KAPIL ARAMBAM • In Pursuit of Freedom •

The Tragedy of Democracy in Manipur

Democracy 1.0

Democracy can be simplified as a system in which, according to the Principles of Democracy, ‘power and civic responsibility are exercised by all citizens, directly or through their freely elected representatives’. 

It’s the participation of the people that make it very attractive, comparatively to other forms of modern political system. But in a place like Manipur, the problem starts with the people for reasons that are uniquely Manipuri and we are not unaware about it—we simply feel we are too tiny to negotiate a large system.

If we refer to facts and figures, how many of us would we go to vote, on March 4 and 5, for a reason like we admire the altruism of a candidate/political party so we should give our vote to him/her or his/her party? Ninety-nine percent I can declare that the answer is none.

We will be choosing the lesser evil on the basis of how much the candidates are related by birth, how much they can offer individual jobs, which ethnicity they belong to, our perception of who will loot the people the least and a host of similar reasons. Free and fair election, a primary characteristic of a democracy is a myth in this part of the world. At other times it is a top-level dilemma: we want to cast our vote for the right candidate but there is none!

As an addendum to that kind of catch-22 situations, the best we can do is to nag the elected representatives and compel them to solve our grievances if and when those arises or are likely to arise. Easier said than but it’s not impossible.

In reality, one vote is going to last for five years but we are too nonchalant to care about public issues. If there is no ‘right’ candidate, therefore, the least we can do again is to make the public issues a priority but that’s never been the case.

To take an example, when the Manipur police gunned down Chungkham Sanjit and Thokchom Rabina, the public issue is state terrorism that needs to be addressed politically as much as legally instead of feeling complacent that we are still alive and that we will take every personal path to hide from the terror that the state is spreading in the name of law and order. Incidentally, if the countless NGOs and civil society organisation can see the farce of political issues—instead of reducing them to those of human rights that’s already a predefined law and order problem—we might be on a better position to sort out the issues.

Democracy 2.0

Another important aspect of democracy is the crucial responsibilities of the people. 

We have seen the example of forced public–private confusion already but life does not end there. If we really care about democracy we have to dig deeper otherwise we might as well just bring allow a dictator to rule over us by any available means regardless of ethics, justice and our collective aspiration.

It is further explained in the Principles of Democracy:

•    Democratic citizens know that they must bear the burden of responsibility for their society if they are to benefit from its protection of their rights.

•    In a democratic system, people unhappy with their leaders are free to organise and peacefully make the case for change—or try to vote those leaders out of office at established times for elections.

•    Democracies need more than an occasional vote from their citizens to remain healthy. They need the steady attention, time, and commitment of large numbers of their citizens who, in turn, look to the government to protect their rights and freedoms.

Bear the burden of responsibility? Organise and make change? Political participation of the public? All of these questions are insulting our exceptional Manipuri intelligence.

On top of this, Manipur is also one of the heavily militarised regions and this is oxymoronic because it is India that has been claiming as the largest democracy in the world. In fact, from day one, of the departure of the British Raj, the erstwhile princely state had started setting up its democratic institutions and other political infrastructure. However these were knocked down with the annexation of Manipur in a not-so-democratic manner, while the state never got a chance to recuperate from such a blow in its infant stage till today.

But it’s not only India that should receive all the brickbats. The local leaders are pretty much hands in gloves with the masters who live in New Delhi. Besides, to complete the picture there are two groups that are leaving no stone unturned to bring out the best in us: one, the government officials and representatives; two, the intelligent and civilised people who take pride en masse in being apolitical and ignorant.

Democracy 3.0

Democracy thrives with the concept of the rule of the law. 

In the most ridiculous way, recently while appearing at the court, a top official of the NSCN IM’s frontal organisation told the press that he didn’t know a blockade is illegal. No sir, it’s not; rather it is just an act of war now and then a gross crime against humanity that no law or legalese can explain it.

Truth be told, law is a device for the protection of the citizens but that’s the last thing we see in a place like Manipur. I dare you challenge it. I can cite the example of one of the VCs of the Manipur University who was shot in the leg as a warning against taking bribes. That’s no law but a manifestation of a sick society where any power-aspirant can take the law into his/her hands—and if that’s inadequate the man with the bullet is standing in the upcoming Assembly election.

The former VC’s partner or a colleague, arrested along with him and similarly shot in the leg, is also standing for the election from a different political party and assembly constituencies. It wouldn’t be surprising if these ‘respected’ gentlemen, like the other politicians will follow the rule of law: as in amassing wealth while they refer to the law as a veil by declaring they would be arrested if they were guilty.

