate the excesses of the state constabulary. Their conduct with the public is a mirror reflection of the establishment. It is said that proper recruitment methods is the first line of defence against inadequate discipline. Unfortunately, this line of defence has been breached many a times in the state of Manipur. Just count how many cases are pending at law courts on police recruitment. Just count how many JACs or associations of ‘police constable examination appeared candidates’ are making a beeline to call bandh or general strike to achieve their demands. The central security forces like the army and the paramilitary do not fare better when it comes to road discipline. They dehumanise the people on the road by their on-road behaviour. The irony is that the protector of the country, the saviour of the people sets people’s lives in danger by their rash driving. In these few years the army has been trying to woo the people by refashioning their image - Helping snake bite victims, gifting assorted list of items like sewing machines, solar lamps, sports goods and what not. These are all carried out with a considered motive of befriending the people. Fair enough. The same bearing is expected from them on the road. This is not to suggest that they should be moving on the road distributing sweets to every commuter. The elementary sense of respect for fellow travellers is what is expected from them. There is also no denying that reckless driving behaviour has also increased manifold among the public in recent years. This has to be checked as well. For this the traffic control system has to be modernised. Traffic control police must be strengthened. Stringent penalty to traffic rule violators must be awarded. City roads need to be revamped to meet the swelling volume of traffic. Time has come to introduce public transports. Life is precious. Every single life on the road is precious.
Leader Writer: Senate Kh.

More on rights

From might is right to human rights, it has been a long road to civilization. The trouble is, so very often, our land of milk and honey has been showing the tendency to regress to its past, and so the barrel of the gun has too often for comfort been the tool for writing and determining what it right. Those who invoke history and conjure up images of the glorious past, beware. Every history has its own cruelties and injustices, and come to think of it, this has precisely been the driving force behind the emergence of the universal concept of human rights. If histories were completely just, and if there were a guarantee the state institution would never violate the rights of individual citizens, why would there ever have been a need for a movement to challenge the state on its ability to safeguard the rights of citizens. In the sense of its show of healthy skepticism at taking anything as absolute and beyond challenge, the evolution of the idea of human rights, in our opinion a subliminal essence of civilization. Indeed the movement does not recognize geography or regional politics, and enters into the realm of the transcendental. It is a shared concern of the modern world that rights violation can come even from the state which is avowedly meant to protect them. The concern is as profound and so also as serious as the anxiety today of the need to protect the earth’s environment. But like in the environment movement, whereby the emphasis has been to think globally but act locally, it is our earnest feeling that some legitimate, justifiable regional variation of the perception of a right have to be accommodated into the human rights movement too. For, it goes without saying that what is food for one can sometimes turn out to be poison for another.
There is too much of European history in today’s concept of human rights. In it is reflected the whole history of the liberation of the individual from the feudal yoke that bound Europe in a vice like grip for centuries. The progress in this liberation process can be scaled from the landmark Magna Carta of 1215, through Oliver Cromwell, the French Revolution, Napoleon, the October Revolution, the world wars in between, with the unimaginable violence and atrocities, the hallmarks of which were the two atom bombs and the holocaust. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations is a culmination of all the romance and horrors of these historical milestones. The East came in very late in this long drawn out struggle, and hence it is only now that its sensibilities and understanding of the concept of human rights is beginning to have some reflections in this new wave – this too through the minds of the Westernised elite amongst them. This has to be the reason why it is sometimes difficult for common folks to understand the Western concept of justice. Equally, we can understand the West being confused by the East own understanding of justice and rights. Can we truly understand all the fuss in the West over alimony, divorce, inheritance etc. Even a cursory look at a few of the clauses of the Human Rights charter will establish this. Take for instance the para that guarantees right to form trade union. In non industrialised agrarian societies such as Manipur, how is this particular right relevant except in acknowledgment that history follows a linear trajectory and therefore the need to anticipate that one day or the other our society too would face the problems industralised societies now face.
Human Rights has come to be defined largely on Western understanding of individual rights primarily because the West has been more outspoken while the East has all too often relied on instinct and instinctual understanding of their problems, and have seldom been articulate enough to communicate this understanding to those outside their own cultures. Those in the media would understand this characteristics much more intimately. As for instance Manipur is today known for its grassroots activism, for example the Meira Paibi movement. The people do understand very much what they perceive as their rights and when they have been wronged. They are also most willing to make their minds known through action. Social discourse has however never been our forte, but it is time we changed. Westernisation is a reality today. We have adopted the Western model of democracy which has been described as a “rule by debate”. Let our enlightened intelligentsia keep this in mind and shoulder the responsibilities which come with this expectation.

