On critical empathy 

Moa Jamir

On May 7, much to the relief of family members and state citizens alike, a total of 676 people from Nagaland, who were stranded in violence-hit Manipur, were safely brought back to the state capital Kohima under ‘Operation Kohima Calling,’ by Assam Rifles in coordination with Nagaland Government and Nagaland Police.

The ongoing unrest in Manipur since May 3 is most unfortunate. However, without going into the ‘merit of arguments and justification by each side, it can be safely stated that it is the common people who bear the most brunt of any such conflicts. It is verifiable in any conflict situation around the world. In this context, certain things are crucial at this juncture for all concerned to ensure that the situation is not escalated further. 

First, it is essential to ensure that all stranded citizens from Nagaland are safely secured and returned to the state. It can also be argued that Nagaland being the nearest from the conflict zone, efforts must also be made to provide shelter to those from far-off places. 

The request from Nagaland’s Director of Police (DGP) Rupin Sharma at the reception program for the state’s citizens from Manipur on Sunday is also notable. While empathising with what they must have gone through, he appealed for not allowing any “single bit” of what happened in the neighbouring state to crossover to Nagaland and called for exercising restraint by both the media as well as people to prevent ‘inflammation of passion and emotion.’

On the other end, during any conflicts, it is essential for the media to maintain objectivity, accuracy, and information sharing, even if they are personally affected. This can be a challenging task, but it is critical to prevent the media from using language or practices that can escalate tensions or contribute to conflicts. This can be done by ensuring that the media sticks to the facts, avoids sensationalism, seeks diverse perspectives and credible sources, and refrains from speculating in the absence of reliable information.

It is also pertinent to provide context and consider the potential impact of reporting on the situation. Concurrently, positive developments or efforts to resolve the situation, such as calls for dialogue or reconciliation initiatives, must be given prominence.

The appeal by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation for practicing ‘critical empathy’ to begin the healing of ‘torn people’ is significant in this context. This involves being empathetic to the experiences and perspectives of those involved in the situation while also being critical and reflective about the context and dynamics that may be contributing to the conflict. Among others, it should start by trying to understand different perspectives and acknowledging the emotions and experiences of all stakeholders involved without judging or dismissing them, not just an adamant assertion of one’s stance. 

Perhaps the most important aspect requires taking action to address the root causes of the conflict and promoting efforts towards reconciliation and peace-building. While such a notion may be dismissed as ‘idealistic’ at times, it must be understood that the inflammation of narratives via sensationalism could only help escalate the situation, not resolve it. Those at the helm of affairs must ensure that justice is delivered based on accountability and transparency, taking the perpetrators to task irrespective of their affiliation. Besides engaging in critical self-reflection and correcting its own actions, the Government of Manipur should rise above partisan politics to guarantee peace and deliver justice to all its citizens.

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