In this context, kangaroo courts and ‘mobocracy’ can also be hardly considered a means of applying a rule of law. This reminds us of the need for dictatorship again. At least we can truly answer what kind of a system we are in, instead of saying we live in the largest democracy when we have been coerced to compromise with the most basic right to life.

As long as we go further, we only continue stripping democracy of multiple layers of essence in Manipur. We have the right to vote but we don’t have the means to follow it up; we have countless human rights organisation but not the values of human rights; we have the freedom of religion yet we will fight on the line of ethnicity; we have a government but for which good governance and accountability are alien terms; and the list continues. 

Democracy beta version

It is rightly said that the people get a government that they deserve. 

However, it is also the group of people who are coming out as political aspirants who have blood all over their hands, starting right from the incumbent leader or the chief minister. For fifteen years, he was busy in everything but issues of public interest and now in the run-up to the forthcoming election he is promising three lakh jobs and free wi-fi. Democracy ought to have a foolproof system, apart from the people’s right to vote, to control the entry of contractors and criminals and them from posing as our representatives. If this is not possible, then we can as well do away with our customised form of democracy.

What we can do in this context is not the issue. If we have to list them it would range from the significance of reinforcement of democratic ideals and principles to becoming politically conscious people but this write-up is not about preaching what we ought or not to do or say. It’s just a reflection on how we take so many things, like democracy and good governance, for granted for reasons we know the best. Contemporary Manipur will go down as a blot in this history, that’s for sure, but it would be sheer cowardice on our part if not some of us can say that we did try our best and that we had not remained deaf and dumb to recurring tragedies and stupidities. 

[Work Cited Above: Principles of Democracy, published by the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), U.S. Department of State]

From The High Ground of Compulsion

Substance, self-subjugation and etc

What would you do the first thing
Say you heard the universe will end today?

    Find a few bucks; the heavenly rocks can wait.
    Find a dealer who got the stuff.

The world always ends every day,
At a boundary of the day's drench.

    You said it but knowledge be no power
    All that matters is the paper-packed powder.

What is life anyway but seeking for unasked purposes
These be first destroyed before we vanish today

    Like in the books of truth; for me
    I live to use and I use to live by compulsion

I had wanted to be a good man
Like goodly-good but never and all disapproving

    What a way to end the failure!
    Never say never.

1/3 The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation

The following text is sourced from a pamphlet titled as The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation that was published by the Anarchist Federation, which seeks to abolish ‘capitalism and state in favour of bringing about a society based on the guiding principle “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need”’.

1/3 The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation
2/3 The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation
3/3 The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation

2/3 The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation

The following text is sourced from a pamphlet titled as The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation that was published by the Anarchist Federation, which seeks to abolish ‘capitalism and state in favour of bringing about a society based on the guiding principle “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need”’.

1/3 The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation
2/3 The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation
3/3 The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation

3/3 The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation

The following text is sourced from a pamphlet titled as The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation that was published by the Anarchist Federation, which seeks to abolish ‘capitalism and state in favour of bringing about a society based on the guiding principle “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need”’.

1/3 The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation
2/3 The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation
3/3 The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation

Slaves Spotted

A brief impression from the invertebrate people of my hometown: If anyone wants to know why Manipur is so underdeveloped, look at the people revelling in a circus called the election of a bloody democracy 

I’d love to believe that the Manipuris are one hell of a resilient people. The current blockade by a frontal organisation of the NSCN IM has crossed a record three-figure mark but life goes on as usual—and it doesn’t matter, for one group/community  that the price of essential commodities are skyrocketing or there are shortages in medical supplies, while another group is having an epiphany of crappy ideals like those of nationalism.

Then I found this is no resilience but some other manifestations that are uniquely Manipuri. The term ‘resilience’ connotes a sense of recovery while in our case it is less about resurgence but more about exhibiting the sick mentality of a condemned society created by communities of spineless people. There is no question of recovery when we are suffering from chronic ailments.

Humans are called a political animal and other animals as simply natural for a reason but behaving like a political animal is the last thing on our minds. Let Aristotle rot in his grave for making such a gross statement that we are ‘a social creature with the power of speech and moral reasoning’.

The celebration of decadence

Look at the supporters of the representatives who usually come out of their hibernation only around election time. We simply do not see how life has been made hopeless by the indifference of our representatives. Right in front of us, the blockade is underway and countless issues—from unresolved cases of indigenous rights to armed conflicts—are making our collective life nothing less than scum. But, no. Instead we are so nonchalant that we would attend the flag hoisting ceremonies and street processions in droves with ‘slaves’ tattooed invisibly on our ugly foreheads.

