The Utlou Case: Is the response justifiable ?

Lyna H. Misao *

India has been witnessing an unusual increase in crime related to mob violence especially on the Muslims ever since the government imposed a ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets across India, under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals statutes on 26th May 2017. However, throughout history mob violence has been practiced in the name of religion, a crime against women in the form of violence, rape and killing in the name of honour, kidnapping etc.

Meanwhile, when our hearts are still full of pride and praise for our land for being the first state in the country to impose ‘The Manipur Protection from Mob Violence Bill, 2018’ which was passed on December 21st, 2018. It is both appalling and saddening to hear the news about the recent incident that broke out in Utlou using the same approach to solve a social issue while having a democratic law.

It is a high time to apprehend that whether we like it or not no society remain static. As social scientists would explain, every society go through a change that led to some modification to past practices and tradition. Consequently, the patterns of human society differ from place to place and era to era and across cultures, making the social world a very complex and dynamic environment.

Having said that, every community in the past had a political body of handling deviance behaviours which may differ from community to community. However, there is dire need to understand that the state is now the only legitimate body that can exercise coercion in a democratic society which is why mob violence is highly condemned.

Flaws on the Utlou Case:

The incident mainly was the outcome of opposing values, beliefs and expectations between two parties that failed to tolerate each other ethos. This is not a new phenomenon in the history of mankind. Conflict is inevitable in human society. However, in a patriarchal society like India, women have more burden on expectations. They are expected to be cultural/tradition bearers. Their role has been both symbolic to represent the culture and to transmit those to their children and to other women.

Women have borne the weight of cultural representation through prescriptions concerning their appropriate appearance and behavior. This might be the case why the women involved in the incident were badly shamed and beaten while the men were nowhere to be seen. Dear emas! Wasn't your utmost priority to safeguard women? Why weren't they being dragged and punished like the women?

We respect and praise our mothers and sisters who endeavor to curb away discrepancies yet it is unpractical for them to have prejudice between men and women and to have resorted to violence and shamed women publicly. Above that, in their approach to bringing peace, our mothers have violated the right to live with human dignity and right to privacy which is an intrinsic part of article 21 of our constitution that very day.

Secondly, what we often fail to take into consideration is the other forces that are uncontrollable. For instance, the technology that has been playing a major role in forming our ideology across the globe. The high value placed on a new technological invention in many parts of the world has led to the rapid spread of ideas about clothing, food, music, and forms of recreation.

Books, magazines, radio, television, social media teaches and govern our life today and had an adverse effect on all of us. They also implicitly promote values, aspirations, and priorities by the way they portray the standard behaviour of people. How individuals will respond to all these influences or even which influence will be the most potent, tends to be unpredictable.

Therefore, it is impossible for a society to have uniform standards and values that are expected by one’s community and tradition when there are various mediums where people can learn and experience to form one’s identity.

There is a need to realise the importance of tolerance for every differing value to promote peace in society. To raise a child according to one's personal ideology and belief is impossible today, therefore, space for choice must welcome and respected at the same time. A social scientist like Durkheim would put it, it is the age of individualism unlike collective conscience of the past. Therefore, imposing one’s ideology forcefully on others would be wrong.

On the other hand, the offenders failed to uphold with local community values that are still far from ready to accept such a lifestyle. Change should be gradual and not immediate keeping in mind the societal mindset and majority values. They also failed to realise that just as their values and taste matter the opposing group do have certain belief and values that should have been taken into account.

On top of that Manipur is a dry state and drinking is prohibited which they are aware of. Though, I admit there is some modification and not collective culture anymore I would not call it a modern culture as claimed by the opposing party as drinking and dancing during celebrations and festivals was not foreign to Manipur as per the literature of Manipur history. Drinking was only given up and stigmatised after the conversion to Vaishnavism and Christianity among the hill tribes.

Thirdly, as far as availability of drink is concerned, it is the failure of the state and the law enforcement agencies for not being able to impose the ban on alcohol. The irony of it all is, the army canteens are the supplier of the liquor in the state. Moreover, it is impossible to control it when some part of the state is allowed to brew in the name of custom and tradition. This matter too needs consideration before carrying out violence to the consumers.

No values and beliefs are lesser or greater. All should be equally respected with tolerance for one another and enough room for negotiation through non-violence.

Lastly, before we applaud the response of the incident, let us all ponder upon a few questions firstly, is mob violence a moral act to bring change. If not, why are we through immoral act questioning others morality? If yes, how do you imagine the future to be? What kind of environment do we want to portray for the youngster that we are concern about? A mob violence culture? The choice is ours.

"It is true that neither the ancient wisdoms nor the modern sciences are complete in themselves. They do not stand alone. They call for one another. Wisdom without science is unable to penetrate the full sapiential meaning of the created and the material cosmos. Science without wisdom leaves man enslaved to a world of unrelated objects in which there is no way of discovering (or creating) order and deep significance in man's own pointless existence. (p. 4)"
- Thomas Merton, Gandhi On Non-Violence

* Lyna H. Misao wrote this article for
The writer is at JNU, Delhi and can be reached at lynamisao143(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on March 26, 2019.

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