MENDING RELATIONS

The Imphal Free Press
August 4 2010

In resolving the crises of identity and other problems arising out of irreconcilable demands by different ethnic groups in Manipur, and indeed the entire northeast region, it would have been realised by now that it is peace initiative by an enlightened civil society at the ground, rather than intervention from above, which is of primary significance. The interventions from above must come about, but these must not be as an independent process, but ones which are designed to complement, nudge, encourage and even kick-start civil society efforts at peacemaking. This is one area where the desired bridges have either been nonexistent or else extremely nebulous. It must be said that here it is non government organisations, NGOs, and non government funding agencies, which have been taking the role that the government too should have had a major interest and in fact pursued as a policy matter. At the risk of being accused of repeating the obvious, we are constrained to underscore the point that the government must make it one of its peacemaking responsibilities to identify and encourage independent civil society bodies to meet, talk, identify and develop common interests, thus paving way for problem solving insights and understandings.
 One of the major problems in this is predictable. Much of the civil society bodies in a conflict situation are too politicised and by that virtue extremely polarised on the line of the conflict they are looked upon to resolve. In other words, rather than occupying the independent, rational, discursive space that any enlightened independent civil society body is expected to, many of them are actually party to the conflicts and are thus partisan voices of the different players in the conflict theatres. Under the circumstance, the so called civil society dialogues stand the danger of becoming merely the extension of the battleground of the conflicts they are called upon put to rest. To use a cliché, the seeds for the failure of these civil society interfaces, would have thus been embedded in the very inception of these interfaces in the first place. But the encouraging thought is, there would certainly be moderating elements within even the most militant of these organisations although they are seldom heard. As always, when hawks and doves are put in the same pen, not only are the hawks only ones to be heard but the doves too tend to begin speaking in the voice of the hawks. However, although they speak in tongues not their own for the time being, the ultimate hope for a lasting resolution would have to rest with them and the belief in the ability of the system to empower their inner voices and unarticulated ideologies of peace and reconciliation.

In the meantime, there are also genuinely enlightened civil societies within the societies in conflict. Their minds and reasoning transgress ethnic boundaries and are able to see even very immediate issues, detachedly. They are also able to see from the vantage of even their supposed adversaries, and thus can empathise, even if not agree, with viewpoints that they are radically opposed to what they are called upon to support by the nationalistic and jingoistic pressures from their own communities. People in the professions, intelligentsia, men and women in position of responsibility in elite and democratic institutions and not the least, elders’ societies, generally belong to this category of emancipated citizenry. In private these moderate voices are heard almost wailing against their utter disempowerment. They are too afraid to come forward and occupy the public civil society spaces which would have been their responsibility to occupy in a free and democratic society. The challenge before all interested in putting the region’s crises behind them therefore would be to find ways to give voice and credence to this section of society.

The government could also work in other alternative civil spaces. The sporting arena is one of them. Reviving inter-district and inter-state sporting meets, as we see it is not just about encouraging and nurturing sports and sporting talent. Sporting rivalries can sublimate dangerous tensions just as sporting camaraderie can build emotional bridges that no steel and concrete structures the best civil engineers ever designed, can rival. The immense, worldwide heart warming interest evoked by the planned match on the clay courts between long retired veteran arch rivals, former grand slam title holders, Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe is proof of this. The overflow of positive emotions is palpable. These are emotions sans national or ethnic boundaries, and an abundance of these would probably even halt bitter wars on their tracks.

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