Decades after decades, we have seen the parasites eating into our collective brain. Simultaneously we have also seen the lethargy of the most selfish leaders; in fact, we would even set the Assembly building on fire to air our grievances; yet, amnesia, which is perhaps caused by our own stupidity, is making us stumble at every short turn. This also reminds of the ancient civilisations which had vanished into thin air and the joke will be on us if we start talking about civilisation.

What are we supposed to do now?

On the Roads to the Palace and the Crematorium

This poem was originally published in Manipuri as Konunggi Lambida, Mongphamgi Lambida in the collection Rajkumari Amasoong Uchek Machasing by Yumlembam Ibomcha. The book was first published in 1992; though as footnoted, the poem was originally written in 1977.

Dreaming, on the road to the palace,
All the people they were,
Restless eyes toward the palace
Some were shouting
Others crying
The rest were laughing
Albeit all of them were one
All of them came voluntarily
Some souls were speaking
Some others silent
Their destination was one
Their road was just one
On that narrow jam-packed route
They were rushing towards the entrance
Like front-line troops—all set to strike.

Now the apparel from the palace
Those are flying, almost kissing the clouds
And the top vertex of tall buildings
Those are staring; nearly overbearing
And the small feet are hanging, unhinged
With not even a single space on the surface
Their hands are as well hanging, unhinged
The bare leafless trees are standing
Just like skeletons, unclad
And at the clear sky the naked branches are waving
Just like it wants to share something
But they are all noiseless
Just like waiting for a green signal.

I’ve been in a trance, for a while
Just like them I have almost forgotten who I am
From the innocent smile of my child
From my wife though, I’m becoming aware of myself
My wife is asking: where we are now
My child is asking: where we are now
I look at myself, at my wife, at my child
I look at my surroundings
But it’s all faded like those dreams gone dim
I look closely; and I look at the distance
In front of me
The road looks ever converging

Amongst the crowd I find I’m all alone
—No, I’m in a vast open field
I can see, not a single soul
It’s all silence in all the directions
All as quiet as a crematorium

In the distance, in the sky a small bird is soaring
—No, it’s not a bird
It’s the old witch.

I want to run away,
While I’m hesitant which way to flee
The witch is standing in front of me

Her red eyes fix on me
I cannot even blink now.

In front are the countless crematoriums
In countless rows
Scattering skeletons on all sides

I’d love to ask:
Where are your ‘wooden boxes’ you belong to?

Withal the witch has vanished
Yet in front, here, stands a princess
Smiling like a heavenly nymph of lore.


Tweets of the Day:

The Mechanical Man

Sundays I wear my sunflower socks
Bright and brilliant as my beer belly does,
Mondays I wear my maroon moccasin
With a desire to dazzle the dilly-dally life though uncertain,
Tuesdays I’m almost out of option
Still I do don my dresses that I assume as drab,
Wednesdays I wear a wenge sweater this winter;
Thursdays and Fridays
I might as well try for more attire.

But the Sundays have gone insane
The Thursdays are aping the Mondays,
The Fridays are becoming frightening.

For on weekends it’s all written on the wall
The Saturdays are absurd, just anticipating Sundays,
And the sunflower socks are in suspense
All set to strike,
The moccasin minds all the Mondays
Like the days are distinct
Like all the lacklustre Tuesdays so listless
And I suffer from all the similar Sundays,
These unwavering weekdays and weekends.

The Mondays are diverse only on unseen calendars
The Tuesdays are merely a testimony
—The same days, the same weeks, the same months.

Design in the Time of War 3.0

Design in the Time of War 1.0
Design in the Time of War 2.0
Graphic Arts and Advertising as War Propaganda
By James Aulich
1914–1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War

Two-sided visiting card design, Feb 2017

On Demand: The Corruption of Revolution

When revolution starts rhyming with extortion and corruption, there is hardly any positive effect on the ‘leaders’ and the led

Last year in New Delhi, a honey-trap racket was busted after an airline pilot could not handle it anymore and had to resort to legal help. Scamsters were repeatedly demanding money from him who had fallen into their trap through a dating site. More than 9 lakh INR had been extorted from him yet it came to an end. This was just one of the hundreds of tales that ended well in the unenviable world of easy money.

