Quoting popular introduction, Churachandpur (sic) was the most peaceful district in Manipur, officially and acknowledged by the inhabitants and those from outside as well. Indeed it was true. At least 10-schedule tribe with various non-tribals resides in the district without any breaking news or ‘headlines’ to be reported on violence and killing or worst communal violence. But that was history now and fondly remembered by many, as ‘those were the days’.
In terms of development and growth the district was recorded to be more advance than the others specifically the district headquarter town. Sadly enough, life was fast and ‘modern’. The town was infamous for modern diseases like HIV / AIDs. Since post independence and beginning of the 70s, people have slowly underwent a process of change in terms of socio – economy. In the late 90s and ever since the clash of the ‘ethnic brothers’ in 1997, the town and its surroundings became the hot spot of communo – ethnic war zone. Along with, this decade also saw the emergences of political consciousness among the tribal groups in the district.
This political consciousness have originated basically from experiences of social exclusion and concept of nationalism / nation building brought in by education. This was further aggravated by the fear of losing control over resources, as community resources ownership was no longer possible in the modern governance system. For administrative conveniences and easy management of the ‘backward people’, tribals were classified into various ‘recognized tribes’ with nomenclatures on the basis of language, traditional dress etc. Thereby serving as tribal identity and the tribals too identify themselves based on these classifications. Subsequently as a tribal, the need to emphasized and protect ‘identity’ becomes so strong that it led to an extent of militarizing themselves to stand as a distinct tribal group.
Many have written and talked about Churachandpur limping back to normal and is picking up the pieces of the post ethnic violence. Yet, it is quite evident that the scare of the ethnic violence still remains and the after effect seems to breed more ‘conflict’. Whatever was there, both the social order and development paused ever after ‘97. The once upon a time happening town became still and lifeless. Five o’clock in the morning is too early, and five o’clock in the evening is late, and by 6 p.m the whole town is as silent as a graveyard. The only difference is that in a graveyard you can hear sounds of the souls, while in this town one can hear sounds of bullets amidst silences. Issues such as conflict and communal topics became too hot to be discussed (and if you dare touch, it burns you). At times the sounds of silence were too loud.
Rs 20 crore vanished in thin air with the recent decision of the government to withdraw the mini secretariat project due to the tussle among the public leaders over the location to set up the building. The project was drop but was diverted as the project money was already sanctioned (as per media report). Drop the project, was the best decision the Government could come up with, simple..!.and that was the conflict management strategy from the side of the authorities represented by public leaders, caretakers of secular democracy. In this particular decision the common mass will never come to know where it was diverted and for what other purpose the money has gone. It was always opined that conflict have always been propagated by the non-state actors, specifically in this part of the state, where communal violence was understood as an act of some underground activities. It is true to a certain level that the armed groups propagate communal tension. But here the interesting part is the tussle between the ‘community leaders’.
Some of the models of conflict resolutions or conflict management include use of police force or military forces, giving more autonomy to certain sections, negotiations with outfits in armed conflict areas and one of the most common in regions like North East India is through development packages.
The main reason, which the Government has provided in the case of the mini secretariat project, was the public leaders. Here the government and the civil society working on conflict could now add one more strategy that is resolution through leaders, say, “management of community leaders”. Another important aspect in tribal areas is the local governance system like the village council, of which many believed that issue such as conflict could very well be settled by the village council. But, of course provided village council still does exist today.
The Sangai Express May 2008 / revised version NE Sun April 2009.