Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Mindless killing and Khasi society’s response

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By Patricia Mukhim

Why is there a sudden spurt of violence in society? What does violence achieve? What do the groups committing violence actually want? What is society’s response to the cycle of violence? And who are the patrons of the perpetrators of violence? These are questions that are hammering at our doorsteps because they need to be answered and answered without hedging. First, two nondescript people “the dispensable other” were killed in Ichamati following an anti-CAA protest. Then a labourer working in an under construction house in Mawlai Mawroh is killed simply because he is a also “ the dispensable other” simply because the construct is that he has replaced a tribal labourer who could have worked in his place. This despite the fact that the deceased is a resident of Shillong and has a labour license. So the logic seems to be, “kill first, check license later.” In all of this the dispensable other is seen as the intruder into the Hynniewtrep territory (which in the mind of the killers is not part of India).
The sudden spurt of violence according to some seems to be linked to the Citizenship Amendment Act and the repercussions for states bordering Assam. The assumption is that there is a long queue of Hindus/Christians/Buddhists/Jains and Parsis who are persecuted in Bangladesh/Afghanistan/Pakistan and have been in India up to December 2014 – the cut off year and are in Assam awaiting citizenship have not even reached the double-digit figure. So why the furore? There are other fears awaiting the indigenous tribes of India’s north east such as the loss of the Sixth Schedule status or the abrogation of Article 371-A in Nagaland. If it was done irrevocably for Jammu and Kashmir it could be done elsewhere too. That is the fear and the fear is genuine. But such fears cannot be dealt with the way some groups here are doing it which is to kill defenceless people. By doing so we are putting all the non-indigenous people here who are genuine Indian citizens and have lived here for as long as we can recall, on the defensive. It’s bad politics and it’s an ignominious societal dysfunction. As of today all the Hynniewtrep people are being labelled as cold blooded killers and they include even pious church leaders whose propensity to remain silent at such critical junctures is disgraceful to say the least.
The groups committing violence might have been paid to do so or are bigoted members of some pressure groups who feel they alone are custodians of the Hynniewtrep legacy and all others are opportunists waiting to sell off this state to the highest bidder. That idea has been planted in their irrational heads by some extreme right wingers who are now selling themselves are the only protectors of the Hynniewtrep race. The idea is to use fear psychosis as a stratagem to drive out the non-indigenous people from Meghalaya as if this state is some kind of island surviving on its own resources. The hot-heads should be told that the crores coming here are from taxes paid by ordinary Indians, excluding the tribes. When a person who dares to kill is hailed as a ‘patriot’ there is no stopping him from repeating similar crimes. More so when the law keepers are always but always on the backfoot – never once able to investigate crime in a manner that the killer is nailed. Now why does this happen? It’s because these groups of criminals are actually patronised by politicians. The moment they are arrested the police are under pressure to release them on bail or on the plea that they were mere suspects taken for questioning. The society too is to blame when it prevents the law keepers from carrying out their tasks.
In 1979, when the first spell of violence broke out, Mr BB Lyngdoh was the Chief Minister and VS Jafa the Deputy Commissioner, East Khasi Hills and Mr KPS Gill was the IGP between 1980-81 when Meghalaya was going through a period of turmoil. I recall how Mr Jafa would physically run after the trouble makers which included a person that later became an MLA and minister. Mr BB Lyngdoh also made full use of the CRPF and that was how violence was quelled albeit it resurfaced in 1987 and later years too. But the administration was never seen to have fallen short of its duties. As DC, Mr Jafa was always in the field and he had a very reliable grapevine that gave him the news he needed. If that level of violence were to erupt today I am unsure as to how the state police would handle it. It was good therefore to hear the CM, Conrad Sangma speaking about bringing in additional forces if needed to quell these serial killings and to increase vigilance by deploying the CRPF. I recall that there was a lot of murmuring about CRPF high-handedness because people expected to deal with arsonists and killers with kid gloves. I hope we have come a long way since then.
At the time there was no social media to give us a blow by blow account of the violence. Today the whole country knows that fellow Indians can be killed in Meghalaya just because they are not tribals and therefore not sons of the soil, even if they have lived there for decades. The poor are especially vulnerable. So on the one hand the state is hard-selling tourism and on the other, tourists are unsure if they will return alive. They could just be at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Now everyone wants to know if the killers of Arjun Rai have been apprehended. Over 24 hours have passed since the murder and police don’t have any leads. Interestingly not a single political party has condemned the killing for fear of a backlash from their respective vote banks. Most political parties try to appease the voters who too are fed with the rationale that they are losing out to the non-indigenous people. Whether that is borne out by hard data is immaterial.
It was the former CM, Mukul Sangma who had stated that in Meghalaya successive governments have been held to ransom by pressure groups and have succumbed to such pressures. Development too has been stalled by pressure groups who have fed the people of this state on an irrational fear psychosis which is the easiest way to control their minds.
In a study captioned “Does Violent Protest Backfire? Testing a Theory of Public Reactions to Activist Violence,” by Brent Simpson, Robb Willer and Matthew Feinberg, the authors found that in the situations studied, violence led to perceptions of unreasonableness, which reduced identification with and support for the protest group. The authors claim that existing research generally finds that violence by protesters reduces public support for the protesters and can even erode support for the causes they support. Other studies have shown that public support for a movement wanes when it uses violent tactics, and that violence damages the perceived legitimacy of the group. In Meghalaya, this does not seem to be the case. Society continues to support violence because there is no organised protest against any or all forms of violence except when it happens to an in-group member.
If as a society we believe we can get away with killing defenceless people then we have got it wrong. For every action there is an equal reaction. This is the law of nature. Let’s not forget that our people young and old are now scattered across the country and the world at large and anything happening in any corner of the world, in this case our distant corner is digitally transmitted. We are socially networked and images can trigger all kinds of reactions. The politicians elected to lead the state and its people have let it down repeatedly by treading on eggshells when it comes to being tough with criminals. This has got to end!

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