First Shot

On the other side of the fence, in Manipur, extortion is a thriving business and those who are into the ‘business’ are seemingly having a field day— with the main proponents belonging to the two powerful groups of gunmen: the so-called non-state actors who are by all accounts fighting for the land and  its antagonists, the state force.

First of all it might be obvious but there is a rule of law in New Delhi. If you are a victim and even if you have committed a grave mistake, there is a space: a legal route, or whichever is possible and that you can take and through which you can look forward to a solution. But in a land of disasters like Manipur, the view is bleak and any hope bleaker. I can start with a brief about two of my uncles.

One of them is a retired chief engineer and I can only imagine how much he must have gone through for holding such an envious position in a region where any government job opportunity is considered a gold mine. Before retirement he was kidnapped multiple times and more than once, gunmen had fired several rounds of shots at his gate that he had to get police protection until retirement.

The other uncle, once a director of another ‘wealthy’ government department, was blamed for sheltering members of an outlawed organisation. It was only militants who attacked Uncle # 1 but it was the state police armed with a search warrant who robbed Uncle # 2.

Second Shot

Today’s story is here: it is about militants, rebels, scamsters, criminals and the universe of extortion. When we were kids, it appeared that those people who had gone to the other side of the law in the name of fighting for the motherland had some kind of respect from the common people. We also heard a lot of tales of good’ol days from the older folks. Fast forward to 2017, respect must be the last thing these people will be getting.

Before going further, there is a suggestion. The ‘real’ rebels can spread the propaganda that it is the state and its agencies which are messing up all the ‘revolutionary’ things. Even riflemen and foot soldiers of the state had been caught for extortion while an army colonel was nabbed for smuggling and highway robbery, which the rebels always get the blame for.

However, the issue is about trust and accountability. For around three decades after its origin, the armed movement in the region survived on the staple of ideologies and principles but today, these are the elements that have been overshadowed by the absence of any direction and all sorts of corruption. Occasional press releases published in media on raising days and rhetoric on Indian ‘national’ days are too little and unconvincing. Funding might be crucial, in any case, but not so much that its sources become an object of revulsion; though it is the reality today.

If we elaborate it, it is a given that those who ‘truly’ believe in social revolution and work for its goals will object to the statement yet if we go by the facts, it is not false how a group of diverse people have been making a living out of this poverty of thoughts and action. In fact, though clean they may be and as ‘subsidiaries’, career activists are also prospering from this drought by legitimising the sheer decadence or by walking on the lines that are set by the powers that be.

Third Shot

Picture this. In mainland India, a huge number of politicians have cases against them for extortion—ignoring the other criminal issues. The beauty of Indian democracy is that it allows all kinds of goons and criminals to stand for election. Closer home, last week, we had seen a democracy-fan, who is a drug smuggler with a pending case and also a nephew of the current chief minister, had already got an election ticket.  

It might be a sin if we live by the truth but in the pathetic ghetto where our collective life is set now, self-styled revolutionaries are redefining the meaning of election through the sheer power of extortion. If there is a record number of cases against police, fake police and elected representatives and equally those against politicians, these revolutionaries have been indulging in monkey business and validating the existence of this system that they are purportedly fighting against.

One, their action is no different from the apolitical masses that take side for either Manipur or India as the situation demands. Two, many of them are waist-deep involved in daylight robbery led by the threesome group of politicians, contractors and bureaucrats. If so desperate, they might as well conform to the provisions on extortion that are listed in the Indian Penal Code—besides as everybody knows, being a ‘pragmatic’ fan of the Indian electoral politics, as evident from the CorCom’s banning of the Congress in the last general election.

The Last Shot

Revolution is an end in itself. Self-determination is also an end in itself. These factors cannot be compromised with anything in the universe. With no political objective, no vision and no ideology, the armed movement is dying a slow painful death. If it perishes, the onus is on the people for we are still living in such a hellhole for as long as we can remember and we have to right the wrong.  

Above all when groups that are fighting for political causes are becoming popular for all reasons but political, something is rotten in the collective; and you cannot simply deny it by citing it as the case of a rotten apple destroying all the apples in a basket. In Meiteilon, we also have the proverb of ‘chak-chagring’ instead of the apple.

In other words, it can be considered as remarkable if it is a case of exception but when it is the order of the day, any demand of revolution will be reduced to ashes for two reasons. First, as we know, there is no sense of direction besides suffering from the paucity of ideologies and objectives. Second, the death is much closer, when there is already a substantial number of people who believe that we need not only India for our survival but also its freebies and privileges. And here, we have not even included the current burning issues out of the Indo-Naga revelry. Our long march is going to be very long.


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