Vocation and profession

In colloquial term as used in India, a “vocation” is any job one does to earn a living. Colloquially the term carries a meaning that puts such jobs at a lower hierarchy than what is normally referred to as a “profession”. The latter implies a more institutionalized therefore better organized and compensated. A vocation in this sense is a job generally belonging to the unorganized or a semi-organised sector and its practitioners are people who did not make it to the organized sector of professions. In spiritual terms, the gravity the two commands on a scale of importance is just the opposite. Here a vocation is a spiritual calling and therefore much more than a profession or a job meant to earn a living. Vocation in this sense implies a love for an occupation for the spiritual value it has or the contribution it is deemed to make towards the betterment of society, people or humanity as such. In Christendom for instance, priesthood is considered a vocation. It further implies the practitioner’s interest is not in worldly benefits but in the enlightenment it brings to the larger society. From this vantage, a vocation can be any profession, but one which a practitioner enters with a sense of duty and mission. This can be a school teacher’s job, a nurse, a politician, doctor, a journalist… in fact any profession. But the pride that once came in saying “my job is not just a profession, but also a vocation”, is now more or less dead. A job’s worth now has come to be measured only in terms of the material benefits it brings, and under the circumstance, in an arrested economy like Manipur, only government jobs have come to be considered professions, the rest are mere jobs. It is this “the rest” which have come to be classified as “vocations”. In an economically sterile land that has little tax revenue to realise and have come to be renowned for corruption, even amongst government jobs the ones most envied are those that command abundant perks in the shape of tips and bribes. It must however be said that if the economic resources of the place is poor, this is not so in terms of linguistic depth and richness. Corrupt practices in the officialdom therefore have come to be given a degree of acceptability by numerous nuanced idioms and phrases. One of them, and a very irritating one for many, goes: thabaktubu khitang kanaribro? (Is the job being of any benefit?), khut chotlibro? (Does it make your hand wet? or is the job able to feed you well – alluding to the fact that you wash your hands before and after eating) and most crass of all, koilash-ta sun punbaga manare in which a government employee complains of a bad posting as being akin to a cattle tied on a grassless black-topped road.
This digression into the resourceful linguistic camouflages of lucratively corrupt world of the officialdom in Manipur is meant to provide a contrast to the Central government’s commendable policy of introducing vocational studies in colleges in partnership with those familiar with various non-governmental industrial enterprises. The Chief Minister, N. Biren has only recently announced his government too would be implementing this Central scheme titled Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan, RUSA. This scheme mandates government colleges to introduce training programmes of up to diploma level to students pursuing graduation courses as add-on skills to the BA degrees they would earn at the end of their college tenures, and the cost of the scheme would be borne by the Central government. Among others, the idea is to give graduate students tangible market worthy skills of their choices besides their college degrees which in most cases would be worth only a government job but of much less value in the real market therefore may not earn them a job at all. Without giving too much credence to this implied cynicism about the education system in the country and routes to job rewards within the system, let it be said this new RUSA project is a novel exploration of employment avenues for young graduates that the standardised traditional education system may have missed.
However, our caveat is, for this project to be a grand success, let the government also seek to dismantle the traditional divide between the colloquial understanding of “vocation” and “profession”, and bring parity between the two. “Vocation” should not be considered as only an option for people who have been excluded out of the race for “profession”, but an alternative available to all young graduates mastering the knowledge of the world as per their inclinations and natural aptitudes. In fact, the aspiration ultimately should be for all “professions” to be “vocations”, so that people opt only for those jobs their hearts take to.

