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Friday, February 16, 2007

AFSPA: The Question to Democracy

The Armed Forces Special Power Act, AFSPA, popularly called the “draconian law” has, once again, become the favourite toy in the politicians’ cradle. As the fever of the 9th Manipur Legislative Assembly election grips, AFSPA becomes the catchword. As if it is the soul of their political salvation, politicians swear on it without any hesitation. AFSPA becomes the shared agenda for the contesting candidates.

As “democratic election” gears up in Manipur, the operation of AFSPA poses a big question to the kind of democracy we are living with. Is free and fair democratic election really valid under such circumstances, when “inhumane” law prevails with unbridled power given to the Armed Forces? If the conduct of election is seen as a continuity of democracy, we are not far from accepting the continuity of AFSPA as democratic. The election, which is supposed to be a democratic means of empowering the people, is, however, a big contradiction as the secret ballot hangs on the draconian law. The whole drama is a face saving exercise for the mysterious democracy, whose face we have not yet seen. The “concert for democracy” swings without any democracy. If today democracy is seen as following formal procedures to allow dissent and multi-party election, democracy is, then, alive without its heart and soul. India as a flawed democracy is rightly said. The flaw being the inability of its institutions to be accountable and efficient in its operation. What we see in Manipur and in different parts of the North East is a deficit of trust in everything. What not?

The party politics or say the electoral politics has stirred with a temper and tone to repeal AFSPA after the election forms its own house. But with a condition, if they are elected to power. AFSPA has posed a big political challenge not only for the politicians but also for the authorities as well as several NGOs. As everyone battles with what comes first, peace and development or AFSPA, the tone and tenor becomes promising in the ambiguity. Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh belongs to the tribe who believed in the return of peace as the condition for repealing the Act. AFSPA is hidden in the most ambiguous excuse of the absence of peace, when it is already clogged in the spiral from the offshoot that gripped the entire North-East. When that becomes evident, one cannot, but wonder whether the meaning would be delivered with the politicians poking a small but sensitive constituency. When the killing spree in Assam could have a spillover effect on the prospect of AFSPA in Manipur, the campaigning chorus will face more orchestration even if everyone sits with power. The politicians’ race for mileage would turn out to be a mute tirade when none of them has a concrete design to repeal the Act.

That, once again, proved that the AFSPA chorus is situation created. It has to be when they failed to provide regular electricity, road and connectivity, safe drinking water, healthcare, institutions, playgrounds and what not. I was told only about 15.1 percent household in Manipur get access to safe drinking water. Nature is good to the rest. Imagine two hours of power supply in forty-eight hours. Imagine also the spine chilling record of over 400 cases of bloody violence in Manipur in the last four years. In the year 2006, there was a record of 418 cases of violence by undergrounds accounting for death of 73 civilians and 27 security personnel.

The question is what and where is the leverage? There is a need to test and run in every situation, which should be the alternative. A realist approach should substitute the soft stand that has been representing the region with AFSPA hatching no change at all. That would eventually allow any change a chance to take place in the space clogged with inhumane colonial Act stagnating the prospect for democracy and development. Fifty-seven years of swaying to merely fit into the political game of power quest has delivered nothing. The Act seems to be taken as a dead end in itself. One thing very clear is that peace or stability would not be established by strengthening the Armed Forces. But the land has been militarised. The rest is supposedly seen as militants if not victims of that. The unbridge gap of distrust grows evidently bigger. The only progress actually.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had earlier expressed his desire to relief the draconian act by giving a humane touch to it. AFSPA is the new untouchable item in the democratic space. Even though the authorities had shown compelled concern to touch the seemingly untouchable Act, the concern and motives are always suppressed. BP Jeevan Reddy Report as well as the numerous movements from the civil society for its repeal has been putting reasonable pressure. The protest is moving promisingly from Irom Sharmila Chanu to the United Nations. But will it be what it will be. Or is this what it really ought to be? So far a lukewarm response seems to be what it begets as “democracy” is cast once again into the ballot. One thing very popular with the general public in Manipur is the often-asked question, whether things, as they are, are real or not. Right now, politicians battling for power are baking their cake with AFSPA. As the ballot inked the finger of the right hand, AFSPA also wave on the left hand. A big reminder that right is not right. The question remains, is this democracy real or not?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Gnaw

