JNU to Manipur, how India is cruel to minorities

You are made to suppress your voice and appear to be in harmony with the nation.

 |  5-minute read |   28-02-2016
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It isn't new that the Indian streets are playgrounds for thugs, in different forms, testing the force of their violent temperament. Hatred simmers in the heart of suppressed young citizens itching for a change in globalised, digitalised India.

Every corner of India seeks the Centre's attention. What has been initiated by a few over the past couple of weeks at the campus of one of the premier universities in India - the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) - is a perfect example of a movement by people who have long been deprived of their fundamental rights and hence have had their freedom to express violated.

It resulted in dramatic anti-national slogans, and a number of arrests. Has democracy turned upside down? If it has, who is in charge of correcting it? Have the fact-finders and media listened to the wails of the oppressed people?

For the keeprs of law and order, it's justified to obey orders from fanatical policymakers, but academicians have acknowledged, debated and promoted the idea of diversity, and they face the threat of being called anti-nationals.

There are cacophonous 24X7 debates on television news channels updating viewers on the minute details of the issue. An undertrial gets thrashed by agitated lawyers. But who is going to stop protesting for freedom anyway?

I asked myself if it was something similar to how the protests against the utterly flawed Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA, has gone in Manipur.

Protests in India require "branding" without which many voices go unheard. Social movements that arise in nondescript corners of India rarely catches the nation's attention. These voices of protest are reduced to mumbles because they are not expressed in the language of the majority. They are constantly under the vigilance of the powerful military state.

I know how it's like because I come from Manipur, where the AFSPA is enforced, as in Kashmir, the birthplace of the so-called anti-nationals who are being targeted now. Political issues in Kashmir have a chance of consideration by the nation's public because they are often juxtaposed with India's relations with Pakistan, which is considered to be the hub of global terrorism.

When I tuned in to a programme on NDTV on the JNU row a week ago, I didn't understand most of it because it was in Hindi. I attempted to build a coherent sense out of my fragmented interpretation of what was being discussed.

However, my attention was caught by a civil service aspirant from Bhagalpur, Bihar when he asked the media person if "women's nude protests" in Imphal, Manipur was emotionally tolerable for Indians. I was taken aback by the unexpected observation made by this individual and flashbacks from the crisis in mid-2004 over the brutal rape and murder of of Manorama Thangjam flooded my mind.

Long before this scandalous incident, a hunger strike by Irom Sharmila had already begun, in November 2000 against the AFSPA after a massacre in Malom, Manipur by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian paramilitary forces operating in the region, supposedly for civil protection.

This form of protest has taken the shape of an ongoing, though sporadic, movement in the state, hanging on a thin thread of hope because the AFSPA hasn't been reviewed till date and the protests lack strong branding and mass support.

Sharmila has persisted with her struggle and believes strongly in its cause, but she is merely surviving, being on hunger strike for more than 15 years, and being force-fed. Whether the Centre repeals the AFSPA or not, her body may no longer accept solid food, or rather, it may prove to be very risky for her.

Many people in the country who haven't had any significant exposure to this problem in Manipur, or have heard about it for the first time, even doubt if it is for real. That, to me, is as ridiculous a question as asking if JNU Students' Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar's arrest was real.

The majority of Indians are hardly aware of issues at the politico-geographical margins of the country. Many lives have been ruined and ended, and innocent people have been tortured in Manipur since the enforcement of the AFSPA.

Most of the people killed have been students of high schools and colleges who inevitably face lathicharge while voicing their anguish against violence by the state. Some youngsters even gather courage to fight guns with catapults, some burn public properties, vehicles and buildings, and the cycles of violence continues.

I often wonder what young students are learning and growing up with when education institutions are shut down for more than half-a-year because of unrest. This protest in Manipur against the AFSPA has prolonged, but has been woefully trivialised and ignored by the Indian public and media.

If at all the Centre engages, it comes up with the same allegations again and again, describing the protesters as anti-nationals. Stories like the shooting of Sanjit, in January this year, in a fake encounter in broad daylight, young students getting beaten up by the police, family members suddenly going missing are commonplace in a place like Manipur.

The value of human life has diminished in tne state. There is always a risk of big protests breaking out anytime. It has become part of normal life. Who is going to rebuild the people's trust? How many of the intellectuals from mainland India care to also remind themselves of the periphery?

Oh! Does the periphery even exist? Are they just tokens to complete the definition of India as a colourful, multi-ethnic, diverse country? Who wants the sympathy of the people from the mainland when their conscience continues to subtly perpetuate human inequality? But most of these questions have to be suppressed so that you appear to be in harmony with India, or you will be called an "India-hater".

The JNU issue has sparked a fire, but burnt are those who are thrown into the fire and routinely conditioned to walk on red hot charcoal. The cause for their fight is just, but the word "protest" annoys and abhors me deeply when it gets destructive in any form.

I sincerely express my sorrow for students like Kanhaiya. May justice be served soon in the land of dirty politics.

Writer

Thokchom Bibinaz Devi Thokchom Bibinaz Devi

The writer is a Delhi-based academic from Manipur.

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