The recent exodus of northeast people from Bangalore and other cities of India fearing a communal backlash spoke poorly about our much-cherished democratic culture. The political leadership cited reasons like 'conspiracy by Pakistan' for such a tragedy. But does our responsibility end by pointing finger to 'foreign hands' each time there is an internal crisis? Are we addressing deeper issues concerning the nation, its people and their identity? OneIndia News speaks to Swar Thounaojam, currently an eminent citizen of Bangalore who originates from Manipur, on the issue.
Swar Thounaojam, born in Imphal, is a playwright and theatre director based in Bangalore. She is a recipient of the Charles Wallace India Trust fellowship and the Robert Bosch Art Grant. She was a resident at The International Playwrights' Residency, Royal Court Theatre, London 2010. She has worked in Delhi, Mumbai, Munich and Bangalore. She currently runs a theatre project called FewerEmergencies. Turel, Dear Dirty, Fake Palindromes and Lucky Lobster are some of her plays.
OneIndia: Why do you think the northeastern people left Bangalore and other cities? Just a rumour did the trick or you think it was a culmination of a long-drawn process of fear psychosis? You, as a person from Manipur, have been living in Bangalore for a long time now. Do you feel the Bangalorean society has undergone a transformation?
Swar Thounaojam: I have to keep my comments specific to Bangalore as I live and work here. Majority of the northeastern people who left Bangalore were security guards, beauticians, employees in restaurants and college students. They form a vulnerable community who do not enjoy any support system - institutionally or politically. Their lives and their experiences have never been part of the city's conversations. So when they became the target of a well-orchestrated attack that aimed to expunge them (for various reasons), they had nobody to turn to in this city. They had neither voice nor representation to resist the spurious attack.
The exodus caught Bangalore by absolute surprise. It exposed the city's parochialism. Yes, in the last decade, it has undergone major transformations. But the Bangalore I know has never really tried to investigate itself beyond indulging in its image as a multiple of Cantonment, native city, pub city, garden city and silicon city. Its adolescent nonchalance is terrifying; it keeps playing this game of 'I am way too cool to take anything seriously'. Where is the critical literature that investigates the possibility and practice of making Bangalore a multi-ethnic space?
OneIndia: Do you think that the current state government is responsible in a way for leaving these people an afraid lot? Has a sense of anti-minorityism hit the cosmopolitan character of Bangalore?
Swar Thounaojam: In order to manage diversity, you need to be aware of it first. I am not so sure the current state government is aware of the ways in which different minority communities live and interact in this city.
For argument's sake, let's say it has this awareness. Is it then willing to create an environment in which differences can be sustained? I am also not very sure Bangalore has ever been cosmopolitan. Yes, it is a relatively tolerant city (compared to many other cities in India). But cosmopolitan - I don't think so. Again, what exactly do we mean by 'tolerance'? Tolerance is a discretionary power. The privileged communities exercise this power with a caveat against testing the limits of their tolerance. It is not fair game for the minority communities who are to be 'tolerated'.