I was told the rape and molested victims who testified before the Rajkhowa Commission would be provided with a contemptuous amount of one lakh rupees before the election takes place. Unfortunately it has become a tool for political mileage. The usually promising words were not delivered. It is still a mute tirade. Meanwhile the quest for justice is still voiced in the midst of silence. But how long can silence be silent? How long can we be blind to our brother’s who are maimed and killed by landmines? Our daughters and sisters who were raped and molested. Our brothers and sisters who were displaced to seek refuge outside his hearth and home. There is a rampant corruption. Politicians cornering our share of rights and privilege. Triggers ever ready to get burst. How long can we carry on like unrepresented people? Or are we unrepresentable? The issues that should have been gnawing us day and night are actually lying untouched and ignored.

Today it may be my turn to suffer. But you are not standing far enough. The spillover never leaves anyone free. Everyone is to be blamed for the mess. The Church is silent. The youth organizations. Students’ organizations. All the leaders and presidents. Politicians. The authorities.You and me. Just everyone are silent as if in collusion to the wrong and sin. If we stand up, it would be different. If we all speak out against what is unjust and wrong, the silent voices would have a tremendous influence on any injustice. We see, yet we are blind. We touch, yet we did not feel. But how long?

There is an ongoing discussion about the role of the Pope and the Church during the Holocaust. The Pope was fully informed about the extermination process, but deliberately refused to protest or even to condemn the Nazi atrocities. In Italy, where the Church opened its door to the persecuted Jews, the Pope did little to warn the Jews about the impeding danger. There is no doubt that the Vatican and the Pope knew beforehand about the impending deportation of the Italian Jews. There is evidence that the German Ambassador to Rome Mollhausen alerted the Vatican about the impending deportation. They believed that a strong stand by the Vatican, could forestall the deportations, but the Pope did not act. He was silent. If he utter, it would have been different. He would have saved the spill of thousand drops of blood.

The sin of silence would be the biggest.I understand that there is a certain element of being overwhelmed by the variety of problems we are facing, which is a sort of activism-fatigue. But, though this is our reality, we cannot turn our backs any longer. There are things we could do. We ought to do them. We need to galvanize ourselves around the issues and bring it to the forefront of our consciousness. This can be done by speaking against the ills and evils that is destroying lives and humanity. We need to build coalitions with individuals and institutions to build a critical mass of people supporting a resolution to put and end to all sorts of injustice trampling us. It is a grassroots effort, but it should be a key part of our efforts to make some sort of end to the unfortunate situation.

We ought to represent that challenge. Silence is a big betrayal. The danger, if there is any, won’t free anyone, not even one who is good in keeping silent. If silence could solve, more than six million Jews would have been saved. We could also have saved a lot. David Ben Gurion’s statement is worth pondering. He said: “What have you done to us, you freedom-loving peoples, guardians of justice, defenders of the high principles of democracy and of the brotherhood of man? What have you allowed to be perpetrated against a defenseless people while you stood aside and let it bleed to death, without offering help or succour, without calling on the fiends to stop, in the language of retribution which alone they would understand…”

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Manipur: Through Yin and Yang

I always asked, what had drawn the delusion to dwell for so long in Manipur? Are the perils ours to keep? The long night have hatched for too long. When will dawn set in? When will the promising light drive the brooding night away? When will the lullaby lull the whimper of the vale? Will the mother’s prayer stop the trigger-happy son from pulling just one more time? When will the government stop militarising our only nest? The latest technology imported to the state was some machine that can end lives. Not for the slaughterhouses. But for man to keep him at ease and peace. But? The mean machine knows no innocence. No gender. No age. The expensive technology floods in the face of hunger, drought, pain and all sorts of misery. Mother we don’t even have safe drinking water. No connectivity. No green or white revolution. There is big absence.

