Friday, March 31st, 2023 01:49:15

Manipur A State Under Siege

Updated: July 2, 2011 12:50 pm

As the flight banked for its final approach to Imphal Airport, the glinting of the sun from the corrugated iron sheet roofs seemed like camera flashes. The modern airport has its vintage from the World War II days, when it was one of the hubs for all the over the Hump flights made by the Allied forces to China and Burma. Before leaving from Delhi I had gathered that the first commercial flight to do a night landing at Tulihal Airport was as recent as January 2011. The Airport is nondescript; the presence of the security forces was evident just as soon as one enters the arrival hall. Just a few feet behind the entrance four bored-looking officials sat behind a table, which had a board saying: “All Non Citizens of India to report here for registration.” The Restricted Area Permit policy is in force and currently no non-Indian citizen can enter the northeast without a special permit.

            Once issued, it is valid for fourteen days, but its validity is only for three days if the visit is restricted to Imphal City. The general belief is that this restriction has been imposed to keep out missionaries, western journalists and human rights activists.

            Curiosity got the better of me, and as I could see that the luggage had not been offloaded as yet, I went near the table where a very Indian looking couple was completing the formalities of registering in this no go zone of India. I inched my way nearer to the table, the hostile enquiring look of the official told me that I should turn back, but nevertheless I went forward, hoping to see the register and ask about the formalities.

            ‘What do you want?’ I was confronted by the bespectacled official with a hooknose. ‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘Just looking.’ This resulted in him slapping shut the three registers that were on the table. The other three too joined him in giving me very hostile glares. I backed off to the luggage area. I saw them from afar; the four were very agitated and were talking amongst themselves, gesticulating in my directions. Suddenly hooknose sprang up and came straight towards me, stopping short just a foot away.

            ‘What do you want?’ ‘Nothing,’ I repeated. ‘Then why?’ He poked a pointy finger in my ribs. ‘Why what?’ I asked. ‘Why did you come to foreigners’ registration desk? You want to read the register?’ I replied in the affirmative, if given the chance I would have liked to have a peep at who all came to Manipur and why.

            ‘If you cannot read the notice, how will you read the register? It is written that only for foreigners, cannot you read?’ This had me flummoxed. He was very logical in his assumption.

I took out my press card and showed it to him. This pacified him to some extent, but by now two of the burly Assam Rifles commandos, machine guns and earpieces in place, had made their way to us and enquired what all it was about. Hooknose went off to a lengthy tirade but was cut short by the commando and asked to return to his table where a few more persons had lined up for the permits.

            The commando gave me a half smile and said, ‘Jaiye, apka saman aa gaya hai.’ ‘Thank You’, I said, wondering if he had just pulled me out of a predicament.

            I retrieved my luggage and made a getaway, the welcome to Imphal had certainly not been a pleasant one. As I passed the registration desk towards the exit all the four glared at me, hooknose started to get up, he still had something left to tell me. I hurried forward, not wanting another confrontation. There were a very few cars outside, most of the vehicles were military and government ones. There were army men all over, in sandbagged barricades, bullet-proof sentry boxes and on the roof of the airport. I was approached by an auto-rickshaw driver who agreed to ferry me to town.

            On coming out of the airport I hit the Tiddim Road, the one that was taken by the Netaji’s Indian National Army in its long march in 1943. The drive into town is on a broad clean road with huge hoardings and arches welcoming visitors to Manipur. There were commandos at every 100 metres on each side, stopping and checking vehicles at random. At a few places, I saw drivers being frisked. The road was flanked with a multitude of restaurants on both sides, besides innumerable schools, colleges and other educational and training institutes. A huge ISKCON temple with its mass of pagoda-like spires is an eyesore in the otherwise laid-back structures. A grenade attack in 2006 had killed ten devotees in the old temple.

            One enters the town on a roundabout in front of the Governor’s residence. Smartly dressed Manipur policewomen were directing the traffic, clicking their heels and giving smart salutes whenever a star-plated vehicle speeded by. They froze all traffic on hearing the distant sirens of an oncoming cavalcade, jumping from their pedestals and standing to attention.

