Colonized Mind and Its Naked Truths
Revisiting the postcolonial revelations by the Imas of Manipur
A few days from now, some of us shall be remembering an unprecedented moment in the life of the collective which had revealed who and what we are. Did we notice that revelation in any significant ways, I am not sure. But it seems pertinent to revisit the moment. And here it goes, a portion of a a piece I had written for the local newspaper then, some fourteen years ago…
The deeply disturbing yet liberating act of disrobing themselves in public by the Imas (mothers) on 15 July 2004 unmasked not just nakedness but also the pathos of an oppressive order. That act was a politically significant local expression of a universal kind. I believe that women may lack the power or the capacity to inflict the familiar violence but their intimacy and insights into human sufferings and invisible realities under the dominant worldviews prevalent in our societies carry the seeds of a new awakening and change. Perhaps, the 2004 event before the western gate of the historic Kangla signaled such a moment of awakening.
Indeed, if the event of 1904 known as the First Nupi Lan (Women’s War) had heralded a new consciousness inspiring the life and times of twentieth century Manipur, the desperation as also resolve exemplified by the daring act of the Imas in 2004 might well mark the historic beginning of a consciousness that may very well shape the twenty-first century Manipur. That is, if we go beyond the empty rhetoric and familiar eulogy of Manipuri women, and sincerely reflect on what had driven the women of a society with rather conservative sexual mores to commit the act of disrobing themselves in public.
Inner world and realities beyond the obvious
In the inner realm of women’s experience, what is not normally seen outside or the obvious world seem to get registered. Given the duality of experience “between what they see and understand about their experience or themselves and what the dominant patriarchical order and its worldviews construe them and their experience to be” it seems only natural for women, like any class of marginalized people, to sense the contradictions of a dominant order and its worldviews and invisible realities. Perhaps, that is why only the Imas of Manipur seem to speak so genuinely about and for the tragedy of a deeply divided society and people whose capacity to think and articulate have been subverted and silenced by fear and violence from within and without. The pain and suffering of the people”in their private and public domains” may not be felt by those who have been colonized by colonial modernity and numbed by its violence as well as the diktats and intimidation of the entrenched ideologies and decadent politics of vested interests. Indeed, the shrieks of those women who were raped before being maimed, killed or even beheaded during the so-called Kuki-Naga clashes in the hills of Manipur, or the muffled cries of Monorama as her body was humiliated, are voices that are very different from the cacophonic cries of homeland demands or nationalist harangue. And in those pictures of the semi-clad, maimed and bruised bodies of girls and women, I believe, the Imas instinctively sense the naked truth of the body politics of oppression, suppression and subjugation. The colour of violence that they see in these tragedies is very different from the appropriated hues of the same as testimonies, often with a voyeuristic tinge, of people’s struggle. It is perhaps these insights that allow the Imas to dare and confront the military might of the Indian State and, on many occasions, the intimidation and violence of the non-state forces.
In the realm of their inner world, where women experience the contradictions beneath the obvious as well as the nuances and ambivalence of human experiences, newer understanding and forms of life can be thought of and envisioned. For instance, having understood that their self-definition ” including how they see and feel about themselves and the world ” is informed by male worldviews and values, women have asserted their will and right to define themselves rather than get defined by patriarchy. Define yourself or get defined by others is a political stance taken by many in their effort to recover and assert the suppressed, and thereby invisible, world of women under patriarchy. Indeed, in many parts of the world, this liberating consciousness has reoriented the way one thinks about gender-related issues, and more.
The Resisted of the resistance and exorcizing the colonized minds
In fact, just as protest against a male for dishonouring the izzat of a woman by asking him to wear bangles and phanek essentially affirms and consolidates the male worldviews even while protesting against its violence, the assertions of identities in the region seem to re-affirm and consolidate the hold of the colonial worldviews and its oppressive violent order. While linear historiography that reduces different trajectories and diverse forms of life into smooth monochromatic narratives are being articulated to justify the identity-based movements, these narratives only seem to make the conflict between those histories inevitable, and a bloody one to boot. On the other hand, while seemingly challenging the legitimacy of the Indian State in the region, people seem to expect the Indian State to play an active role in resolving the conflicts of these identities! Obviously, the insidious seduction of the grant-in-aid driven political economy, structured as it is in the client-patron relation between the region and New Delhi, seems to powerfully affect categories (of people) other than the faithful nationalists of the Indian State in the region.
Indeed, the extant sway of the consolidation of colonial modernity and its violence are written large on the walls. The post-World War II militaristic assaults on the people who supposedly have pro-mongoloid prejudice and cannot be trusted has been tragically complimented by the internecine killings of the modern kind in 1990s in the form of Kuki-Naga clashes and Meitei-Pangal violence. Reification of group differences and branding each other as the other” particularly the enemy other” add to the violent culture that suffocates life. While kill the dog and give him a bad name” a much more deeper pathology than give the dog a bad name and kill him” is no longer the sole prerogative of the military under the AFSPA, the schism between the valley and hills as in the integrity issue of Manipur, particularly as it is expressed in terms of the conflict between the Meitei and the Nagas, only shows that the colonial subversion emanates from the deeper recess of the colonized minds of the victims themselves. Indeed, what is colonial is not merely out-there but it is in-here as well. The power of modern colonialism in effect is premised upon its inversion and ability to become insidious. Thus, any liberation from such a subverted life entails an effort to free oneself from the insidious colonial worldviews.
Just as the effort by women to define themselves rather than get defined by patriarchy has told us that rape is a violence against the body, individuality and dignity of the person of a woman, not on her izzat or honour, the postcolonial consciousness has also told us that colonialism did not simply end with the transfer of (political) power. It is time to exorcise the insidious ghost of colonial modernity that is so engrained in the self-definitions and the violence that plague Manipur. Decolonization of minds, a necessary foundation for our freedom from the oppression, suppression and subjugation, entails a painful renegotiation with our deeply held ideas and beliefs about others and us. Indeed, liberating moments are often marked by such painful experience was what the Imas had disturbingly yet inspiringly revealed to the people of the state, and beyond, on that fateful July morning of 2004!
Republish by special arrangement with People’s Campaign for Resurgent Manipur (PCRM http://resurgentmanipur.org;https://www.facebook.com/PCRM2022/).
(The author teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
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