2010 : Beyond the Years of the Centipede

By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam *

Celebrating New Year is an act of reaffirmation of the reflexive consciousness of human beings that enables them to engage with the past and visualize futures while still being in touch with the immediate experiences.

No wonder then that as the New Year approaches, reflections on what had happened in the preceding year and the likely trajectories of events in the days to come are visible in many societies, particularly in their media, a crucial site of what is called the "public sphere".

This sphere of our modern life is where the civil society airs its views and discourses are generated (beyond what is being dictated by the state). Absence or lack of such a reflection can then be regarded as an indication of a society that is incapable of a reflexive consciousness, and perhaps a defunct, if not, non-existent, "public sphere".

Another New Year : Drifting flawlessly

A glance at the media in Manipur would reveal that, over the years, there has hardly been any display of such New Year reflections. Incidentally, such absence complements the typical reportages in Manipur's media that usually describe the events, as it were, without a narrative structure or analysis that contextualises the same.

That this absence points to reasons beyond the issues of space or economic imperatives of the production of media in the state need not be reiterated. The question here is not so much on the media practice per se as it is on whether this aspect of the media reveals something about the nature of 'civil society' and 'public sphere' in Manipur.

It makes one wonder as to whether these expressions are modern concepts and institutions that exist in form-without-substance in the state or that the people in general in Manipur are not given to reflexive consciousness.

Surely, the people of Manipur are aware of their lived experiences, and there is nothing inauthentic about that consciousness or that their responses to their situation are informed by the same. But then, direct consciousness of a lived experience is something and being (reflexively) conscious of that consciousness is quite another.

Incidentally, for the taken-for-granted worldviews and a concomitant lack of reflexive awareness amongst the scientists, it is said that scientists know about what they do as much as a centipede knows how it walks. And people's understanding of their situation in Manipur, notwithstanding the authenticity and certitude of the consciousness of their immediate experiences, could be as good (or bad) as that of such scientists.

Indeed, come 2010, the people of Manipur with the immediate consciousness of their myriads of issues are likely to walk, like the centipede with its segmented parts and legs, as they drift flawlessly into the trajectory of yet another year.

Given the ways people have acted in response to some of the critical events during the first decade of the present century, such a prospect is not an unfounded conjecture.

Self-deception : Its ways of thinking

Take for instance, the upheaval of 2004 over the murder of Monorama and the notorious Armed Forces Special Power Act; it was a "people's movement", marked by an unprecedented self-immolation that took the life of a student leader and women baring their naked bodies in protest in public, that had brought Manipur to a state of siege for months.

Demanding the punishment of the culprits and repeal of the notorious Act, the leaders of that movement had sought to make the political leadership accountable on the matter by seeking to make AFSPA an election issue. But ultimately, a party with an election manifesto sans AFSPA came back to power with an unprecedented victory in that election!

It doesn't require a genius of a Michel Foucault to tell people the truth that "the way people act or react is linked to a way of thinking". People's ways of thinking about their situation — insurgency, AFSPA, elections, development etc — have lots to do with that electoral response.

And, explaining away that response with "people do not understand" or "people were bought during the elections" (while simultaneously blaming the election procedure with a paradoxical refrain that majority of the electorates who had voted the winners were less than those who voted for the losers) only reaffirmed the disconnect or depravity of the same ways of thinking that had produced that amazing electoral response.

After all, if people could understand the issues by themselves, what was the need for mobilization or leaders to be there in the first place? Besides, issues do and can influence electoral outcomes and under the same electoral scheme, despite its shortcomings, people did change discredited regimes through elections.

Unfortunately, a self-deception continues to obscure failures and issues of responsibility, and a lack of reflexive consciousness ensures that there is no deepening of people's understanding of their lived experiences and changes do not come about while tragedy can repeat amidst episodic reactions.

That the AFSPA could not become an election issue probably due to a failure to fully expose the subversive political premise of the Act has hardly been acknowledged. And significantly, despite the all pervasive legal discourses on human rights, a basic sensibility of rule of law remains a far cry amongst the people.

Consequently, a tendency to determine the legitimacy or illegitimacy of a murder in terms of the victim's "guilt" or "innocence" based on her/his membership of a proscribed organization continues to obscure a critical legal fact that it is an illegitimate act to execute anyone, including a person who has allegedly committed a crime under the law or a prisoner of war, after taking her/him under custody.

Thus, in 2004, the Chief Minister and the military officials, responding to the custodial murder of Monorama, had insisted that the victim was a member of a proscribed organization. Those protestors responded by saying that she was an "innocent weaver".

Five years later, déjà-vu returns; while addressing a press conference in Imphal, just after returning from the Chief Ministers' Conference at New Delhi, Shrijut Okram Ibobi insisted that Sanjit (the victim of an alleged custodial murder at BT Road) was a member of a proscribed organization "at the time of his death".

Of course, from day one of the carnage at BT Road, the family members of the victim have asserted Sanjit's "innocence" by maintaining that he was no longer associated with any proscribed organization.

And revealingly, during that press conference (or its reports thereafter) held after the Tehelka exposé on the manslaughter of 23rd July, none seemed to have asked the Chief Minister as to whether the issue at hand was Sanjit's (alleged) membership of a proscribed organization or that of a serious allegation of a cold-blooded custodial murder by a lawful agency of the state.

Presumably, such responses and ways of thinking also indicate a general understanding of the situation in Manipur. It is quite apparent that the people in general understand the situation as primarily that of under-development, petty crimes, extortions, kidnappings and murders rather than as a situation which has been critically shaped by a dynamics of armed insurgencies (striving for, amongst other, a "sovereign" Manipur) that affect various aspects of their life in many different ways.

Such is the understanding of their situation based on the consciousness of their immediate experiences that it might have come to many as a weird nonsense when an army general said in a recent press meet in Imphal that "for whatever else insurgency has become, the very fact that it exist(s) is the indication that there was something wrong…(that gave) the reason for insurgency to sprout in the first place. This original problem needs to also be addressed with (sic.) earnest".

One hopes that 2010 brings in some light to a people who have learned to live in darkness with 3/4 hours of electricity in a day for years on, and heralds a new beginning beyond the self-deceptions that have come to characterize every New Year as the Year of the Centipede!

* Angomcha Bimol Akoijam wrote this article for The Sangai Express. The author teaches social and political psychology at School of Social Sciences, JNU, New Delhi. This article was webcasted on January 12th, 2010.

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