Looming Social Dementia


Periodic news report that the psychiatry wards in the hospitals in Manipur are showing a general upswing of cases should be enough to ring the alarm bells for everybody, in particular the government. Surely there is every reason to believe that this has greatly to do with the inevitable breakdown of institutions, traditional and modern, consequent upon the prolonged state of mindless violence and spiralling lawlessness the people are exposed to. We even suspect that the conditions for dementia everybody has come to be subjected to have taken a much wider toll. This may be a little beyond the scope of journalists, constrained constantly by the pressures of extremely short deadlines, and work volume in the case of the provincial media which are generally not staffed or moneyed enough to spare reporters or sponsor researches that may take months, but definitely a meaningful pursuit for academics and academic NGOs to establish a correlation between the rising cases of psychiatric cases and the uncertain and unsafe social environment in the state. There perhaps is also a correlation between this chaotic and intimidating state of affairs and the rising cases of stress related disorders, such as hypertension, migraine, stomach ulcers etc. In all likelihood, the perennial state of mayhem, overbearing decrees and threats of physical injury and elimination are cumulatively becoming a cause for chronic and extremely alarming health issues.

Come to think of it, what would be a day in the life of an average man or woman or even child in the state like? From dawn to dusk, information which get registered in their consciousness are those of violence, tragic aftermaths of murderous aggressions, faces of laments and protests, threats and diktats. They literally go to sleep with news and images of kidnaps, abductions and bloody encounters on the local cable TV channel, and then wake up the next morning to be greeted by pictures and news of blood, gore and deaths, staring back at them from the pages of their morning newspapers. All these are over and above the myriad, normal and awesome challenges of life everybody everywhere has to face. So average parents of school-going children for instance have not only to fight the clock to pack off their children to school in time and in order, but also desperately scan the pages of the local newspapers to find out whether the day is clear of any bandh or blockade call, lest their children get caught in senseless trouble and danger. Not just adults and government officers, children also get kidnapped. Sometimes they are sexually abused and murdered these days. Almost as if by rule, so many meet violent deaths almost on a daily basis, for reasons that seldom become open. Frustratingly, the culprits also most of the time are unofficially known to everybody, but officially ignored totally.

Twenty years ago, such crimes would have elicited the bewildered response from anybody that these are unthinkable and impossible in Manipur. Today even the most naive and trusting grandmothers would accept these as Manipur’s beastly new reality. Once upon a time, the moderating influences of a belief in a benign divine order, as well as those of a deeply institutionalised traditional value system was strong. Back then, it did not always take the law to convince people the basics of what are wrong and right, or what are acceptable behaviours and what are not. Law keeping then was not so impossibly arduous. The venerated space in society that elders once enjoyed, the respect reserved for women and the universal protective instinct for children, have all waned away. It is not just the law which has been turned on its head, but the intuitive values built over aeons as well. Something went wrong somewhere down the line and there was nobody to arrest the trend. A lot of it probably had to do with the wayward ways of those in charge of the establishment. Official corruption must have been the first blow to shake up faith in social values painstakingly nurtured over generations. The law too soon was to lose its moral authority over the people, leading them to take it into their own hands. There was also, in certain quarters, an intellectual eagerness to destroy established institutions on the pretext that they were degenerate, before new ones were built. The fact sheet at this moment shows values of traditional and instinctual jurisprudence, as well as the moral hold of legal institutions of the establishment, have been effectively decimated, but their replacements are stillborn. If not, they are overbearingly authoritarian, undemocratic, hate-driven and obdurately hegemonic.


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