The Silent Politics of Oppression
by Visar Zhiti*
So much blood
Has been spent in this world,
But we have not yet built a sun of blood.
Listen, my friend,
To these trembling words:
A second sun will be born
of our blood
in the form of a heart
* Visar Zhiti (1952–) is an Albanian writer whose life and works mirror the history of his nation. He was once jailed for ten years because of his poetry that was against socialist realism and the reality of socialism. Text source: Struga Poetry Evenings, www.svp.org.mk
Oppression is a social construct. Alternatively, it is a division between different groups of people on the basis of who can employ the most amount of force and violence. Our primitive forefathers, howsoever their lives were ‘ancient’ and backward, there was no form of oppression. This has been observed in many parts of the region as well in their historical growth as egalitarian societies.
Food is responsible for the growth of oppression. Once all of us were hunters and gatherers and there was no concept of food surplus. Our ancestors literally lived in the moment and if ever there were divisions those were on the ground of age, sex and capabilities that were comparatively negligible to the kind of class divisions that exist today. It is ironical but an underdeveloped society like that of Manipur has also been witnessing growth of such a division.
As time passes by, concepts such as territorial pissing developed as societies became more complex. Ultimately in the Neolithic Revolution that occurred around 12,500 years ago according to some radiocarbon-dating estimates, we mastered the art of agriculture, which resulted in producing surplus food.
Gradually there was division among the primary food producers and further there were landlords and tenants who in due course transform into masters and slaves, with the subsequent creation of power players, inequalities, conflicts and so on. In a way, the surplus food also gave rise to the origin of different occupations. The history and anthropology of human social organization will also throw further light on this issue.
The existing oppression, in this background which is a product of the modern Indian state, is a double artificial creation. Precisely, such a non-natural creation is easier to put off, than say, preventing a natural crisis like an earthquake. To end it requires us, however, to know why oppression occurs in the first place.
Our dependency on others is one of the veils covering oppression. On an individual level, we have a dependency syndrome that crosses all lines of absurdity; and on the societal level, our reliance pops out acutely and regularly, for instance during economic blockades sponsored by ‘civil’ and student organisations. Nowhere in India might people have paid Rs 250INR for a litre of petrol and 1,500INR for a gas cylinder; but this has become quite a trend in the last decade or so.
Oppression, Silence and Solutions
Life ends at 6pm in the Imphal valley, the most populated town in Manipur. The duration of day is not as significant as it is in other parts of the world, where people are all up for optimum productivity and the best possible leisure. Torn by conflict for decades, and when basic stuffs such as electricity are a luxury, it matters little how many hours we get at our disposal in the evening. One of the most tragic consequences out of this mess is the phenomenon of silence.
Fear psychosis has gripped the minds of the people. The military establishment has waged a war against the people in the name of counter-insurgency operations. The state police department is more popular for their high-handedness than their alleged duty of providing protection to the masses. Murders and abduction cases are just as common as the morning plates of rice. It follows that silence, despite its drawbacks, has become a template for the people in dealing with the recurring crises.
The issue has thrown up a question on the silent politics of oppression, which explains why the people have resorted to shutting up both their minds and mouths. To put it bluntly, you might get killed for speaking out; nobody will even know who shoot you to death; and these crimes are so rampant in the region. So, this kind of politics is a direct product of political oppression. It is an undesirable response that further fuels the tyranny of the oppressors. However, it is not only the fear of unknown death but a complex web of cause-and-effect issues that have shaped the trend.
Ideally, democratic ethos and proactive lives can get rid of this silent politics of oppression but nothing is clear on the ground. The army might be involved in smuggling; some of the underground groups in running a mafia; police personnel in mailing demand letters and so on. Regardless of the unbridled ambiguity, it is true that the phenomenon is an artificial element.
The result is that we are turning illogical, superficial and into conformists; we are becoming the three monkeys that can see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil; while the existing politics is so rotten that it has deadened us physically and mentally. This cannot be without a group of people who are benefitting from the chaos. If religion is the opium, the politics of the day is the heroin of the people.
