Manipur: On the communal mobbing at Gwaltabi Incident of 30 April 2015 and afterwards

By Campaign for Peace and Democracy (Manipur)

The All Tribal Chiefs’ Forum (Manipur) (ATCF) imposed a 24 hours bandh (closure or blockade) from the midnight of April 29, 2015 demanding the Government of Manipur to release fund under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

In the course of action bandh activists damaged a passenger vehicle and a scooter that were plying on the route at the Mongneljang village. The owner of the damaged vehicles and a group of people from Gwaltabi village attacked the bandh activists numbering about nine; seven of whom were subsequently given protection by the police.

It led to an organised vandalism in Gwaltabi, by an irate mob from Thawai village, leading to the destruction of about 30 houses and properties. Gwaltabi condemned the act, demanded compensation, and called an indefinite bandh along Imphal-Ukhrul route. The matter was technically resolved on May 3, 2015, following Civil Society interventions and a tripartite talk amongst the government officials and representatives of the Gwaltabi and Thawai villages. Those whose houses and properties were being destroyed are yet to be ‘compensated’ by the government.

What were the contentious communal agents at play?

  1. The ATCF is composed of the chiefs from the Naga and Kuki-Chin-Mizo groups of peoples.
  2. Gwaltabi is technically a Meetei village near the Yaingangpokpi Police Station. A section of the villagers interpreted the bandh communally and defied it.
  3. Thawai is technically a village inhabited by Kukis and Tangkhuls (Naga) at about 3 kilometres north of Gwaltabi. A section of the Tangkhuls perceived both the bandh and the defiance with communal perspective.

What were the communal aspects?

  1. The president of the ATCF Mr. Tongpu Kipgen clarified on May 2, 2015 that the ‘bandh was not called in the interest of a particular community or for the tribal alone. But it was for all job card holders of the (Manipur) including those in the valley areas.’ This posterior clarification of being non-sectarian cannot cover up the ATCF’s failure to invite ‘non-tribal,’ who were neither invited nor mobilised in advance, to make it apparently non-sectarian in intention and implication.
  2. A section of the Gwaltabi Meeteis perceived the bandh with communal perspective and defied it. They asserted that the bandh should be applicable only in the hill districts as it was called by the ‘tribal,’ thereby, logically and communally identifying the ‘tribes’ with the hills. When the vehicles were attacked by the bandh activists, they immediately retaliated in such a way that it conveyed communal meaning. In the aftermath of vandalism in their village, they took advantage of their geo-strategic location and imposed an indefinite bandh directed against the ‘tribal;’ which was an emotive reaction with communal implication.
  3. A section of the Tangkhuls of the Thawai village perceived the bandh, and the defiance by Gwaltabi and targeting of bandh activists with communal perspective. They felt that the bandh was meant to be arbitrarily enforced at any cost in those areas where they could arbitrarily exercise their muscle power to express their domination. The rumours of being targeted and missing bandh activists was consumed communally and it interplayed with the pre-existing communal hatred. They indulged in organising a mob of about 200 people who indiscriminately targeted the houses and shops of the projected communal enemy.

Communal mobbing as a wild norm vis-à-vis due legal course?

  1. Gwaltabi and Thawai are two neighbouring villages. They coexisted and shared in many ways; usually marked by cordial interpersonal relationships at various levels, which was sometimes overridden either during emotive aberrations incited by ruffians from time to time or on some overwhelming political issues that were not their own making but compartmentalised them into contentious communal blocks.
  2. The bandh activists could have detained the vehicles, and taken up more matured and respectable actions in such a way that no opportunity was offered towards communal interpretation about them. The owners of the damaged vehicles and the irate mob of Gwaltabi, instead of indulging in mob attack, could have waited and taken up due legal action against those who were responsible for the alleged crime. Similarly the irate mob of Thawai, instead of vandalising Gwaltabi, could have waited and taken up due legal action against the attack on the bandh activists. Similarly Gwaltabi could have taken up legal actions against vandalism instead of an indefinite bandh that affected many who were neither involved nor connected to the vandalism. Through adopting legal options, they could have prevented from injuring and becoming potential threat to one another. Even if they were indifferent to the State’s judicial proceeding, they could have adopted community consensus options, which they later on did during the tripartite talks.
  3. The organised wild aggression, a short lived irate communal barbarianism, which might have temporarily satisfied the short-sighted intentions of the village patriot turned ruffians, was practically communal, inhumane and counter-productive. There was absence of bravery and manly fair fighting but only organised vengeance by the timid ruffians who incited others to indulge in committing crime on the numerically weaker; during the target on the vehicles, mob attack on the bandh activists and vandalism in Gwaltabi there were merely organised attacks on the numerically helpless weaker.
  4. This communal mobbing culture at the village levels, a stimulating force that may spark off larger communal conflict, a situation that the overarching communal chauvinist forces have been expecting to spearhead to achieve certain counter-revolutionary reactionary intentions, cannot create the material foundation of a collective society where individuals could prosper only in interdependence and live in peace.
  5. This incident of the inter village ‘crime of obedience’ to the larger communal propaganda of the traitors of the revolution (both from the ‘valley and hills’ across communities), if repeated time and again, will merely end up with the villagers digging the grave of one another and none will be victorious.

What is our message to the stake holders?

  1. The All Tribal Chiefs’ Forum have nothing worth to gain for the people from the MGREGS. Their sectarian struggle for the meagre fund from the MGREGS simply exposes the perpetual monetary dependence to the exploitative bourgeoisie democratic system. It raises the question if the objectives of the tribal chiefs are not to establish economic self-reliance of the people but to remain begging, which in no condition will emancipate the people from the structural subjugation and impoverishment. It is high time that the chiefs, if they are really concern about their people, should stop begging for petty fund but concentrate on community investment in ‘their land’ to bring an end to impoverishment and emigration in search of job.
  2. The villagers of Gwaltabi and Thawai need to ask themselves as to what they have actually gained from the recent flare up. Who have gain what, how much and at what cost? It is a shame that like uncanny children who merely acted on foolish emotions, they did not fight for a good cause but inflicted injury to one another and ended up with a compromise designed by the ‘alien’ third party forces? The neighbouring villages cannot live in isolation from one another. By recognising and respecting community differences, co-existence and mutual interdependence; they can promote and defend common interest and grow together.
  3. We would like to urge upon the oppressed peoples, who can’t be self-reliant in isolation, that they have nothing to gain by creating communal enemies. The past experiences have shown that it were only the marginalised sections that carried the loads of communal conflicts and were victimised. Some ruffians or paid agents of the communal war mongers may be happy with and gain from communal conflict; but this cannot solve the structural oppression of the rulers who merely use communal propaganda to cover up their loot and misrule.

Peoples united can never be defeated!
Long live international!

With regards,
Dr. Malem Ningthouja

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