Beautiful vale, hills and mountain. Veil your eyes. Let vain mortals fight behind your hidden eyes if they still have to. But allow us no more if your silence could speak to reason us together. Drinking from the well of false pride we are quenched with narrow visions. Visions smaller than our eyes could see. Visions that eyes haven’t seen. Some blurred. Some bright. Some real. Some glitter but clatter. But they all seduce the travelling man. Clogging small remaining spaces with sharp edges, where everything remains a distant from the shelter. Man in quest and hunger. Everyone ready to die for something else. Even the unwilling die for something else. Something they they don’t want. Something they don’t believe in. Blood flows. Fear looms. Desperation sweeps. The quest stagnates in confusion. The warmth of home fades. Home’s lesson die unlearnt. But he was their son. Some, the only son. But all were loved and dear ones. Father and mother wonder the teacher within them. As they realised the lessons sowed on their beloved son comes out alive the other way round. The valve is still sought. But the seek is still a sought for the big elephant with blinded eyes. Unless we reason together the bleak will tweak. The beak will sweetly chirp no more. It will bray coarsely. The naked twig will shiver in the blank sky. What will happen to the songs? Who will bring the warm feathers to sit on the birch?

Will time or chance deliver the quest? Fair hands, draw closer. Your merciful grace be with us. Like the beauty of season that never fails, embrace us in peace. Leave none in pieces. Give the beast his lion’s skin. Let the sheep graze in the vale and hills before the milky grass dry. Let the weary flesh see the sunset undisturbed. Let them leave to tell the souls beyond that we dwell in peace. Heaven would sigh, then. And hell would be shamed.

Mothers’ nursing time with the “when” expectation lay shattered. Levelled to the ground. Some already hidden by the ground beneath. Heroes or martyrs? The leftover, today, beat with the asking. The expectation is different. Not their will. Or wish. The time of expectation is but never over. Expectation is the richest garner. So many times I wish we could end there. The joy of expectation. Man quest for more so he drives it till he sees the orgasm peak. But the life that grows from that end set the means for the vain.

Unseen fences all stood in a row. Some bigger than wall. Some higher than the sky. Some thicker than the minds. Us and them, unfortunately, matters. But, given thousand years, we need to live as one. Cold feet stood frozen facing untouchable like fences. But the skin is the same. The blood is all the same. The eyes are the same. Nose too. Even the little brain is the same. But are we any closer to where we ought to be? I won’t fight for freedom. Or any bigger words. But give me peace. Give me love. Let us share. I will, then, embrace the last moment with pride. I will leave, then, leave like a king. Content with no crave for more. With quest for no more. But what have we sown to reap that? Can any man reap what he did not sow? Can any man leap without seeing?

Heavy brow wades directionless. They bow and mourn. The days end as if they would be the last. And it begins again as if they were the first day to last again. Some hope we will eventually grow out after burning out. Some hope we will see the light from the cracked view after tiring out. Some believed in ten to fifteen years. If faith is religion, we seem to have no god here. Nothing certain. Blind everywhere. Not even a smack of believing. Everyone doubts. Doubt everywhere. Doubt every moment. Doubt everyday. That spills over to doubt oneself. Thomas’ tribe multiplies. To believe is to see. But how do we see peace to believe? When the peace within is doubted, the peace is without. Without trust.

Where is the explanation? Where will salvation come from? How shall we tell the generations about these lives? Will you dare tell them that you were silent all this while? That silence was more valuable than gold. Will you tell them you were too small for the big problem? Will you tell them you were ignorant about it? Will you tell them you did not start the fire? So you are not responsible. Will you tell them that you just let things be as they are? Practising Daoism unconsciously. The philosophy, in Wu Di’s time in China, which evolved into a religion. Let things be as they are. The scholars at the Han court in ancient China, when China rivalled the Roman Empire in power and prestige, made a good attempt to explain all events by an inevitable cycle of Yin, dark and cold, and Yang, light and warm. I don’t know if this profound turning point of ours ought to be applauded, celebrated or lamented. But hang on. Maybe we are just passing through that inevitable journey. Through Yin and Yang.