TODAY -

Proverbial Step-Mother Complex
- Vicious Circle of Frustration and Subjugation -

By Dr. Ksh. Imokanta Singh *



'Matangsida ikhutsida bomb amatangdi painingkhredako' (if I had a bomb in my hand at this moment!). This line signifies the height of frustration expressed by the dethroned minister in the latest production of Sanaleipak Nachom Artiste Association's Luchingba, when he was ill-treated and insulted by the minister in power. Such are the words of the frustrated and powerless majority of this land, often heard in leipungphamba or any gathering centring on the topic of the present state of our State.

A serious social disease indeed! I wish I had the capsule, syrup, injection or whatever which can cure or at least pacify the pace of this acerbic illness. Nevertheless, there is always the hope for winching up possibility from the debris of impossibilities. So, let us try and apply our analytical skill in dissecting and studying the diseased body a-posteriori. (If Egyptian Pharao Tutankhamun's mummy is still studied, then ours is a comparatively easier sample)

I am going to propose one methodology and throw the house open for discussion and debate (we should be courageous enough for self-critiquing if we seriously wish to revive the lost mani). Social Science and Humanities do not and cannot have a final answer to a social phenomenon or individual thought process and behaviour since society/individual is a riddle which throws up surprises the moment we think that we have touched the rubicon. They are fields requiring constant engagement and which is why its study did not stop at Plato or Socrates or Marx or Durkheim.

We have not succeeded in reaching the core since we are lost in the maze of layers. At the most we may end our life studying at least one or two layers. Moreover, it is a terrain of 'probables' and which is why I am going to take along others in my attempt to understand the root cause of the disease that we are infected with. AFSPA is excluded from our scheme of analysis since our case is much older and wider than the kid called AFSPA. Our case have been in existence since time 'immemorial' or is as old as the human existence (I am weakened to follow the face-saving exercise in using these platitudes which are used by 'history-less' people or when we are not sure of something's origin.)

Step-Mother Complex

We are all well aware of the step-mother (mama poktabi or mama atombi) of Kunjamala (some say it should be Kujangambi) of the Moirang Kangleirol. She is the quintessential symbol of pettiness, cruelty, victimisation, exploitation, jealousy or any word known for villainy. Our folklore is replete with such characters. There are also numerous living examples in this land where polygyny is a custom and modern law has been very bland.

I am not proposing that all step-mothers are of the same mould. However, there is impression that one has to be wicked if she is a step-mother, if not what the society will say of her, 'she is very unlikely of a step-mother'. Blood line becomes the prime criterion for love and affection in such bonding i.e. only one's own sons or daughters come within the circle not the sons or daughters of the dead or divorced or estranged wife of her husband.

One basic question still harps on at this moment. Are only the step-mothers the owners of villainy? The answer is NO. The characters of a step-mother can be and is ingrained in other samples also like mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother's sister, brother's brother or anybody. The case is more often found in the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law; sisters-in-law; wife and sisters of a man (I may be excused for saying that the sore relationship is prevalent mainly amongst the female members of our society.) Such relationships are structured on the binary oppositions where one party is victim and the other victimiser. However, the victim has the latent desire to be the victimiser.

For the sake of methodology, I have picked up step-mother as the symbol and point of reference. This behaviour is rooted in the deep structure of power and status. Step-mother or mother-in-law or older wives of brothers have to assert their authority over the step sons or daughters or daughter-in-law or new bride. The concept of ownership is central in such relationship.

Step-mother has to own her husband and his children; mother-in-law cannot tolerate the idea of parting her son with the new woman in his life; older wives of brothers will try to tighten the noose of the family. Young bride is treated as stranger who is added to the family as 'serving' not 'served' (I am not universalising the victim status of young brides. There are authoritative ones too who can be victimiser.)

The opposite is true in the case of step-mother. Here, she is not 'serving' but 'served' inspite of her being a new member. This position is bestowed on her because she is the wife of the head of the family and the head is under her control. Domination and subjugation interplay to unleash the authoritarian ambience in the family. Shock and awe tactics also applies.

I am of the view that most of us carry this step-mother complex since we are power hungry species. The moment we gain the status we tend to exercise the power of subjugation. We may, here, remember Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic approach. He might say that the desire to exercise power, when one does not actually have it, is repressed in the 'Unconscious'. This desire gets materialised when s/he achieves the position from the vantage point of which s/he can spew the latent force to his/her rivals, enemies, adversaries, common people, subordinate staffs etc. This is the prologue of the vicious circle of frustration and subjugation.

Frustration and Subjugation

Let me rephrase the first sentence of this essay as 'If I were a commando, you see what I could do!' (This is because commandos are the symbol of unlimited and uncontrolled power and threat especially in this part of the globe.) This expression symbolises the sheer frustration of a powerless, subjugated, victimised and traumatised person in our society. Gun becomes the source of power.

In fact courage of a person is almost bland in the absence of any assisting tool but it surfaces with the ownership of one, be it heijrang, thangsang, thangjou, singjang, ta or guns of any kind. The absence creates a void in his/her 'inner world', when s/he needs it the most. Then this void is filled up with the unfulfilled desires which beget frustration. This is more relevant in our society where the culture of violence has corroded the social fabric.

The opposite may be said for those who are in the helm of power and overwhelmed by it. Once the frustrated man is graduated to the position of power all the unfulfilled desires start germinating and growing with untamed tentacles. Now is the time for testing the new found fangs which can bite, as the first victim, the one who was the subject of his frustration when he was the member of the powerless lots. Slowly this one time victim turns into a victimiser and becomes the member of the subjugating gang gradually executing his villainy amongst the population. What gives him the highest pleasure is the delivery of frustration to his victims.

