15 July: The Day Some Imas had Revealed the Naked Truth
By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam
"On 15 July 2004…some elderly women stripped their clothes in protest…they…more than their naked bodies…uncovered the facades that concealed the fact that life in Manipur has become "bare life", a life that breathes, eats, drinks and procreates…"
-- Excerpts from "Bare Bodies, Bare Life…", Imphal Free Press, 15 July, 2007
In a recent public function, Dr. Dhanabir Laishram, a prominent leader of civil society and a well known public intellectual in the state observes, "Manipur kanba ngamdou mandre, thengnge. it's too late" (It seems that Manipur cannot be saved, it's late…). Many have responded to his speech, particularly in social media; while some have appreciated his views, others have countered his takes, even insinuating him of being defeatist, dishonest, egoist, etc. But the fact is, I suspect, the desperation or the anxiety that one could sense in his speech is by no means an eccentric and alarmist expression of an isolated individual; Nor can his views be termed baseless or unfounded. Laishram is no ordinary person; he has seen and been with the ground realities, someone who had once headed an all powerful Civil Society Organization. Besides, similar views have been aired in public domain by significant people in the state.
Take for instance, speaking at a public function at Thoubal, a few months after he took over the administration of the state, Chief Minister Shri Nongthombam Biren had termed the condition as a "sinking society", and in a similar desperate tone like Laishram, he had talked about the need "to do something" to turn around the situation so that our "future generation" do not "spit on our graves"!
Similar views have also been echoed in print media as well. In a series of editorials over the years, Imphal Free Press, has consistently brought out the dismal state of affairs in Manipur admitting that "there is something wrong with Manipur" and that "the state has been in an extended nadir" for decades!
Thus, from a respected media house to an influential civil society leader to the head of the political executive of the state, all have acknowledged the dismal state of affairs, or to put it more bluntly, the deep-seated rot in various spheres of the society and polity, in the state …
Which Cloth Do We Have On?
Despite being a small state with a population which constitutes a miniscule in a country of 1.3 billion, Manipur state may have produced world renowned cultural icons and sports stars, nationally and internationally acclaimed physicians, three stars military generals, and other talented and successful professionals in various walks of life. It may even claimed itself to be an inheritor of 2000 years of "history" or "civilization". For that matter, ironic as it may to some, the state may even boast of having award winning activist icons and celebrities. But all these cannot obfuscate the rot, something that have led to the expression of anxiety of the state being "at a nadir", or a "sinking society" that may not be easy to "save" etc.
To think of it, which state in this country is officially a dry state but alcoholic drinks are not only freely available and consumed in public but also served in state functions? Manipur and Goa had Assembly elections together and in both the states, BJP formed the governments despite not being the single largest party. The similarity ends there. Or think of those MLAs in Gujarat who resigned from the Assembly and Congress during the election of Rajya Sabha members from that state last year, and think of our "Honorable" legislators from one party declaring their loyalty towards another party and still sit "respectably" in the House! Fact is, legislators in Goa and Gujarat and those of Sanaleipak conduct themselves differently vis-à-vis Anti-defection Law! In short, constitutional and public morality has been contemptuously, openly and brazenly defied. And yet, the khunai will continue to carry on their "normal" life in a business as usual style.
Incidentally, it won't be a strange thing to sense the (underlying) envy of the money/wealth that the members of the political class who have access to the power and wealth of the state exercise, something which have also produced a chain of (wannabe) beneficiaries, the adjunct class. And all the while, we do get to see the vengeance of the offended (moral) sensibility that drive some to lynch people for alleged burglary or humiliate young people for having consensual sex!
To talk of "ground reality", what is the state of our (higher) education and health delivery systems/institutions? Ask common people as to who do "contract works" in educational institutions and demand shares of (unofficial) quota in admission? Or what do JACs against people who died in hospitals do? Do you get to hear about "it's all about money"? Who says, it is only the politicians who are seduced by "quick money"? Indeed, if you are too much in touch with "ground reality", you may confront that proverbial question: Who shall bell the cat?
In a substantive and metaphorical sense, when the Imas had stripped themselves in 2004, they had taken off the lid to reveal the painful fact of our life as "bare life", a life which has been reduced to a lawless decadence, of which "extra-judicial killing" is only one manifestation! Indeed, those who cannot see this naked truth, or pretend to see otherwise, would be like those who see the Emperor wearing his new cloth!
Role and Predicament of Intellectuals
Incidentally, in the recent speech by Dr. Dhanabir Laishram, he alludes to the role of the intellectuals to provide the insights to see this naked truth and perhaps to make suggestions for corrective measures. He observes, "[Leipakki issues] eikhoina khangdabagi waani, eikhoidi khangde, khang-gande…madu mayamdu khangngkkadoub se kanano? University gi oja, eikhoigumba". Of course, some have accused of him being an "egoist" (perhaps, for saying "eikhoigumba"). That's a familiar aspect of the rot, the preponderance in our society for indulgence in calumny and personalized attacks rather than addressing the substance of the issues at hand. Indeed, during the last Lok Sabha election, many have expressed the fact the level of public discourse has gown down in India with personalized attacks and perpetuation of vicious and factually incorrect ideas, facts and views. For Manipur, that's nothing new about it. Anybody who is in touch with "ground reality" would have heard of the same personalized attacks and accusation of being "egoist" even to figures like Hijam Irabot and rare public intellectual like late Oja N. Sanajaoba.
Beyond those personalized attacks, what one must not miss is that Laishram was hinting at the role and place of intellectuals in the midst of our unenviable decadence. Some people have also expressed similar expectation from the intellectual class in the state, especially those in institutions like Manipur University ought to play. For one I had laid out this aspect in a memorial lecture some 13 years go. Similarly, I have also seen some faculty members at MU, editorials in press as well as pamphlets of organizations expressing similar longings. But there seems to be confusions on what exactly is the role of the intellectuals? What does it mean when one says "Eeba, ngangbanada yaroi"? What are they supposed to do? Are some of them, as professionals, only to do their jobs such as teaching in colleges and universities like what Hannah Arendt call "animal laborans", that is, to put it bluntly in Meiteilon, "emung-manung, matu macha thaknaba, ma*****bong thaknaba tolob charaga leiba" but not take social responsibility of "speaking truth to power" outside their "academic" work?
This is over and above the fact that there are enough evidences to show how intellectual bankruptcy pervades in various issues that confront the society (This will call for a separate write up). Is it a question of conviction, commitment and courage to "speak truth to power" or something else? Who silences and subverts their voices? These questions may not yield encouraging answers. Perhaps, Laishram alludes parts of the issue when he says in his speech, "Leibaksigi akhang aahei amta thawai yaode, MLA mantrida haibasu mathawai yaode, aadagi thou pubiriba afao faoba mayamda haibasu amta loude, tabide"!
However, giving up is not an option, especially for those who claimed themselves to be committed public intellectuals. For they know that at the core of resistance to decadence rests their "moral agency" as an individual and they shall hold their grounds even if they may face the prospect of defeat. Secondarily, they would remain open to fight for the resurgence of the society and polity "inch by inch" and flip their wings for the "butterfly effect" while simultaneously appealing to others and work for, as the famous "inch by inch" dialogue by Al Pacino in the film Any Given Sunday says, "either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals"!
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