Let’s reconnect to our history and defeat COVID-19

The disparity between rich and poor immediately widened, which was not the case with the pre-merger Kanglei society.

While most radical thinkers of society accept that our war against COVID-19 will become more effective when it is communitized, the idea seems to be not working here in our context. If one tries to understand this, it can be referred to the cultural logic of our society that has emerged from the existing political economy and discourses that have taken place over the last few decades.

With obvious signs of depthlessness in the collective consciousness of almost every member of society, it is painfully clear that there is an acute lack of historical sensibility among the people of Kangleipak. So, blindly assuming that our society is firmly anchored in historical values simply because there are revivalist movements in society, it will have a more adverse impact on society. Much the same way, having 2000 years of history does not necessarily mean that our people have a sense of history.

If we had been a society deeply rooted in the historical sense, we would not have faced the problems that we are now facing. We could also easily overcome COVID-19 through a collective social effort. However, our society is highly fragmented, fragmented almost in every dimension, including the communitarian structure that it once had. So it seems a bit contradictory to suggest communitization as a strategy to fight the virus.

From the ground up, we have seen that the idea of community participation does not work in our case. Besides being a shocking fact, it also signals the magnitude of the deterioration of our society. So, how can we see this society as continuation of the 2,000-year-old civilizational order as often recounted in romantic historiography?

Here, it is worth recalling how effectively our forefathers fought and defeated the cholera outbreak of 1880. It was the spirit of community and collective social effort that enabled people to face the epidemic at the time when medical services were not available.  Every member of the society did his utmost, and no patient was left untreated or unattended, as documented in many credible historical records, underlining the unbreakable collective spirit of the society.

The crucial question now is what sabotaged the spirit of collectivity. It also seems that our social psychology seems to be characterized by a severe lack of historical sense. In this regard, some concerned citizens have even lamented and expressed the need to reconnect people with the past.

This loss of historicity, or rather the discontinuity of the historical sense of existence, can be taken as a product of the current political economy, of the social structure and of the way of life on which it is based. Therefore, recognizing the cultural meaning of the political economy that rules our lives would be central to understanding this phenomenon.

Now, the people's idea of a successful life has been shifted and is purely based on the concept of capital accumulation or amassing a fortune by whatever means, be it good or bad. Finally, this worldview has given rise to a regressive philosophy that forces us not to care about other members of society as long as it benefits us. Therefore, it internalizes the concept of survival of the fittest to the mental system of society, justifying social deprivation and inequality.

The fragmentation that we are talking about here is multilayered and is the result of many fragmenting forces experienced in various historical phases. One must not ignore the feudal production relationship that we have seen even now in rural areas in the form of absentee landlordism while studying how our society becomes fragmented. For, it has given rise to a society entangled in the relationship between Mapu and Manai, which is totally at odds with the notion of community life.

Afterwards we need to look at how India annexed Manipur and the subsequent emergence of armed opposition movements in the state. It has split the society into two groups which rejected each other, one favouring armed movements and the other endorsing annexation. The situation was further compounded by the militarization of the state to subdue the armed resistance. That was so powerful that, besides fragmenting the social fabric, it disassociated people from their psyches.

What is even more dangerous is India's highly privatised political economy, which defines every aspect of our post-Annexation life. As one would expect, the disparity between rich and poor immediately widened, which was not the case with the pre-merger Kanglei society.

Another aspect that cannot be ignored is the inter-ethnic enmity that dominated the Kanglei political environment in the last few decades after Manipur became part of India. Who can forget the horrible inter-ethnic bloodshed of the 1990s, which killed tens of thousands of Kukis and Nagas? In fact, we have lost the centre, and all the historical ties seem to be falling apart.

Linearly thought, some people often regard the hill-valley divide as a non-antagonistic contradiction, even though it sometimes rises to antagonistic level. Last but not the least, the Indian proselytizing process of Hindunization and its binary process of the native Cultural Revivalist Movement severely fragmented society. For, both movements have local supporters as well as local opponents.

It is now unclouded that there is no social aspect that can be regarded as non-fragmented. All old social institutions are becoming dysfunctional, as they are in conflict with the new political economy. As a result, society becomes norm-less, and people uprooted and depth-less.

Perhaps that is why some of the quarantine centres have become something of a place for an election campaign or a place to attract the electorate. They (politicians) do not seem to be worried about the lateral spread of the disease inside the centres.  Their main concern seems to be attracting some voters as the election time is near. It is reported that many local MLAs are funding quarantine centres that fall within their assembly constituencies. One may think it is because of their love for the nation, or they are playing their part in the fight against the virus. They do so as part of the election campaign, nothing more than that. Such brazen acts can only come from a man who has no historical sense or is detached from the traditional norms and values to which one should be anchored.

Here, it is worth noting that if you grew up with the wolves, you are going to be wolflike. Similarly, as our young people have grown up in a world of fragmentation as mapped out above, they are socially fragmented and psychologically atomized. That is why they cannot even see their immediate social responsibilities to protect themselves and their fellow inmates from the pandemic during their short stay in the centre. Instead, some of them are more like coming to the candidates' house to enjoy 'vote-ki-chak' for free, and that mentality makes them unable to think about the roles they have to play in the whole fight.

If you go back to history, even during feudal times, the kings took advice from the amaiba-amaibi (traditional medicine woman/man) while the noblemen were ordered to perform administrative duties. But in this supposedly hyper-modern era, in a rationally structured society, politicians speak like epidemiologists, while epidemiologists and medical experts are used as slave labour and held aloof by the powers that be. It is a simple example of the lack of historical understanding of ourselves with the cultural logic of capitalism governing our psyche.

Therefore, we need to reconnect our fractured self and culture with our historical understanding of ourselves. To this end, we need to unify the past-present-future, and this, in effect, will enable our mind to live with our real life.  Or else we will lose any war that calls for unity and cooperation, such as the war against COVID-19.  

First Published: June 21, 2020, 11:49 p.m.