Such victimising tendency may be found anywhere where there is scarce resource of power. It may be found amongst the public servants (elected representatives starting from the Panchayat members upwards); government servants (bureaucrats, military and police personnel, clerks, peons etc.); civil society organisations; non state actors (Naharols) and even amongst 'common' people.

Defining criterion for being powerful, here, is 'deviance from the rules and regulations'. One is considered to be powerful if he is able to deliver goods when and where it is not allowed, legally, customarily or otherwise. He thinks that it is an achievement and takes pride in doing the undoable. Those who are sincere are reduced to being powerless and 'good for nothing' creatures.

Using the power bestowed on the main protagonists illegitimately has become a sort of 'legitimate' practice. Rampancy of such practices amongst the main protagonists is understandable. However, the interesting reality is the collateral/spill over power enjoyed by the foot soldiers or khongban chenbas who are near and dear ones of the main protagonists. They are mostly the first barricade by negotiating with whom people can approach the power protagonists. In reality such khongbanchenbas are more 'step' than the main protagonists.

Sometimes, the prices of buying and selling are initiated and even decided at this level before they reach the bosses. This way the main protagonists become the step-mothers and the foot soldiers the step-brothers of the powerless lots. It is something like 'Kei leiba mafamda napifaobada Sajina nollukchei' (literally, the deer have to bow to the grasses grown around the place where the tigers reside). The 'step-ness' of the two remain covert as long as they are appeased, praised and coaxed with the price, 'affection' and intelligent manoeuvring by the client. The real theatre of 'step-ness' surfaces the moment the client crosses the line drawn by the two parties. Then the Act of villainy is performed when the protagonist essays the role of victimiser and the client is reduced to a mere log.

Khwairamband Incident and Step-Mother Complex

Cdos and Naharols are in news so frequently, unfortunately, mostly for wrong reasons (there are good ones also, but I am talking of bad ones here). It is not an exaggeration that most of them consider themselves as the 'power in themselves' and the people on the streets, in case of Cdos, bestow their reluctant respect to them (without eye contacts), out of fear, lest they become the target of their haughtiness.

Cdos, in general, have qualified to be the quintessential heirs of 'step-mother complex' in our society, as compared to the Naharols. This is because they have the privilege of being visible in the public space and also invisible (the examples are galore) whereas the Naharols are confined to the 'invisible' world as they lead an enigmatic existence surfacing only when demanded in the 'dark'.

In this race for who is the real custodian of the step-mother complex, there is little regard for the age old value systems e.g. respect for the elders and love for the weak. This means these protagonists become step-mother for the whole of our society. The old man walking on the street or resting at home also took the unlikely role of a step son of such step-matriarchs and step-patriarchs.

If we follow this line of argument, then it is not a surprise to come across such incident as the one of Khwairamband. Anybody could have taken the place of those victims since the step-mother does have very little sympathy for the step-sons and step-daughters, and also it may be equally true that anyone of us could have been those protagonists since they are present in most of us, though latently. If I had been one I would have probably been amongst the protagonists of that incident. So that incident was clearly a case of unleashing of the repressed desires of subjugation and manifestation of step-mother complex.

Possible way Out!

A cure can be found of an illness when the disease is regarded as a 'disease' and a binary opposite of healthiness. When there is no space for differentiation between the two, the ambiguity rules the roost. Where the disease is no longer construed as disease, disease becomes the healthiness. In other way, when the crime is no longer considered as deviance, owing to the majority of the deviants, crime becomes the social norm.

Where the abnormality is emulated the normality shies away as 'abnormality'. Where excessive power-mongering, violence, villain worship are the rule of law one may be too ideal to hope for peace and mutual respect. Instead of plying the peace wagon the frustrated lots start seeing the step-mothers in power as the ideal/reference point to be emulated. Such is the world we have been thrown into.

The above painted monochrome picture, notwithstanding, one should be always in search for hope to place the peace and violence in their designated camps. For this we need to segregate the whole of humanity broadly into two categories for a methodological analysis.

First one may be called 'Mirel' and the second one 'Mimacha'. Mirel may be the one who is enlightened (not the Buddha type, that is too ambitious), mature, altruistic and hypermetropic. He is not overwhelmed by the power he has been entrusted with. Warmth is his first nature (or culture!). He knows where to draw the line between what is personal and what is not. He believes in the maxim 'respect cannot and should not be commanded (fear can be) but earned'. He abstains from the vanity of words, body language, wealth etc. For him power is just a normal ingredient to run the system and not an extraordinary motor to deride the system.

Standing at the opposite pole of Mirel is the Mimacha. Mimacha is everything which is not part of Mirel. He is greedy, self-centred and very myopic. He is the one who has not been exposed to the power before and is overwhelmed by the power the moment he gets hold of it. For him there is no segregating line between what is personal and what is not but believes that everybody's business is his business.

He wants to make hay when the sun shines and that includes amassing the hays of other people also. Conspicuous consumption is his first nature and others should be shown what he is upto, all with his haughty demeanour. Examples are galore, starting from local elected representative (who gobbles up more than he can digest during his five year tenure and then gets defeated in the next election) to Hitler.

In order to maintain or usher in good system we require and also should work for the predominant presence of Mirels. I am not saying absence of Mimacha here since it sounds utopian. Here we are not trying to slain all the step-mothers (Lalita Pawars) in us but trying to give teeth to the good mothers (Nirupa Roys). It may be reminded before I sign off with style that the theatre played out in the external world is the reflection and 'reflexivity' of the rehearsals initiated and performed in the inner worlds.


* Dr. Ksh. Imokanta Singh contributes regularly to e-pao.net . The writer can be reached at kimokanta(at)yahoo(dot)com
This article was webcasted on May 23, 2010.



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