            I made a quick check in into the hotel, and was read out the house rules, which

included that I should be back by 8 PM and that the restaurant is closed at 9 PM sharp. No hot water in the morning for three hours as there was load-shedding. Not to invite anybody from outside to the hotel, to keep the front desk informed if I was leaving town, to carry identification papers every time I went out, etc. etc. There was a posse of commandos outside the hotel and the two barricade-type gates could have put any prison to shame.

            I went to meet the Superintendent of Police, Imphal (East), for my scheduled interview with the Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh. I was frisked and the camera bag and mobiles were cubbyholed at the reception. After spending a frustrating half hour, I realised that the Superintendent would not see me. I was shown the door, and surprisingly frisked once again on my way out. Maybe they suspected I would carry something out.

            I gave up and rang up the Chief Minister’s Secretariat, where I was directed to an official, who questioned me at length at the purpose of my interview. I told him that I was doing a story on Manipur and its problems. ‘What problems?’ ‘The insurgency, the underground groups’. ‘And what else?’ ‘The Armed Forces (Special Powers)Act.’ This was met with steely and stony silence. ‘Sorry Mr Dhir, the CM cannot see you, he is leaving for Delhi for a meeting with the PM and will not be here for the next few days.’ I protested and told him that I had an appointment. ‘Sorry nothing can be done. You are from Delhi; you can meet him there the next time he is in the Capital.’ This disappointment was on expected lines.

            My next place of call was the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital for a chance to meet

Irom Sharmila Chanu, the iron lady who has been on a fast for the last ten years. It was

ironical, as the Baba Ramdev’s Ramlila Ground fast was the news of the day, the channels were all going strong 24×7. Here, lying in a small corner room in the high-security wing of the hospital, Sharmila was under detention and was force fed with a Ryle’s tube. The doctors tell that Sharmila’s fast is a medical miracle. She has been off and on in jail for her unbroken fast, which she had taken up since November 5, 2000 after the Assam Rifles security forces had killed 10 innocent civilians in a bloody encounter. Sharmila went on a hunger strike demanding that the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 be repealed from the State of Manipur. The perpetrators of the genocide escaped scot free after a magisterial enquiry, all under the excuse of the AFSPA. Her protest is an absolutely unparalleled one in the history of political protest anywhere in the world ever.

            The wing where she was kept had been cordoned off and as I got down from the car, three of the Assam Rifles personnel rushed towards me. ‘No photos!’ (my camera was a giveaway). One of them pointed to a nearby board, which said that photography was prohibited. ‘No coming here without official permission.’ ‘Meet the SP, Imphal East, for permission.’ So back it was to the police station. No permission I was told. The permission can only be given by the Home Minister (who happens to be the Chief Minister as he holds the charge of Home Department). I knew my chances were dim and backtracked out.

            Just outside the police station, an off-duty policeman sidled over to me. ‘You

want to meet Sharmila, impossible. Go to the Sharmila Kanbalup tent outside the hospital. You will meet her friends there.’ He gave me this information and walked away without looking back. I told the driver to take me to the hospital once again and asked about the Kanbalup, but nothing was coming. Then I saw it, just about a hundred metres away from the main gate of the hospital, a tent had been put up with bamboos and a tin roof. “Save Sharmila Repeal AFSPA” “Relay Hunger Strikes” said the flex banner. Two posters with the iconic image of the frail and tousled head of jet black hair and the plastic tube thrust into the nose were propped outside. The Manipuris call her “Menghaobi”, meaning “The Fair One”. I entered the curtained tent and found it empty. I could hear the noises from another partitioned area, a head soon propped out. I was gestured to come and was offered a small stool. Three old ladies sat in a makeshift kitchen of sorts, and were rolling agarbattis.

            Conversation proved to be impossible, all I could get across was that I was from Delhi and wanted to meet Sharmila. I tried my best to tell them that I would come the next morning and wrote a small note hoping that someone of the group would read it later. I gathered that this was a group of more than a hundred mothers or imas, as they are known. They have been on a relay hunger strike since December 10, 2008. The women all belong to different organisations but have come together under the banner of Sharmila Kanbalup.

