Unequal Development and increasing Ethnical enmity: What can be done to curb the increasing tension and enmity?

/ Guest Column / Tuesday, 11 May 2021 16:39


By -T Lunkholal Haokip

While the world is struggling against the ongoing pandemic, identity politics and ethnical enmity in Manipur relentlessly continues and finds no time to pause. It is very disheartening to witness and difficult to digest the recent incidents of disharmonies viz., the brutal acts of burning down of Chassad village during such a difficult time and the death of Nine Tribal residents of Churachandpur. Many may attribute the root causes of such unwanted incidents to several reasons ranging across-identity politics, election politics, dominant and minority power struggle, prevalent corruption, fragmented development, unequal opportunities, etc. most of which may be partially or fully valid contributing factors. 
 This write-up mainly focuses on holistic development of all regions and all sections of the society which the state fails to deliver as an important factor to the occasional flashes of disharmonies and the increasing ethnical enmity between the three major Communities - the Meeteis, the Nagas, and the Kukis/Zomis inhabiting the state since the pre-colonial era. This article finds that the very nature and structural design of the Hill Area Committee (HAC) and the Autonomous Districts Council (ADC) since its inception is unholistic and problematic. Going through the Structure and design of the HAC and ADC, every rational person would easily be able to ascertain how power distribution and role play would result in a fragmented development. This is mainly responsible for and is the primary reason for the visible fragmented development favouring the plain area which ultimately resulted to the increasing distrust and ethnical enmity between the three major communities. This may be hard to digest but experiences in ground reality would certainly clarify to any person in whom Humanity and rationality exist. This could, however, be debated to some extent by some groups on the context that the Development of all regions at one go is merely impossible but it has been about five decades since the attainment of a full-fledged statehood and thus such notions hold invalid for the unprivileged communities. Thus the current as well as the coming government need to keep cognizance of these facts and should start taking necessary actions to harness development to promote peaceful coexistence. 
Various revolutionary movements in history tell us that ‘…perceived oppression (Political, Social, Economic, and Religion) or political incompetence on the part of the state machinery and functioning…’ as the contributing factors for various forms of conflicts which ultimately resulted to larger revolts. Similar is the case in our State, where the Hill areas experienced unending negligence and oppression since Manipur became a full-fledged state. As such the notion of distrust and insecurity develops among the deprived sections towards the State’s functioning and the dominant community. This is the main reason for discontentment that led to one way or another form of conflict. Taking an example of the 2015 incident when demand for the promulgation of the ILP by the dominant Meetei community was at its peak resulting to a huge turmoil, Human Rights activist Babloo Loitongbam said the bills have ‘nothing against the security or interest of the tribals’. He blamed the violence on the state government’s failure to take the Nagas and Kukis into confidence and explain to them the new proposed laws. While another, a women activist Ninalaxmi Nephram blamed the federal government for taking no interest in tackling the unrest. She blamed the violence on the pressures over land citing that about 60% of Manipur’s population lives on 10% of its land in the plains (BBC, 2015). On the other front are the Tribals consisting of the Naga and Kuki/Zomi groups sternly standing against the bills. 
Different people may have different narratives for the cause of such ugly and unwanted incidents. Taking the matter to a larger perspective none would easily deny that the notion of distrust and ethnical enmity plays a major role to aggravate the matter to such an uncontrollable extent. This has now entered the next level and thus the Issue of Indigeneity: a politically incited propaganda and a condition in which none will become victorious comes to play and becomes a matter of subject to everyone and now extending even to the kids who could still barely read and write. Such a scenario not only aggravates the ethnical enmity and disharmony but also is perilous and would eventually lead to something catastrophic and futile in the long run. Besides these, the 2015 incident brings to light the long-hidden fact of the State’s incompetence. The concentration of the larger population (60%) in the plain area (10%) is a clear picture displaying the state’s long policy-ridden resulting to the fragmented development favouring the plain area. In a democratic state where equitable development flourished, such unwanted incidents would find a hard chance to set its foot on. 
Dr. Alex Akhup in his paper, ‘The Lived Reality of Koms in Manipur: An Emerging Political Perspective’, states that the Existence and co-existence of every collective identity require mutual understanding and respect of spatial needs, human security and social development of entwined communities within the socio-legal democratic setup. As such, it is an urgent matter of need to realize on the part of the State as well as all Citizens that- all sections of the society are equally important as units of a society. No country or state could witness development when one group is left behind as the very definition of development states that ‘Development is about expanding the capabilities of the disadvantaged, thereby improving their overall quality of life.’ Dr. Alex Akhup further pointed out that, it is an issue of grave concern when the status of ‘invisibility’ of culturally indigenous tribes who are numerically fewer in number, are often ignored within the realm of the consciousness of both state and dominant ethnic groups. Such practices and conducts which often stream from Top-down approach policy on the part of the state soon resulted to unequal distribution of resources and then the emergence and development of discontentment among the unprivileged are inevitable. Thus, the policy formulators must not ignore the fact that a democratic system that facilitates, provides, and promotes a responsive public space for a respectful articulation of voices of the minorities within the public sphere is imperative and inevitable in all its proceedings to control and curb the already escalated Ethical enmity and various forms of discontentment. 
Keeping in mind the adage, ‘Better late than never’, the State, being the supreme authority, could turn the whole episodes of the prevalent and increasing ethnical enmity by reflecting changes in its policies and functioning laying strong emphasis on the disadvantaged minorities without which time would run out of its grasp as the saying goes ‘Time and tide waits for none.’ As a matter of need, the state could not remain a mere witness. The recent conflicts and the escalating ethnical enmity should be seen as an alarming signal to shift its approach in maintaining the functions of the state. The state by keeping due cognizance of the situation and needs of its subjects could implement several policies and plans to curb the increasing disharmonies. Among one of the many ways, Delimitation could be a good, viable and visible exercise provided the underlining policy is holistic, giving empowerment and equal opportunities to the Hill areas. The entire structure- power distribution and functioning of the HAC and the ADC needs reform with adequate members and in a manner to ensure holistic development of all regions and all sections of the society. Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen did suggest that one possible amicable solution for the government is to implement the Sixth Schedule in the hill areas. Under such a political arrangement, the Kukis and Nagas would enjoy autonomy in their respective areas but remain within the State of Manipur (The Hindu, 2015). Moreover, there has to be a paradigm shift on the part of the state’s approach to imbibe the guiding policy from the quote, ‘Economic Development is the cure for all ills…’ which is non-negotiable for the good of all. 
Last but not the least, this article envisioned a better Manipur where every citizen would witness equitable development and would live in peace and solitary, free from ethnical enmity. Perhaps the old, now unused and forgotten slogan but with a very insightful input ‘Chingmi Tammi ama tani’ should be put to life. This can be the primacy, the guiding ideology behind all policies and plans the state should adopt to witness equitable development and a future free from polarized groups who aggravate ethnical enmity out of distrust and insecurity. Only then, Manipur could become the true ‘Sana Leibak’ sooner or later. 
 (The article is partly based on the findings of the dissertation submitted by the writer with the theme ‘Perspectives on Urbanisation and Challenges to Governance in Churachandpur Town’. @TL Haokip)

 

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