Friday, August 07, 2009

Betrayed by a Democracy

This is a piece that appeared edited in the MidDay Bangalore a day after the fake encounter... Here's the unedited version...
Pic Courtesy: Tehelka

A quick glance through Tehelka’s exclusive coverage of the fake encounter in Imphal yesterday is a piece of evidence that’s been long pending. Our country is no more a nation but a set of individualistic territories not willing to give up their differentiating identities. Can a nation be more nihilistic? For years as a young Manipuri-Tamizh, I tried explaining my stand as an Indian to groups of intellectuals who always tried to convince me that our country had gone terribly wrong. I wanted to have faith. I wanted to believe in the idealistic India – a country that was a home to many, a nation built on difference, bound by a constitutionally guaranteed equality. I did believe, wholeheartedly, till I moved to Manipur in early 1999. Hardly a month in the state and I realized how naïve I actually was. Nothing seemed democratic in the state anymore. A deteriorating educational system, backed by a powerless government, that had plunged the state into a virtual black age. Troops from the Indian army had taken law into their own hands for a long time by then and funnily enough locals who were in the Indian army also indulged in these acts that can only take one name - Opression. Fine, the local people had asked for a separate state. Yes, they were an armed militia and of course, a few groups were always associated with illegal activities like extortions and abductions – but where was the army being any different? My two-year stint in the state came to and end and I ran back to the south to complete my education. Vague and often muted cries of help did catch my attention, and an occasional Manorama did make it to the national headlines, but that was it. I was blissfully ignorant and content. I spent my time researching culture and falling in love with the India of my dreams. My degree in journalism helped me get involved with the local media and I realized that the inequalities in this country were far too many. My India was no more the place I dreamt it was. It was it's ugly opposite that was the reality I saw. States oppressed communities by holding back infrastructure – read Telengana, and others suppressed the rich cultural heritage of minorities in bargain for a more unificatory identity – read Karnataka. Some states even went to the point of declaring state religions and imposing compulsory prayers in government school like the incomparable Madhya Pradesh. India seemed to be a democracy only in our constitution. The real story was something else altogether. It was hard to make comparisons and decide who was suffering the most. It was however obvious that the only states suffering from nothing less than a central controlled military backed opressive rule were the 3 North Eastern states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland and Jammu & Kashmir in the North. These regimes were however justified by the government as security measures. The world knows enough about the Kashmir issue, but the plight of the North East is still one of the least reported military backed crime sagas. With the brilliant coverage given by Tehelka on the supposed encounter, it’s now for the world to see how our centre responds. Will the centre care enough to clean up these crimes and give satisfactory explanations to the people of Manipur or like always will they ignore it long enough and hope it disappears like a bad dream? The world is watching and this time the country is watching too – the core of our democratic India is finally being questioned. Can we blame this one on the militia too? And since we’re asking, are we really sure we’re not involved in Baluchistan’s terrorism as claimed? Are we that sure about anything anymore?