            Irom Sharmila’s quest for peace and normalcy in Manipur by her passive non-violent protest has been recognised internationally. She has been twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (in the years 2005 and 2010). She has been awarded the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights by South Korea and in 2010 the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize, but for the powers that be in New Delhi, this young woman, who responded to extreme violence with extreme peace, is just one irritant .

            The Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi met her during a trip to India

in 2006. In a press conference later she thundered: “If Sharmila dies, the Indian Parliament is directly responsible. If she dies, courts and judiciary are responsible, the military is responsible… If she dies, the executive, the PM and President are responsible for doing nothing… If she dies, each one of you journalists is responsible because you did not do your duty…”

            That evening I went for a stroll to the Khwairamband bazaar. It is known for being run wholly by women, more so mothers. The older complex had been demolished and a two-storied modern market had been erected. The imas or mothers could be seen selling vegetables, fish, fruits, household items, colourful woven shawls and other handloom items. I had gone looking for Ima Momonleima, another brave Manipuri lady who had stood up to all boundaries of human protest and had led a group of twelve ordinary women to demonstrate after stripping themselves naked in front of the Assam Rifles headquarters at Kangla Fort on the July 15, 2004. These ordinary mothers and grandmothers, who eked out a hard living from the market held a banner which screamed “Indian Army Rape Us”! The shocking pictures were seen all over the world and the Indian government stood shamed. However the immediate response was to jail them all for three months.

            This act was the outcome of the brutal rape and killing of Thangjam Manorama Devi. This young woman was picked up by the Assam Rifles personnel on July 10, 2004, and her body was later found with terrible signs of torture and rape. The official response was that she was a member of the banned People’s Liberation Army and died while resisting the arrest. Manipur came to a spontaneous boil. The protest by the imas did not go in vain. The Kangla Fort, which had been under military occupation since 1892, was vacated by the Assam Rifles in November 20, 2004.

            I tried to find her among the melee of shoppers, mostly women with cute babies

strapped on their backs. All I got was gracious smiles; some of the imas just nodded not understanding a word of what I spoke. They were friendly but there was a cautious suspicion. One of the old ladies told me that Momonleima did not come to the market anymore and directed me to the far end of the bazaar, where I could get information. She had stopped coming to the market and her spot was now occupied by one of her relatives. I was just about giving up, when a young teenaged girl came to me and spoke in clear Hindi. I told her that I had come from Delhi and wanted to meet this granny; she gave me a phone number and took my number too.

            The predominance of women in Manipur society can be clearly felt even after a day’s stay in the state. Known as Nupi, the Manipuri women are politically very conscious and are often a force to be reckoned with. As far back as December 1939, the Manipuri women had launched a massive agitation known as Nupi Lan (Women’s War) against the export of rice from the state. The agitation resulted in the total breakdown of administration and resulted in an imposition of a total ban on the export of rice from the state. In the week that I spent in Imphal, and the trips I made to the hinterland, I saw it was the womenfolk who were always at work. They were in the fields, washing in the ponds and streams, tending small shops or roadside stalls, walking about with baskets strung behind them, cycling with huge loads of firewood, taking and bringing children from school, catching fish. The women of Manipur can be put in three classes, the pretty, prettier and the prettiest. The moonfaced Meitei women in their traditional striped sarongs and the yellow mark on their noses have a soothing calmness about them. In Litam I saw a woman working in a smithy, tending to the huge bellows and wielding a heavy hammer.

            The menfolk can certainly give Manipur the description of being the Wild East. The young Rambo types can be seen with their spiked hair, leather jackets, heavy metal, dark glasses, knee-high boots and skull caps, zipping around on Hero Honda motorcycles. Strangely, most of them have lollipops in their mouths.

            I returned to the hotel, after a very disappointing day. Nothing had gone okay and I had not got success in any of my endeavours. After an early dinner, I was just sitting to write my report when there was a knock on the door. This was not the timid knock made by the room service waiters, but a knuckle thumping one. ‘Come in’, I said. ‘The door is open.’

