What does it take for an incident involving an orgy of violence to transcend the barriers of state censorship? More so, how does a dominant projection of an incident tend to subsume the worldview of the inhabitants? Teresa Rehman indeed provides hope in the context of Manipur protests of 2004 against the brutal gangrape and custodial killing of Thangjam Manorama. She says that state censorship is flat footed and cannot keep up with the swiftness and pervasiveness of personal accounts and the depth of that all-encompassing commons which is popular memory (Rehman, 2017). The quest for reality thus gets entangled in the deficit of projecting a highly charged protest on sexual violence and its dominant projection as a communal incident.
In March 2015, a mob of thousands protested against the alleged rape of a Naga woman. A Muslim man, accused of having raped a Naga woman, had been taken out of the Central Jail by an irate mob and killed on the way before being hanged on the city tower. The incident was being projected as a communal incident in addition to a law and order problem. The incident had eventually shifted its course (an ‘illegal Bangladeshi’ to ‘Naga vs. Muslim’ and ‘Naga vs. Assamese’) in terms of how it was reported in the media. The incident thus appeared to be communal when it was not so from the worldview of the city’s inhabitants. This essay is an attempt to understand the mob lynching incident and the series of negotiations to maintain peace through religious associations, student bodies and tribal organizations.
Nagaland, like most of the North Eastern states, is one of the highly militarized states in India. One respondent had rightly stated, “the state of Nagaland has the highest police to person ratio”. While thinking of law and order in the state in relation to the mob lynching incident, the presence of heavy paramilitary forces and its long history in the state needs to be magnified along with its effect on civic life. Given the inflow of immigrants due to economic factor and its vicinity to the border adjoining Assam, Dimapur appeared to be quite heterogeneous as different from Kohima. Apart from this visible heterogeneity inside Dimapur, the presence of heavily armed military and paramilitary posts is surprisingly ubiquitous feature of the city. It does not take away the fact of long unresolved Indo-Naga armed conflict, its repercussions and a long history of violence. One might wonder about the changing meaning of law, order and justice.
As pointed out by the respondents, “the inter community relations in the city of Dimapur have a shared sense of peaceful co-existence with each other. The Nagas and Non-Nagas never had any history of clash in terms of community relationships or communally charged incidents.” A non-Naga senior woman journalist said that Dimapur is a place where you see the shared relations and goodwill upfront. Festivities are a common ground which brings inter-community engagements together. Naga women leaders even get involved in the family disputes of the non Naga families.
Along with the existence of different communities in Dimapur, the civil societies, religious associations and student unions are very strong. The people belonging to these communities as well as their affiliations to these organizations are one of the major platforms of cultural exchange. The students either belonging to various tribes inside and outside Nagaland have strong affiliations to the apex body Naga Students Federation (NSF).
Some of the common factors that had emerged during analyzing the data were prevalence of sexual violence manifested in impunity, the long unresolved issue of illegal immigration and peacekeeping amid strong possibility of outbreak of violence. The armed factions and the splits among them is one of the significant causes for the persistence of sexual and domestic violence in the state. This has been effectively argued by Dolly Kikon in her book on women’s testimonies of sexual violence in Dimapur (Kikon, 2015). One is therefore required to critically delve into the trajectories of justice in the realm of manifestations of violence. The given situation in Dimapur in the context of mob lynching incident makes comprehending the question of justice difficult.
One needs to take into account the rapidly changing demography of the city as well. The question of unchecked illegal immigration in Dimapur had surfaced again after the incident. A major concern here remains about different identities conflicting with each other. Whether the person was outsider, local, non-local, Muslim or a Bengali Muslim, a salesman, Assamese or ‘IBI’, Indian etc., the question about a particular identity floating at a particular time directs us to look precisely at how these different identities of an individual deviates and conflict with the geography as one move from one state to its adjacent state.
In relation to the mob lynching incident which drew people in thousands, the rumour of the alleged perpetrator being “an illegal Bangladeshi” contributed to convincing masses on the social and other media platforms to join and act. One cannot underplay the existence of stereotypes and changing meanings of different identities in the context of various North Eastern states since the porous border from Bangladesh adds suspicion to the identity of a Bengali speaking Muslim.
The incident had immense potential for outbreak of mass scale violence. Prior to the lynching incident, a rumour circulated that the mosque in Dimapur was attacked. Thus, the foremost challenge before the Muslim Council was to pacify the rising tensions among the Muslims within Nagaland. Here the importance of affiliations becomes prominent. Even though the mosque was actually attacked, the MCD were quick enough not to let the situation go out of hand. The MCD along with the help of police were able to placate the situation and uploaded picture of untouched mosque on social media stating that the mosque had not been attacked.
Another challenge was the issue of transporting the body of alleged perpetrator and exodus of Bengali Muslims from Dimapur were significant challenges. As the body of deceased was highly damaged, it could have been another factor for heightened tensions to cross the threshold of mass panic between communities. At the same time, the exodus of Bengali Muslims amid enormous tensions was another big challenge posed to the organization. The MCD along with coordination of tribal organizations and Church bodies were able to placate the situation and uphold peacekeeping amid immense possibility of outbreak of violence. It was possible due to active negotiations and communication between the tribal organizations and the MCD.
In a time when sensitivity and volatility almost overlap, rumours and stereotypes become rampant. It was due to the active series of negotiations and communication by the religious associations, student bodies and tribal organizations that mass scale violence was subverted. In the aftermath of incident, a joint prayer of peace was called. The motive here was to reach out to the other community as an effort for reconciliation and initiation of peace-building process. As the incident had created polarization and tensions among the communities, the Naga civil societies reached out to the MCD and organized a prayer for peace and reconciliation.
One of the most prominent aspects among these is the identity of a person in Dimapur and how does it vary. What does it mean to be a Hindu or Muslim in this city which has never mirrored any communal clash in its history? The floating immigrant threat in Dimapur and other parts of North East tends to diminish the line between social and communal. In such volatile and sensitive times, how is it that a shared history appears to have taken a communal shape?
Even if the state mechanisms fall in place in near future, it will be a very crucial challenge before the civil societies as well as state bodies to engage with voices raising concern on violence against women, patriarchy as well as the conflicting identities of a person within the state. One needs to seriously engage and critique the existing structures of tyranny before any such unruly mob again initiates the question of violence against women on the basis of identity of alleged perpetrators in their own hands.
Rehman, Teresa. (2017). The Mothers of Manipur: Twelve Women Who Made History. New Delhi: Zubaan.
Kikon, Dolly. (2015). Life And Dignity: Women’s Testimonies of Sexual Violence in Dimapur (Nagaland). Guwahati: NESRC.