Ironically, the silent politics of oppression brings the oppressed people in the realm of the system when they ought to be on the outside. It is no different from a date rape. The more the people are stuffed into this suffocating compartment of the system, the further they are lost in the vicious cycle of oppression and subjugation.
At worst, many of us behave as if we are free of oppression because of first, our misplaced sense of free will, and second, our definition of oppression that are mostly connected with mere torture, imprisonment and subjugation in concrete terms. May be we are still ill-prepared to face the challenges and the sociopolitical and economical tragedies, as always, will go on for now.
However, the oppression is as real as the ‘Koubru’. It is evident in our daily lives where we are voiceless against the state-sponsored terrorism except for the ubiquitous street protests that hardly solve any problem. On the other hand, the effect of repression is so clear in our habit to play a victim: India has done this, India has done that, India is not doing this and India is not doing that. It is hard to admit it but we have the mind of a slave. Instead of resisting deprivation and discrimination, self-victimising is so commonplace despite its futility.
The most terrible outcome is when outrageous incidents—such as the onslaught of military personnel in the democratic space and the mindless violence becoming an order of the day—become a daily reality. On the other hand, however, does this kind of mindset support the oppression and in some cases, legitimize it? Apart from the unspoken endorsement, such a response dehumanizes us in addition to belittling all forms of life-altering abuse and injustice. Above all our very existence has been reduced to a tragic farce.
Are we too occupied with our daily lives that we cannot see beyond the ‘thong’ of our homes? Is this some sort of elitist privilege or at worst plain ignorance to be able to observe the things that a certain location of observation has provided us? Or is this also a part of our bleak life that implies much ado about nothing? Such a rationale that daily lives are more essential not only depoliticizes the issues but also pushes any probable solution further away from the horizon.
Instead of making a collective effort towards the real oppressor, in a classical Paul Freire style, ‘the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors’. This is most evident in the cases of mob justice, which is rampant throughout the region. Besides, the condition is considered indispensable—because violence, murders and abductions are so commonplace—regardless of its defective premise that wholly negates any form of logic. In such an irrational space, it is an easy pie for the authority to hoodwink the people and apparently, it is their favourite leisure.
Paul Freire adds that: ‘…The oppressed, who have adapted to the structure of domination…have become resigned to it, are inhibited from waging the struggle for freedom so long as they feel incapable of running the risks it requires. Moreover, their struggle for freedom threatens not only the oppressor, but also their own oppressed comrades who are fearful of still greater repression.’
We are sick. Our society is sick. The existing establishment is the germ-carrier. It is as simple as that. Our sickness is a symptom of the subjugation by the establishment. Our minds have been colonized for too long to see for ourselves how we are treading on a contradictory frontier of military democracy, which is euphemized as a region in a free country, a province in a republic state, a place run by elected representatives and so on, so absurdly but which has become a low-conflict zone.
What could have been a matter of negotiation has been coerced into a fight for survival between the state and non-state actors. The only beneficiaries are the government and its sycophants, some gun-loving youth who believe that patriotism is supreme and a few individuals who are too smart to have no conscience for humanity. And what do they create—a parallel government and its sycophants, some gun-loving youth who believe nationalism is supreme and a few individuals who are too wise to reflect on the virtues of humanity.
The breathing space is too little for the public but the activity theory formulated by Lev Vygotsky, Alexei Leontiev and Sergei Rubinstein do explain a solution to this problem. After tweaking it a bit, we can say fear psychosis is the product of our time. If we are placed in another situation, we could have been good as anyone in peaceful places in the world, if not suddenly we become the likes of Nongthongbam Maipaks and Arambam Bobbys with bodies and minds made of iron.
On a serious note we have an inclination to consider that we have a freedom in this restriction thanks to our view of free choice, but in another situation this would be nothing short of blasphemy. This is in considering the lawlessness all around us. Likewise, we question the idea of the nation. But if we were located elsewhere, say in some relatively progressive town in mainland India, this could have been unimaginable. We could as well have been the same as the people in that region if not for the conditions that bog us down.
The elementary process to start with, is in understanding the silent politics of oppression. It is human nature to deny our weakness but in its acceptance there lies solutions galore. To be vocal we can start with the very idea of political oppression in the region though active participation led by the virtues of political consciousness.