Anticipating flood future

There are probably several reasons for the state’s proneness to floods in the past few years, some manmade therefore rectifiable and some natural therefore beyond easy control of man. The manmade part essentially would have to do with encroachment into what were once drainage systems or else into natural water reservoirs referred to as wetlands or in Manpuri – pat. This encroachment happens both at the individual as well as institutional levels as we are all witness to. Hence, if homesteads have encroached and claimed much of the old drainage system known locally as khongban, the shrinking or disappearance of many of the pats,  such as Lamphelpat, Porompat, Sangaipat, Takyelpat, Yaralpat etc, in the Imphal area alone are mostly on account of government’s land reclaim activities. Just a consideration of the number of government institutions and infrastructures which have come up at Lamphelpat and Porompat, in Imphal city suburbs should serve as adequate testimony. There are also of course the natural causes of floods, accelerated by the phenomenon of global warming. Hence, rainfalls have not only become heavier progressively, but unpredictable as well. Let us be warned that unanticipated atmospheric turbulences such as Cyclone Mora are become all too frequent for comfort. Let us be warned again so that we do not take these changes lightly. Climate change can devastate, just as it has devastated and even obliterated civilisations in the past. For frightful accounts of how this has been so, anthropologist Jared Diamond’s bestseller, “Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed” provides some interesting scenarios.

The manmade part of this problem, as already said, should not be impossible to overcome. What is called for is a collective discipline instinctually informed by an innate survival instinct, which involves seeing beyond the self to be concerned about collective welfare. Refrain from using use-and-dispose plastic conveniences to the extent possible; stop encroaching into public spaces, in particular drains and wetlands; stop deforestation; stop dumping wastes except into municipality designated cans etc. These are some of the responsibilities every individual must become sensitive to and the aggregate of these little sacrifices by the individual citizens, may be what saves the society in the long run. Many would contest these sacrifices are not actually sacrifices, but displays of enlightened self-interest, for in the end, they benefit the self in profound ways. But beyond these individual contributions there are larger issues which only a far sighted government can tackle. Many of these measures are not altogether new. As for instance, the royal chronicle of the erstwhile Manipur court, Chietharol Kumbaba, very good translations of which are now available, has records of how many of kings in the course of their rules periodically resorted to turel maril tengba (river dredging). By contrast, in as far as the memories of several generations of the present times stretch, such activities have not happened. Have the governments in the modern times abdicated this responsibility, or else have they been too busy fighting and sharing the spoils of office that they have had little time to put their minds on such matters. Siltation is a natural phenomenon and it would have raised the river beds in the ancient times as much as they are doing now, and probably it is happening more rapidly now because of deforestation. The reduction in the holding capacities of rivers because of siltation must have to be another major factor for the frequent floods that the valley is witnessing even in the face of a few days of downpour. Why cannot the government and its irrigation and flood control department, IFCD, think beyond knee-jerk responses to emergencies and come up with larger campaigns such as dredging river beds during the dry seasons just as the kings of the past have undertaken. The former President of India, the late Dr. Abdul Kalam, had come up with another idea of the linking up rivers of India to optimally manage the country’s water resources. For a country of India’s size, this plan proved too complicated and ambitious. In Imphal valley, such a project should not be difficult at all. We suggest a consideration of this purely with the view to controlling flood emergencies. If in the face of another unpredictable cloudburst like the one Cyclone Mora brought, authorities can then divert waters from dangerously swollen rivers to less filled ones, thus save riverbank breaches and the consequent misery caused to thousands each year. These are only some thought and experts may find them unsuitable, but the moot point is, the government must begin thinking of out-of-the-box solutions to these endemic, and indeed threatening problems of the future.

