Monday, January 12, 2015

New Year, New Resolution

EDITORIAL: If letting bygones be bygones is too difficult, at least allow space for new collaborations

There are rarely good years or bad years, the annual cycle playing out in a mixed bag kind of routine. In individual experiences, of course, years can be brilliant or disappointing, but when it comes for a collective people, like say the residents of Sikkim, the best one can hope for is a “normal” year – one in which the dejections and shocks are balanced out by a fair share of euphoric delights.
Year 2014, however, was an election year, a phase which arrives every five years to stir things up in otherwise laidback Sikkim. The environment gets roiled in an election year even when the challengers are uninspiring, so when 2014 was set up as a more keenly contested election than Sikkim had seen in the recent past, everyone was expecting fireworks.
But nothing could have prepared Sikkim for the scale of carnage that the campaign trail littered in its wake in Sikkim. Countless vehicles were torched, an unfortunate number of homes targeted, too many bodies bruised, and unforgivably, two lives lost to political violence last year. Sikkim is not new to political violence, but save the rare face-to-face, it was mostly limited to sabre-rattling in the form of an occasional effigy burning or a parked vehicle torched in the dead of night. One thought that Sikkim was too small a place and people too closely connected to allow for any “real” violence. Election 2014 dispelled all such notions and brought home the nightmare of hate, spite and violent hostility. Gangtok escaped with only secondhand experience of the terror, but wide swathes of South and West districts and parts of East Sikkim lived through traumatic months. Investing in violence could thankfully not be cashed in at the polling booths and when the votes were counted, it became apparent that violence only closed ranks instead of opening doors.
While violence ended with the elections, it had clearly cemented an environment of general distrust, disillusionment, paranoia and hostility. These emotions have marked the post-election months, events through which have played out in a manner and tone which suggest that the repairing remains a work in progress. While there can be no justification for violence of the campaign days, one can still explain it away to the desperation of political ambition. The distrust which continues between groups and in how people are engaging each other and how one views institutions and initiatives is something which needs to be addressed. It would have been wonderful for Sikkim if suspicions were informed responses, but that is clearly not the case and most of the distrust that permeates all sectors at present is born from prejudice and individual bias. Sikkim is too small a place to hold on to its grudges for too long; its people should bury at least the irrational dislikes that have been allowed to take root. Such positions will serve no one any good. Once that has been done, that a wider awareness can be generated to inculcate a healthy skepticism instead. Because, let’s accept it, Sikkim needs to converse more; at present, those who have found a voice, shout and shut out, it will be nice to see some conversations going, some deliberations, disagreements and a respect for divergent approaches and attitudes. For this process to begin, more civil voices will need to engage in the public space which is currently monopolized by political noise. Let that be a New Resolution for a New Year.
Happy New Year Sikkim!

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