Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dimapur, Never Again. Never Anywhere

The lynching of a rape accused by a mob last Thursday in Dimapur, Nagaland holds a lesson or two for the government, administration, law & order agencies, politicians and also the general public of Sikkim.
As per media reports, a mob of 7,000-8,000 people reached the ramshackle building that serves as the central jail at Dimapur, overpowered the Nagaland Armed Police guards and got hold of Syed Farid Khan, an accused in a sexual assault case. The mob dragged Khan out of the jail and beat him as he was paraded naked along the streets for about eight kilometers. Already dead from the beating, his dead body was finally hung from the city tower.
According to some media sources, most of the people had joined the mob after hearing that the accused was a non-local illegal Bangladeshi immigrant. However, it was later found that the accused was not Bangladeshi. It now transpires, that even the alleged never took place and was a case of consensual sex.
In terms of the demographic makeup, Sikkim and Nagaland are quite similar with many national and international citizens preferring to stay and work here in Sikkim. However, there are many changes taking place. Like in Nagaland, government job openings are not being able to keep pace with the number of job seekers, and as in Nagaland, in Sikkim too there are groups already raising their voice against “outsiders”.
In the recent lynching incident in Dimapur the mob was mostly made up of college and school-going youngsters aged between 17-20 years. In Sikkim too, there have been incidents in the past when the youth have allowed themselves to get manipulated into anarchic situations with rather violent outcomes. Whether it was the 1997 Employment Exchange episode or the 27 November Committee’s Rule 4[4] agitation and even the strike called by the ruling party in April 2011, there was huge involvement of the young in all of these, and all of these also invoked “local” sentiments and painted a threat to ideas of local protection to whip up emotions.
It is also true that every time they were utilized to serve political ends and discarded as soon as that was achieved.
More recently, in July 2014, what started as a purely student protest at Tadong Government College very quickly turned into a free for all mess. In the end, the genuine concerns voiced by the students were lost in the din raised by everyone else who joined issue with them, and now, the gains the students could have achieved if they had not allowed blinding emotion to take over their issue, have been lost.
Discussions over the issue brought forth the view that such incidents happen when the public lose faith in institutions as represented by politicians, the administration, the judiciary and such powers that be. As far as Sikkim is concerned, although things are under control at the moment, issues that threaten peace in the state must be addressed before it is too late. The so-called Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrants [IBIs] issue is a long-pending one kept essentially alive by a combination of politics and ill-informed superficial understandings. It was left unresolved and allowed to be kept on slow-burn for far too long and the madness of last week resulted from it.
Apart from the IBI issue, one cannot ignore the carelessness on the part of the state administration in Nagaland which is partly to blame for the incident. For example, the situation in Dimapur was tense for at least three days before the march to the jail took place. Section 144 was imposed in the town but when the Nagaland Student Front wanted to hold a 'peaceful' protest, the administration gave permission, which in hindsight was a major mistake that even the Nagaland CM later accepted. Local administration has similar bungled several times in Sikkim, including in the college episode last year, and suspending officials is not the answer – what is more important is for lessons to be learnt and systems put in place to avoid a repeat.
What is also important is for at least the young to grow up with more empathy. It serves no one any good if the young, at an age when they should be embracing diversity are turned paranoid instead and made to suspect everyone. Look at the Dimapur kids, they left home last Thursday to join a protest rally, moved by a sense of belonging, their passions whipped up by mischievous rabble-rousing on social media, their support coerced through emotional blackmail which played on their still black & white ideas of justice and preyed on their immaturity. They returned home accessories to murder. Not all of them will be tried in connection with the brutal killing, but all of them will grow up with the trauma of having been part of that madness. They will have to live with the guilt, but the blood, of the innocent man, and the innocence lost on that day, will be on the hands of those who have been intentionally misleading, misinforming and mismanaging the people there. The lesson to learn from the shame of Nagaland is to create an environment so that nothing even close to the madness of Dimapur can ever happen in Sikkim.

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