Every week, an assault or theft or dispute or conflict is reported to be committed somewhere in Ukhrul district, majorly inhabited by the Tangkhul community. What a testimonial it is for a community claiming to be the first Christian society in the state and having a vibrant grass-root democratic culture. We revere our society as moral and rule-based, infused with the ethos and ethics inherited from our ancestors premised on mutual respect and honour. Sadly, the reality is that we remain guilty of horrific crimes against ourselves and others, marked by the dishonorable treatment of the poorer and vulnerable sections of our society, especially women. We attend church every Sunday, yet we keep exploiting society for our own selfish ends. Nothing has really changed since the infamous and unfortunate events in Leingangching, Lunghar-Sihai, Hungpung, and other disgraceful clashes over a few years ago. A weekly average of two or more cases of assault, theft, and dispute in Ukhrul sends shivers down the spine. We are left to stare at screaming social media headlines narrating the macabre events, each more gruesome than the other, of not only the poorer section of society but even an innocent student being brutalised by ‘Tang’ (local) leaders and youths. These events reinforce the pervasive public perception of audacity and fearlessness of morbid young minds, administrative inertia, ineffective governance, and the bankruptcy of our social norms and moral values.
Going by the daily reports from official or unofficial news in the social media and local dailies, the reports seem to suggest that our Tangkhul society is a failing society, sadly earning the sobriquet as Manipur’s ‘crime district’ and ‘corrupt district.’ Undoubtedly a complex issue, it reveals the steadily eroding filial and societal norms and values as much as a growing anomie and alienation from our sociocultural and communitarian bonds.
The recent assault on an innocent young student, Soshim Keishing, is, in fact, an assault on Tangkhul society’s soul and spirit; rousing Tangkhul men and women, young and old, in pain and anguish. The rot runs deep.
A complete subversion of means and ends has turned the life of Tangkhul society upside down, to the point that there are acts which, although no doubt, criminal, are seldom condemned by the collective consciousness: assaulting and killing, smuggling, thefts, and murders, violation of laws and rules, criminals becoming public heroes, mafia gangs, goondaism looming large with a halo of public acclaim. With strange impunity, cartels of avarice and extortion grow and prosper with uninhibited bravado, undeterred by the fear of the swift justice system of society.
Our society suffers from multi-organ failures. Its numerous rudderless leaders and youths remain bereft of any values imbibed at home or from the vicinity; indeed, they learn a lot, how to exploit and extort, how to seek; not to strive. What examples do we get from so-called Frontal Organisations and WTR claiming to be lawmakers and law-keepers? The ubiquity and magnitude of scandals and scams have benumbed the people’s conscience, breeding cynicism and disaffection into the core institutions of a democratic society. Even the customary justice system, ever pugnacious on community honour, remains inert. An image of an effete, demented, timorous leadership endures.
The multi-layered governance leviathan remains immune; there is no clear accountability, no swift and deterrent punitive action, nor a strong justice system in our society.
Shaken by the recent ghastly incident of the assault on Soshim Keishing, one would have liked to believe that the long arm of law and custom along with the Tangkhul’s public conscience would have worked as an effective deterrence against such barbaric acts by vigilantes in the future. The continuance of such incidents and cases highlight how we have failed to operationalize a functioning criminal justice system in our society. Notwithstanding the customary laws of Tangkhul society, the conviction process in this case has not rendered stringent action against the perpetrators of violence in our society. As a conscious individual, it is my observation that zero percent of the cases have ended up in a conviction, thereby leading to the denial of justice to the victims of torture and abuse. Typically, these abominable cases linger for long periods, each case being endlessly decided by parallel agencies.
While there is no deterrence by way of swift, exemplary punishment for the culprits or perpetrators, the parallel governance of Ukhrul Police, TNL, and WTR leaves an unfortunate impression of a largely narcissistic dispensation, remiss in providing assured strict action, conflict resolution and reformatory measures. There are no established justice systems based on our customary or modern laws to effectively mitigate any disputes, crimes, conflicts, killings, rape, and assaults.
An assessment of the justice system in Tangkhul society shows numerous ‘dark spots’, wherein most sections of society are vulnerable to crime with the desirable provision of an adequate modern justice system remaining defunct, ineffective or non-existent.
The judiciary procrastinates, the police are lackadaisical and the WTR administration remains ill-equipped. Ukhrul town, for perceptible reasons, breeds cartels of depravity and decadence. In the coming weeks and months, the appalling Soshim Keishing assault case will be the talk of the town, like many past despicable incidents. Who is to be blamed? Which institution or agencies will delivered justice to Mr. Soshim Keishing? Will it be District Police, WTR, TNL, Hunphun Village Authority, or a combination of all? Are there too many agencies running to get hold of the headlines? The answer to this question remains evasive. This incident will only be a beginning if we fail to realise the problem and begin working immediately towards a solution. As Bob Dylan sang, “Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have Before he can hear people cry? the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.” Are the ‘justice system’ and ‘punitive action’ in our society blowing in the wind?
The public anger, ire, and angst of the people in social media platforms such as “Longshim WhatsApp group” is a veritable powder keg, more so because it is sincere and silent.
This catharsis of inner outrage implies that wages of sin will, in the end, permit no escape from retribution. The society’s mute majority is jolted by the youth living with a profound sense of grief and reminding them of the insight from John Gorka’s famous song, “The old future’s gone”. We may be, or may not yet be, a failed society; with our decadent values, ethics, and morals, but can we deny any longer that our society is not a ‘failing society’? It is a critical moment for all the conscious thinking individuals, including intellectual, leaders, activists, students, lawyers, and other stakeholders to rethink and come together to prevent our society from becoming a moribund society. I have written this small piece with a heavy heart but in good faith, without any intention of denigrating the organisations mentioned herein. Have we collectively failed as a society? Moving from blame to accountability is the only way out of the current mess, however, this demand conscious and collective efforts. Today, our social order is based on falsehood. Distressingly, the hard reality is that if you speak the truth you will be chided, warned, put behind bars, and sometimes even killed. I would like to ask the young and old, men and women of our Tangkhul society, ‘What’s going on in Ukhrul’?!
Dr. Pamreihor Khashimwo is post-doctoral fellow, University of Delhi. Views are personal.