            Two persons entered, both with crew cuts, one in uniform and the other in

casuals. The uniformed one introduced himself as from Manipur Police. He had no name badge, and I noticed that he must have just removed it. The two holes were clearly visible just above his shirt pocket, and if I had guessed right, the badge too was visibly bulging from his pocket.

            He was holding the guest registration card in his hand, which had almost all the details that were required. He read out my name from the card. ‘Mr Dhir, you are from Bhubaneswar and have flown down from Delhi. Press Reporter. You want to meet Chief Minister of Manipur. You also want to meet Irom Sharmila. You also want to meet Ima Momonleima. Whom else do you want to meet? Where all will you go in Manipur?’ It seemed that the stream of never-ending questions would just go on and on.

            His behaviour was just like a school bully. I thought of giving him the a long list, including the names of around 40 dead soldiers whose graves I was trying to locate for my research on the Indian National Army. However prudence ruled, and I told him about YA Shishak, the INA veteran and the war cemeteries of the British and Japanese soldiers, the Moirang INA Museum and for good measure also told him that I would be visiting the Loktak Lake, the border town of Moreh and the Bishnupur temples.

            ‘Okay, but you cannot go to Moreh; it is a disturbed area, ceasefire area in between. Please keep the hotel desk informed about your movements.’

            He picked up my fake Raybans and pronounced them as duplicate. ‘You like Opium?’ I was startled out of my skin. The Narcotics Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act is as worse as the AFSPA, but then I realised that he meant the aftershave lotion lying on the table. Before leaving he gave me a ten-second stare straight in the eyes. ‘Take care Mr Dhir. Have a good night.’ I escorted them to the passageway and saw that they were knocking on the next room. I took some comfort in the thought that this was a routine check, but it rankled me how he had traced out my movements for the day. In a way, he had given me the big brotherly message that we know all about what you did in town today.

            It was just 9 PM but the roads were all deserted. The traffic lights near the hotel crossing too went off at 9 PM Only the intermittent speeding army vehicles broke the silence of the night. The blinkers embedded on the road were flashing their LEDs as they worked on solar energy. By midnight even the street lights were turned off.

            The next morning I woke up at 4:00 AM to find that sunrise was already over. Later in the day, I realised that noon occurred at 10:00 AM. The sheer indifference to the North-East is evident from the fact that even though the Government of India mulled on having another time zone, nothing was done. The country’s east–west distance of more than 2,000 km covers over 28 degrees of longitude, resulting in the sun rising and setting almost two hours earlier on India’s eastern border than that in the western one.

            The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 was formulated with the purpose to “maintain public order” in areas considered to be “disturbed” by the Centre. It empowers armed forces officers to shoot any person who may be suspected of being an insurgent, in the so-called “disturbed areas”. Besides, this Act provides that the Central government’s permission is necessary to prosecute any officer, which in a way grants the army a near complete immunity from prosecution for its misdeeds.

            Section 4 of the AFSPA reads: Special powers of armed forces—any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may, in a disturbed area-

(a)        If he is of opinion that it is necessary to do so for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapons or of fire arms, ammunition or explosive substances.

(b)        If he is of opinion that it is necessary to do so, destroy any arms dump, prepared or fortified positions or shelter from which armed attacks are made or are likely to be made or are attempted to be made, or any structure used as training camp for armed volunteers or utilised as a hideout by armed gangs or absconders wanted for any offence.

(c)        Arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to effect the arrest.

(d)       Enter and search without warrant any premises to make any confined or any property reasonably suspected to be stolen property or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances believed to be unlawfully kept in such premises, and may for that purpose use such force as may be necessary.

            The ratio of military and paramilitary personnel to civilians in Manipur is 1:32 (as compared to 1:100 in Burma which is ruled by the military Generals). In the present-day scenario, AFSPA in Manipur doesn’t serve any purpose. It is a defunct and failed law and has failed to control the insurgency and underground movement in the state. When it was first imposed in December 1980, there were only three insurgent groups, but over the next 31 years there are now more than 40 undergrounds groups, proving that the Act has been an ineffective tool for curbing the spread of antinational activities. Rather than curb insurgent groups, the Act has engendered a seething resentment across the state, and fostered many new militancies. Today, Manipur has become a macabre society, a mess of corruptions: insurgents, army men, cops, corrupt bureaucrats and crooked politicians, all hand in glove, milking the mammaries of the Indian government. Every insurgent group has some indirect representation in the state Assembly.

