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Violence by custodians of ’authentic culture’

by, 23 October 2008

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The Telegraph, October 24 , 2008


Killing Game

The moral police can extract a tragically heavy price. The explosion in Imphal that has taken 17 lives and left many injured was targeted, according to the insurgent group which claims to be its author, against a form of gambling that is alien to Meitei culture. Gambling reaches a peak during Diwali. The explosion was set off near the entrance to Ragailong, a tribal village where people from different parts of the state had gathered for this traditional game. The Kangleipak Communist Party (Military Council), claiming responsibility for the blast, said in a press note distributed to newspaper offices that it intended to put an end to this sort of gambling since it affects Manipuri culture adversely. It is as if the heartlessness of an attack targeting ordinary citizens is exacerbated when it purports to be for a moral or cultural reason. Yet it is unreason rather than reason that is most overt in such claims. That a group fighting for the preservation of Meitei culture and demanding the secession of Manipur from India should kill citizens of the state to teach them not to gamble seems wildly illogical. But violence does not require a reason anymore.

The location of the blast has also led to speculations that the insurgent group was either intending to cause damage to the Assam Rifles and police commando camps, or to remind the police and military that insurgency was very much alive. Counter-insurgency action in Manipur has recently been intensified, and has reportedly seen some success in neutralizing a number of rebels. The explosion near the chief minister’s house a few days ago, however, raises questions about the efficacy of the action. If the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, which claimed responsibility for that blast, can get so close to the bone, security personnel have a long way to go yet. From that point of view, the blast in Ragailong is even more unnerving. Security measures have been tightened, every vehicle is being inspected, yet a Luna moped can sit with a bomb on it close to a crowd busy playing a game, just outside the perimeter fence of the 20 Assam Rifles and 200 metres away from the Manipur Police commando complex. But perhaps the most frightening thought is that murderous violence has become routine, not just in the Northeast but in the whole of India, so much so that the point of each episode is obscured in the addictive desire to create terror.