Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Irrational passions; the politics of othering & unwarranted killings

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By Patricia Mukhim

In Meghalaya the mere use of the phrase, “jaitbynriew in danger from outsiders,” is enough to send hot-headed vigilantes and people who believe they are the custodians of the welfare of Meghalaya on a tailspin. Some have accorded to themselves the place of pride of being saviours of the ‘jaitbynriew’ and by extension they have also appropriated the right to kill anyone who is a threat to the jaitbynriew. Hence the Ichamati incident!
Two people killed in the CAA protests! Why? What does the CAA have to do with Ichamati which is in a Sixth Schedule area? If Khasi/Jaintia tribals who are Christians or of the indigenous faith or are non-believers are being persecuted in Bangladesh and want to apply for Indian citizenship will we refuse to accommodate them in Meghalaya? If some group is protesting against the CAA why did they have to kill people? Was there a previous grouse? Will the killers get away with yet another murder? This time of two individuals?
The Meghalaya Police ought to hang their heads in shame for never ever being able to nail the killers since 1979 to date. What sort of a career graph is this? Police cannot apprehend the illegal coal mafia who continue their illegal coal mining and transportation business despite the NGT ban and despite the fact that miners continue to die inside the mines with a dead body being claimed just a fortnight ago. What rule of law are we talking about here? The interest of the police peaks only when it comes to apprehending small-time drug couriers and the HNLC. Looks like there’s a method to the madness that we are yet to configure.
If police can do such a good job of intercepting HNLC messages from Bangladesh why are they continually failing to apprehend murderers who manage to get away time after time? A human life is precious no matter the community, creed or colour of that person. The fact that police have repeatedly failed to apprehend such killers has only emboldened others to follow the same ugly route. Such murderous types only need the flimsiest of reasons to carry out their dark deeds.
Of course such killings will always evoke a sense of outrage from the non-tribal community and perhaps letters will be sent to Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi..But what after that? Their protests have never been consistent and will be forgotten after a few weeks. No group has the patience to follow through a petition until they see results. There is no collective will to fight back. It is tiresome to watch the “othering” of the non-tribal who has always been the scapegoat for everything that has gone wrong with the state. We have seen this since 1979 and the rhetoric of making the non-tribal the fall guy is a sure-shot vote garnering tactic. No candidate whether for the Lok Sabha or the state assembly elections has the guts to speak openly about the permanent non-tribal residents of Meghalaya being equal stakeholders in the development journey of the state. The same old rhetoric is repeated in election after election which is – protecting the tribals against the wily non-tribal. And people are stupid enough to fall for that ruse instead of calling the bluff of politicians who have benefitted from the politics of divide and rule.
The othering process in Meghalaya has taken on a life of its own since the state was created. It peaked in 1979. What exactly is othering? It’s a phenomenon in which some individuals or groups are defined as being of a lower status than the in-group and are therefore labelled because they don’t fit into the norms of the majority group – in this case the tribals. This influences how people perceive and treat those who are seen as being part of the out-group. The worst part about othering is that the in-group attributes negative characteristics to people or groups that don’t fit the so-called noble and higher culture of the in-group. This “us versus them,” way of thinking has plagued Meghalaya for decades and prevented the out-group from becoming stakeholders that can equally contribute to the state building processes.
It’s troubling to note that even Christianity with its teaching based on, “treating others as you would have them treat you,” has not really had any impact on our collective behaviours. By ‘othering’ an individual we are negating that individual’s humanity and by killing him we dehumanize him completely. By othering a person or group we play a role in creating prejudices against such people and groups and by constantly dehumanizing them we create a situation where their lives are dispensable. Often even the persecution and violence committed on such minority groups is normalized.
The question then is when will the Indian non-tribal settlers in Meghalaya ever become “Us” and not “Them? How long will the exclusionary politics continue and at what cost? One can understand that illegal migrants cannot be sheltered here. But one cannot assume that all non-tribals are illegal migrants -U mynder or poi-ei as they say in Khasi. The second word poi-ei is most degrading and dehumanizing.
Othering begins very subtly and involves unconscious assumptions about others. It includes attributing positive qualities to people who are like us and negative qualities to people who are different from us; believing that people who are different from us or our social group pose a threat to us and our way of life. Constantly being suspicious of “others” although there is no experience to back up that distrust. Many refuse to interact with people who are different from them and their social group. In normal circumstances othering means considering people outside one’s ethnic group as not being as intelligent, skilled, or as special as one’s group. In our case we seem to feel threatened by the “other” because he/she is more resourceful and perhaps has a more acute business sense.
Othering happens because we think of people only in terms of their relationship with a specific social group without considering them as individuals. This can happen without conscious effort or even awareness. While othering is sometimes apparent, it often functions as an almost invisible barrier that keeps people who are seen as ‘outsiders’ from accessing opportunity and acceptance.
This has gone on for too long and will continue if we allow politics to consume us. There is a need to create spaces for community conversations that transcend ethnicities. Social spaces are much more meaningful than the excruciating demands of the politics of “othering” which has seen Meghalaya degenerate on all human development indicators. Politicians and pressure groups sow seeds of dissension because they benefit from it. They benefit from divisions and fear a public voice that counters the divisive narrative. But that public voice is imperative if we are to overcome the politics that profits from violence and death.

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