            Irom Sharmila, Ima Momonleima and scores of other activists have sacrificed a lot for the repeal of the Act. The Government of India did at times consider revoking the Act, but this was scuttled by the state government. Its apprehension that with as many as forty militant outfits that are active in the state, the withdrawal of the AFSPA could jeopardise the country’s security. The Opposition parties in Manipur and supporters of the agitation argue that as there has been no let-up in the insurgency during the 31 years that the AFSPA was in force, its continuation on the grounds of containing insurgency cannot be justified. The UPA government fears that if the demand for the withdrawal of the AFSPA from Manipur is conceded, it will prompt similar demands from the other Northeastern states. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, has been last extended for another year in December 2010.

            I got a call early next morning. The voice at the other end told me that I could meet Momonleima at the Sharmila Kanba Lup tent at 10 AM. She would be there with the other mothers and had been informed of my visit. I was very eager to meet this old grandmother who had led the protest which had shamed the nation. I reached the place and was greeted by four imas, they had a local journalist as the translator. She had just returned from Delhi after meeting Sonia Gandhi who had promised to look into the matter of Sharmila and another jailed women M Landhoni, who has been incarcerated in Guwahati prison. Landhoni too had gone on a 53-day fast, but on the advice of the mothers had given it up for the sake of her two little children. Momonleima showed me a photograph she had taken with Sonia Gandhi.

            I was tongue tied on meeting this sweet matronly granny. The way she had dared

to take on the might of the Army was an inspiration to many in Manipur. There was so much I wanted to ask her. I put forth a few questions haltingly to the interpreter. It felt uncomfortable to ask her what all I had in mind. Was the act spontaneous, or had they planned it in advance? Ima was embarrassed by my embarrassment and told me that she would answer all the questions I would ask. She told me that she had been in the group who had gone to the hospital where Manorama’s body was autopsied. She had seen the brutalities that had been meted out to her. Tears welled in her eyes as she described what all they had seen. Yes, the protest was a planned one, and 137 mothers had pledged to join them. But word had leaked out and most of them were rounded up and put under preventive custody. Only twelve of them made it to the Kangla Fort gate. She recited the names of the other eleven in one breath: Ima Taruni, Ima Ramani, Ima Tombi, Ima Yamini, Ima Ibemhal, Ima Jibanmala, Ima Mema, Ima Soro, Ima Nganbi, Ima Gyaneswari and Ima Ibetombi. Three of them were present at the tent. They were tortured in jail after the protest. They are all out on bail, and for most of them life has changed after the incident.

            The Government of India set up various commissions and enquiries after gross atrocities were reported. Each and every commission set up only added insult to the injuries. The report of the Justice Upendra Commission, instituted after the Manorama killing, was never made public. In November 2004, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee, with the purpose of reviewing the AFSPA. The committee gave a heads we win tails you lose report, whereby it recommended the repeal of the AFSPA, but along with this also suggested transferring most of its draconian powers to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee had rejected the withdrawal or significant dilution of the Act on the grounds that “it is not possible for the armed forces to function” in “disturbed areas” without such powers. Indeed the people of Manipur are caught between the devil and the deep sea.

            With widespread ignorance of the region, the official Indian approach seems to be either to pump in money or send in the army. New Delhi accounts about 90 per cent of Manipur’s income. The foolhardy and myopic thinking is that if there is economic development, the problems will disappear. It is a win-win situation for the ruling elite, the cake is getting bigger but the slices are getting smaller, as many new groups are taking shape every year.

            Indian social attitudes largely hold the tribes as adivasis: primitive, backward, obstinate and sexually permissive. However, this traditional Indian perception of their own tribes is alien to the tribal people of the Northeast as they have historically been their own masters. The Northeasterners in turn see mainstream Indians as untrustworthy and exploitative.

