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Politics of the Slaves

Two groups of terrorisers, the armed rebels and the state, and a set of the terrorised have redefined the meaning of slave politics in the most elegant ways

If there breathe on earth a slave,
Are ye truly free and brave?
If ye do not feel the chain,
When it works a brother's pain,
Are ye not base slaves indeed,
Slaves unworthy to be freed?

James Russell Lowell, Stanzas on Freedom


Did anyone say slavery is beautiful? No, I guess I’m confusing it with the Roberto Benigni’s tragicomedy Life Is Beautiful. But nevertheless in our hometown, there exists a beautiful kind of slavery. Beautiful, because we don’t have to work in a paddy field for 18 hours a day, because there is nothing American waste about it, and because it does not exist in its literal sense but in some mysterious ways that sometimes we would even cherish it by singing paean for New Delhi. On other occasions we would realise that we suffer from self-hate because we are assholes but anyway, there are a few examples to showcase our existential wonder tonight.   

Round 1

When the government of India signed a vague framework agreement with the NCSN last August, there was a mixed response from the primary stakeholders, or the people of Manipur and Nagaland to be precise. Nobody knows till now what the government and the rebel organisation had ‘agreed’ by the agreement. Nevertheless it has created a new wave of politics in and around Manipur.

Here’s a brief. The Nagas and Kukis fought a bloody genocidal clash in the early Nineties, with a lot of support from the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-M) and the Kuki National Army (KNA). In fact these two organisations had earlier laid a firm foundation, prior to the clash, on which the two communities could fight like real beasts—but much to the tragedy of the masses for whom both of them claim to represent. Thanks to Christianity now a few people believe it is better to forgive than forget.

If we go through newspaper archives, we remember how the then chief minister of Manipur, RK Dorendra asked for military intervention to contain the issue—overtly proving how the ruling class of Manipur has all along been behind all the major conflicts in the region till today. He reportedly said: ‘Unless the army is sent to Manipur in a big way, the situation cannot be contained.’ (Source: The Hidden War / India Today) 

So where does the politics of slaves fit into this state of affairs? We don’t have to look far because a few months after the signing of the framework agreement, a few Kuki firebrands have seen a prospect. The rumour goes like: ‘If the Nagas, our counterpart and the hill dwellers of Manipur, have dared to sign an agreement with the union, we can too. Seeing that the Meiteis, the valley-dwellers, are our common enemy, why not we should collaborate with these daring people who once raped and killed sisters and mothers in droves. After all, this is politics.’

Yes, it is politics but only the sort that we can find amongst the slaves. But here’s the good news. To give company, the political parties from mainstream politics as well as a good number of people in the valley have been so generous to lend a hand and keep up the spirit of the slaves.

Round 2

It is one thing that we have been criticising the government to resolve the ILP crisis but we would not mind casting votes even in the hardest circumstances, for these very parasites, as evident from the recently concluded election of the Imphal municipality corporation.

And it is totally another issue that the ruling party in New Delhi determine the type of political party that would come to power in a hinterland like Manipur. Two terms of the UPA government had allowed the incumbent Congress chief minister to rule for three consecutive terms. Good for Ibobi and ten future generations of his family! However, now as the BJP-led NDA government has completed two years in office at the centre, there is speculation that this factor will have a major impact on the next Manipur assembly election that is scheduled in February 2017.

Such a politics is reasonable because Manipur survives economically entirely on the union’s charity and it is recommended that we have the same political party at the local level. That’s our shared wisdom of the slaves. We have a slavish Congress government currently because it was formed during the UPA regime and now, even during crises, it cannot even get an appointment (regarding the ILP crisis) to meet a prime minister, who belongs to another party. All we can do is to wait for another slave government in February 2017, or perhaps destroy the State Assembly building altogether. 

We are uncertain if it could be the same party or not at times, but we are 100%ly sure that whenever we have a life-threatening social crisis, the union will never have an ear, while our representatives would keep pushing each other to take an initiative that too only after when the house is on fire. A few idealists amongst us dream about that day when the union government will come over to the town, instead of us going to beg for their dullest attention, whenever there is a social unrest, like we are currently going through over the ILP issue. However, to ape a teenagers’ expression, reality sucks.      

School of thought/proponents        Definition of slavery  (Source)

Animal rights:     
the condition of some or all human-owned animals (The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery Marjorie Spiegel)
Anti-military:      military drafts and other forms of coerced government labour constitute state-operated slavery (Peter Krembs)
Socialists:      total and immediate wage dependence (World Socialist Party of the United States)
Libertarians and anarcho-capitalists:      government taxation (Tax Slavery TR Machan)
Antipsychiatry:      involuntary psychiatric treatment (Psychiatric Slavery Thomas Szasz)
Manipuris:       our collective life; just about anything
Obedience is man’s best quality

Final Round

In both the hills and valley, if we consider the civil society, which is less civil but more community-based, we can find more evidences. Whenever there is a grievance many organisations based in the hills would act like a stubborn slave and block the national highways, particularly on the Imphal–Dimapur road. On the same level of absurdity, there are valley-based organisations that would call a general strike at the drop of a hat. All of these explain that we are incapable of sharing and learning—it’s either protesting for a demand, not necessarily getting it, or keep using the means of protest that has never been successful.

As slaves, we are unable to be taught and thus we keep committing the same mistakes over and over again. We are not simply ‘making’ them; to repeat, we are ‘committing’ the mistakes. At the end of the day we are a property to be owned and what illustrates better than the Indian approach to classify us a frontier state that is just geo-politically significant while the natives residing here are mere collateral.

Still we can be proud that we are a part of a global phenomenon. Many of us tend to believe that slavery was just a concept that we learnt in schools and it is outdated in this new millennium. No, that’s not true at all.

According to a report by The Global Slavery Index, there are nearly 18,354,700 people—the highest in the world—living in modern slavery in India. But as noted above we are not amongst these millions of people. Ours is a beautiful form that does not exist in factories, as bonded/forced labour or elsewhere but solely on our mind. So, being a part of the globe while experiencing a unique form of slavery is quite an inimitable achievement. Historically, though, we are like those Native Americans who were enslaved by the European daring dicks.

To conclude, material poverty has been considered as the top reason of modern slavery. We are no better, yet, ours is a special mental slavery that screams of Bob Marley’s ‘Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, / None but ourselves can free our minds’.  

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