Federal thoughts

The 16th anniversary of the June 18 uprising to protest the unconditional extension of the NSCN(IM) ceasefire “without territorial limits” in 2001, a move of the then BJP government at the Centre which had seemed to many to be an imminent threat to the territorial integrity of Manipur, was observed today with the same solemnity that marks the observation each year. A total of 18 people had lost their lives in firing by security forces during the day’s agitation and scores more were injured, demonstrating the public passion the issue commands, especially in the valley area of the state. The unmistakable statement sent out by those who were driven to take to the streets on the issue was loud and clear – Manipur will not be allowed to disintegrate at any cost. It is now everybody’s knowledge that the clause “without territorial limits” to the extension of the ceasefire had to be withdrawn before passions ultimately cooled. But the fact is, the ethnic divide in Manipur being what it is, there are others who still stand on the other side of this issue too. This was witnessed even today, with the United Naga Council calling for a total shutdown of Naga areas demanding exactly the opposite of what the tragic but heroic incident in Imphal on June 18, 2001, stands for. Indeed, Manipur’s cup of woe is destined to overflow some more – unless of course the people realize the inevitable destiny of geography and come out of their respective prisons of perspective. It will hardly need any explanation that this meta-narrative of geographical bondage cannot be undone at anybody’s whim without causing huge and tragic tremors in ethnic relations which can leave irreversible traumatic consequences. The unrest in June 2001 gave us all a glimpse of what turns things can take. It is reaffirming that even in the midst of the extreme ethnic tensions then, no murderous mayhem resulted between the communities in the hills or in the valley, and although it cannot be denied that many Nagas fled the valley in the heat of the agitation, leaving their homes and properties unguarded, nobody even thought of taking them over or move into them. When normalcy returned, things were thus where they always stood, and thankfully too.
June 18 must then also be a time to reflect on this unseen and unarticulated grace in ethnic relations beneath what seem to be mutually and uncompromisingly hostile frictions. The ultimate peace and reconciliation that must come about would have to begin with an acknowledgment of the existence of this umbilical cord, and then building on the sense of fraternity that this promises. Of course, this should also not mean homogenization of everything in the name of co-existence. This fraternity, if it must have any tangible meaning beyond its rhetoric, must also be about recognizing diversity and difference. Hence, the demand for autonomy by different communities must be given new thought and focus. However, as IFP has also written on so many other occasions, the territorial divide between hills and valley in ethnic terms is only as old as the advent of British land management system that laid a premium on separating “fiscal subjects” from “absent citizens”, therefore a new imagining is what is called for in today’s popular notion of territory and ownership. The idea that anything hill, including those embedded within the valley and have always been closely associated with the  myths and legends of valley dwellers, must be taboo for valley people, must go. If not, the opposite logic that anything valley must be reserved for the valley people must also apply. This does not however mean all existing ethnic territorial boundaries must be broken, but it does mean their rigidity must end. We also know from a generation which saw the state of things in the state in the 1940s and 1950s, many of whom are still alive, that many stretches of territory which what are now thickly populated, were virtually uninhabited, making our call for a reimagining of the notion of territory all the more relevant.
Perhaps the Meghalaya model of autonomy can be explored. The 6th Schedule covers the entire state, except for the Shillong municipal area, so that the administrative boundaries of the 6th Schedule ADCs and those of the state government overlap almost completely. There are inconveniences of this arrangement as those at the helm of Meghalaya administration will vouch, but the fact is, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. If such an arrangement can give the sense of autonomous cultural space that so many in the state cry hoarse for, then there can be no harm experimenting with it. If this can resolve the issues of conflict and each community can within each of their autonomous cultural spheres, be themselves without worrying about annoying the other communities, nothing can be better. The state government can remain as the larger structure within which these culturally autonomous units can be find a federal unity.

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About IFP

Imphal Free Press is a widely circulated English daily published in Manipur, North-East India. Started in 1996, it has relocated its head office from Sega Road, Imphal to Palace Gate, Imphal.

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