By raising such a slogan, we do not mean to glorify the acts of the self-professed vigilantes. They have no business taking law into their hands and penalising ‘wrongdoers’ or anti-social elements whatever one chooses to call them. But then, many are cheering them and their actions.
Organised vigilante groups have always been in the forefront of the public campaign against drugs and alcohol in Manipur. These groups have been raiding, ransacking distilleries and distribution joints or vendors of illegal drugs and psychotropic substances, and finally tonsuring and publicly parading the ones arrested in the drive. Shaming and naming has been a favourite of these so-called groups, while the law enforcement agencies stood watch not even understanding the fact that such actions are also a part of an emerging vigilantism.
In the late 70s, when the women Nishabandis ran riot in the leikais catching hold of drunkards and shaming them in public there was not so much fuss as the actions were at the local level. The activities never went beyond the locality and any chance of mob culture taking over was almost nil.
However, with the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) coming into force in the state in 1980, the attention of these women pro-prohibition groups turned towards fighting violation of human rights by security forces and state forces in the name of counter-insurgency operations and thus the ‘Meira Paibi’ was born. The women activists began organising themselves at both the regional and state level. And, the rest is history.
The latest act of vigilantism is of a group beating up a girl who was part of a merry-making session on Bye-bye and New Year. As it so happened, the video of chastising the girl went viral in the social media and 12 women were picked up by police. There are several other instances of tonsuring or public humiliation by certain groups or by irate mobs.
Before Chief Minister N Biren Singh began his anti-drug campaign, some civil society organisations like AMADA, CADA, YADA and several other groups had been carrying out raids in illegal distilleries and joints besides rendezvous points of drug addicts and peddlers. In fact, some of the groups had their own lock-ups where those seized with liquor or drugs were sometimes beaten up or paraded in public.
Here, one needs to understand that vigilantism or mob action is a fallout of deficiency in law enforcement and justice delivery coupled with general lack of trust in law enforcement agencies particularly the police. The evolution of society has given birth to a yearning for social order besides an effective criminal justice system. In the absence of an effective justice system or delivery, a vacuum is created. Naturally, extraneous forces come in to fill up the vacuum.
Well, that is about mob psychology and vigilantism in the general sense. As for the present, one needs to look at it from a different perspective due to special conditions prevailing now. Look at the recent rise of youths. They are not only angry with the powers that be, but also with the way the general public’s energy and response is being channelised by different forces. They have become extremely frustrated with the utter lack of resolve of the elected representatives and their meaningless political stunts.
The confusing state of affairs within the government and conflicting stances of both the state government and CSO leaders has led to frustration among the people and the establishment of new groups. When the ethnic strife is raging, these new groups are busy in whatever roles they have given unto themselves. But whenever there is a lull, they are at a loss on what to do given the routine of months invested in the cause of the state and community. So, ‘social reformation’ work became the easiest available option for many. And, the fault lies with the social leaders in not properly channelising or harnessing the energy of these groups.