Before it’s too late

Published : Jun 03, 2024 17:42 IST - 4 MINS READ

Kuki-Zomi women stage a protest in the Churachandpur district of Manipur.

Kuki-Zomi women stage a protest in the Churachandpur district of Manipur. | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

Dear reader,

In 1933, Raphael Lemkin, a 33-year-old Polish lawyer of Jewish descent, wanted to make a crucial presentation at the League of Nations’ Fifth International Conference for the Unification of Criminal Law. Lemkin’s paper was about a German radical leader and his anti-Semitic views. He found to his shock that there was strong opposition to his ideas. Europe, still recovering from World War I, was focused on rebuilding economies, infrastructures, and militaries, and not on Adolf Hitler and “crimes that shock the conscience”. Lemkin’s ramblings were ignored. Understanding that the world would stay indifferent, Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, starting the war during whose duration the Nazi party ethnically cleansed millions of Jews.

The world today remembers Lemkin as the man who coined the term “genocide” in 1943, a combination of the Greek genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing), a term that captured the specific intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. The concept went beyond simple murder; it encompassed the deliberate targeting of a group’s identity and culture.

In his book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, where he first used the term, Lemkin explained genocide as a “coordinated plan of different actions” aimed to systematically remove a race or a people using economic, social, and cultural means. Actions include policies that work for the elimination of the “culture, language, national feelings, religion, and separate economic existence” of the targeted group. It is a long, gradual, and often slow process, but as Lemkin said, “Genocide is not war. It is more dangerous than war.”

History is littered with tragedies that could have been prevented had they not been initially ignored by the world. Genocides, ethnic cleansings, and state-sponsored violence are often also case studies on negligence—how powerful countries, governments, and political parties turned a blind eye to brewing crises, only to see them escalate into large-scale atrocities.

For instance, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 remains a haunting example of international inaction. Ethnic tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi populations had been boiling for decades, propelled by, among other factors, Belgian colonial policies. In the early 1990s, these tensions escalated into violence. Despite reports of hate speech and targeted killings, the international community, including the United Nations, was hesitant to intervene, which allowed the genocide to unfold, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 8,00,000 people in just 100 days.

During Argentina’s “Dirty War” (1976-1983), a military dictatorship waged a brutal campaign against leftists. Thousands of people were abducted, tortured, and murdered, their bodies often “disappeared” without a trace. Despite international outcry and reports of human rights abuses, countries like the US turned a blind eye. Sudan’s Darfur region conflict, which began in 2003, is a similar case. 

When simmering tensions are allowed to fester and morph into full-blown crises, the human cost is immense—lives are lost, communities are fractured, and the path to reconciliation becomes infinitely harder.

Which is why it is important to talk about such unfolding crises as often as we can, so that international agencies and governments around the world take note. The idea is simple: act before it’s too late.

That is why we urge you to continue talking about Manipur. Especially about why neither the Central government nor the Manipur State government have done enough to find a solution and restore harmony. If you remember, the violence began on May 3, 2023. It has now been one year, and we are no closer to a long-term solution or peace plan. The real depth of the conflict, the shades of meaning around the various incidents of violence, and the widening chasm between the communities continue to elude us, as only sporadic media reports and statements made by local activists and citizens seep through to the mainland. Even during the Lok Sabha election, Manipur was not a big debating point for most parties, while the BJP and Prime Minister Modi underplayed and distorted the facts.

Which is why Frontline decided to focus on Manipur yet again. This is our third cover story on the crisis in a year’s time. We are convinced that a mediated solution must be found, and the various communities brought back to the peace table before it is too late. The warning signs must be taken seriously before a land, its people, and its future are destroyed fully. We feature three essays: Greeshma Kuthar on how the state has turned its back on Manipur; Angshuman Choudhury on the violent metamorphosis of the militia called Arambai Tenggol; and Angana Chakrabarti’s essay on how Manipur is using art and music to heal.

Read and tell us what ideas you have for a possible solution.

Here’s wishing you all peace, on counting day and beyond!

For Frontline,

Jinoy Jose P.

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