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Sangakpham and Beyond Confronting Illegitimate Violence

By A. Bimol Akoijam
In our times, empirically and theoretically speaking, terrorism has been an illegitimate child of a legitimate politics. The so-called “Islamic Terrorism” is a classic example. It’s a part of common knowledge today that it is a phenomenon which was initiated and groomed by the Western Powers, particularly the United States, in their effort to counter the erstwhile Eastern Block. So is the case of the Tamil nationalist outfit LTTE, which was initially groomed by none other than peace loving Indian State. Now, going by the allegation of the Govt. of Manipur, perpetrator of the terrorist violence at Sangakpham turns out to be a “legitimate” organization.

Therefore, there is enough ground for us not to turn a blind eye to the nature of the unbridled violence — of which terrorism is only one side of the coin — that has come to subvert a civilized life in Manipur. In other words, the State must be equally subjected to our critical scrutiny for its role and complicity in perpetuating “illegitimate” violence on us.

This does not deny the fact, however, that terrorism shall remain an expression of illegitimacy precisely because its violence is naked and exclusively a product of a decision unmediated by established norms and institutional mechanisms. It is illegitimate because the acts, its violence and intimidation, are not accountable to the people, particularly to its victims. The violence that struck unsuspecting citizens at Sangakpham is one amongst a series of expressions of terrorism that the state has witnessed over the years.

Scourge of Illegitimate Violence
Make no mistake, planting bomb in public place and killing civilians can only be the handiwork of those who want to destroy Manipur and de-legitimize those who seek and work for the wellbeing and dignity of the people of Manipur. And given that NSCN (I-M) being an organization that does not recognize Manipur as it exists and arguably do not enjoy legitimacy amongst the people of Manipur, except in the eyes of some organizations and sections of the population, it may not be answerable for their acts, including for the alleged one at Sangakpham, to the people of Manipur. But, arguably the Government of India is answerable; in fact, far more than the alleged involvement of the NSCN (I-M), the Government of India must be held accountable for the death and destruction at Sangakpham. After all, those who died at Sangakpham are “citizens” of this country and NSCN (I-M) is a recognized “entity” by the Government of India with which it has been in “political talks” and a “cease-fire” has been in place between the “two entities” for more than a decade.

It must go without saying that the violence, or to use Max Weber’s expression “physical force”, that is deployed by the State is “legitimate” insofar as it is mediated by the established norms and institutional mechanisms. This has been the imperatives of a civilized polity, particularly represented by the democratic ethos. If the violence of the state does not commensurate with such normative and institutional mechanisms, it is not legitimate. 

This is another reason as to why we must bring the State into our scrutiny. The culture of an unmediated and illegitimate violence has been initiated, groomed and sustained by the state in Manipur for decades. The reality of the violence perpetrated on the people by the security and law enforcing agencies of the state is only a symptom of a deeper subversion of the normative and institutional mechanisms by the State itself. The notorious AFSPA is a classic example of that ethos. Allowing the military, an institution that is primarily there for war, to operate as a law enforcing instrument to deal with the “internal affairs” of the state for decades has encouraged a culture that seeks to deploy brutal violence as a means of addressing political and other issues. Incidentally, the illegal and unconstitutional character of such an approach could only be sustained when the Supreme Court in its Judgment on the Act pronounces that the “disturbed” condition wherein the Act has been enforced is not due to “armed rebellion” (or in Manipuri, “khutlai paiba lalhouba”)! It even goes on to say that the disturbance is not of such a “magnitude” so as to say that it constitutes a “threat” to the “security” of the nation. Had it admitted that the “disturbed” condition is due to “armed rebellion” and threatens the security of the nation, AFSPA would have been unconstitutional for there is Article 352!

Consequently, under this legal fiction, the deployment of militaristic violence and its ethos have been allowed to get entrenched in the state as a part of administrative mechanism. The price of that subversion of the normative and institutional mechanisms of a civilized constitutional order has been what we have been paying all these years. The inability to judge “legitimate” and “illegitimate” violence in the state is not unrelated to this subversion.

Thus, let not this tragedy at Sangakpham become an opportunity once more for those who treat the public, their sense and sensibility, with contemptuous behavior of Feudal Lords to subvert a historically rooted political issue, which they have been trying to turn into a question of “crime” in the sense of taking it as an issue of “law and order”. Indeed, let it be known that the grotesque world wherein illegitimate violence rules our life in the state was inaugurated, nurtured and sustained by that decades-old approach.

No More Rhetorical Justification
It must also be equally understood that for those people who fight against an ethos that encourages the dictum, “kill the dog and give him a bad name”, a much more dangerous ethos than the classical example of lawlessness communicated by the saying “give a bad name to the dog and kill him”, must not keep on asking for the “reason” or “explanation” following such crimes as we have seen at Sangakpham. Whatever reasons that might come cannot be the rationales for justifying what is essentially indefensible “legitimate” violence. Be it under the cloak of AFSPA or counter-insurgency or in the name of “revolution” or “liberation”, one must be able to recognize an illegitimate violence for what it is. 

In a similar sense, we must be careful of the expression “collateral damage”, an atrocious term introduced by States rather than non-state entities, which suggests that the killing is “unintended” while not denying the premeditated awareness that the victims will be part of the dead beforehand. Let no rhetoric of “revolution” or “liberation” be allowed to deploy as a smokescreen for the crime which can be committed only by people without any ideological commitment, both in the ideational and instrumental senses of the term “ideology”.

Only then, can we meaningfully mourn and rejuvenate to say “Dear Aping alias Neha (10) d/o Basanta of Sangakpham Awang Leikai, Imphal, and Philaso (10) d/o Kachipkhui of Marou village, Phungyar sub-division, Ukhrul, you come from different communities, young souls of class III, fast friends that you were on earth, so will be in heaven too; Rest in peace but come back again; we will ensure your place Manipur become a peaceful place where you two can walk hand-in-hand once again!



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