            What India has failed to do in the 60-plus years of Independence is to develop a

sense of national identity that includes or supplants traditional ethnic identities. As a case in point, during the 1962 Sino-Indian War, it was proposed that Punjabis from India’s northwest populate the region. Manipur, along with Tripura and Assam, is an outpost of Hinduism and shares a great affinity with Indian culture.

            The people of Manipur have had an innate sense of being a separate political entity for the last 2000 years. To India, Manipur is a border state. Manipur, on the other hand, has historically seen itself as its own centre, with its own worldview: In Manipur, India is called Pangaan, China is called Khaagi, Burma is Awa, and the Shan Kingdoms near the Golden Triangle are called Pong. During the week I stayed in the state, there were at least a dozen instances where I was identified as an Indian and asked if I was from India. Hindi films are banned and are not screened in the local cinema halls for the last fifteen years. Hindi TV channels are not allowed. This has given rise to a thriving local Manipuri film industry and more than 60 films are produced each year.

            In remote village of Shangshak in Ukrhul, I had gone to meet the last living Indian National Army veteran, YA Shishak. The old soldier lives in a small house just below the Japanese War Memorial, and has a private museum with many knick knacks of the great war. He has with him the first INA flag that was flown in liberated India by the INA. He showed me his passport, which proved that he had made two trips to Japan where he was honoured for his war efforts, but the Government of India still does not recognise him as a freedom fighter. “Am I not an Indian?” he rued bitterly. “I was just a fourteen-year-old boy when I fought for Netaji, but the Commissioner at Ukrhul is not sending my file to Delhi with his recommendation.”

            Today, the capital city of Manipur has become the fertile ground for the militants. It is a common knowledge that the ruling elites are all hand in glove with either one or the other underground groups. A retired army colonel under conditions of anonymity expressed his frustration at the whole scenario. According to him, they had reports that many of the ministers and MLAs had deployed insurgents as their personal bodyguards. Many underground rebels have been found taking refuge in the official bungalows of the elected representatives. Arms and explosives have been seized from official vehicles. There was a big haul of explosives from a car inside the Raj Bhavan. An India Reserve Battalion Rifleman was held on charges of lobbing a grenade at a private hospital. He confessed that he had been given Rs 5000 by militants to do so. The National Human Rights Commission has been giving Manipur full marks for its fake encounters and has termed it as the state with second highest number of such killings (the first being Uttar Pradesh, but one has to consider that it is ten times bigger than Manipur, both in area and in population). As a reaction to news reports highlighting the shortfalls of the government, there were a series of attacks on newspaper offices. Journalists have surrendered their government accreditation ID cards. My driver told me that he does not go to the bank alone; he takes his mother and wife along. If anybody is found with more than Rs 20000 the police just arrest him for being a courier man for the insurgents. Every time we would pass a checkpost or each time an army vehicle over took us, the driver would mutter curses under his breath.

            During my travels to the inner districts, I saw scores of army trucks moving about in convoys. One hardly ever sees a lone army truck, the forces always move about in at least four-vehicle convoys. Armored vehicles patrol the entire state, checkpoints are set up, and civilians are subject to check and combing operations of neighbourhoods and homes are common. On the way to Ukrhul, I was stopped at the Assam Rifles checkpost at Ramva.

            ‘Please make entry’, said the baby-faced Jawan. I went up to the small sentry box and handed over my Press card. ‘You are Reporter, then come with me.’ He took me to a small tent set up amidst a small garden and took out a register which had Press written on it. He gave me a cup of tea from a thermos flask. ‘How many cameras do you have?’ ‘Just one’, I replied. ‘How many photos will you take?’ I wanted to tell him that I was on my way to the Japanese War Memorial at Shangshak and would like to photograph the graves. How many were there I did not know. I tried to make small talk but he was unresponsive. ‘Please leave your home address. If you get killed we will inform. This is ceasefire area, anything can happen.’

            Armed encounters take place between the armed forces and rebels with regularity in the hills. Official figures record hundreds of insurgency-related deaths every year. There are cases of abductions, disappearances, torture and rape. In quite a few instances, the military had to make reparations to individuals when they were cornered with absolute and irrefutable proof.

            Quite beyond regular skirmishes with the Indian Army, Manipur effectively has,

after the Centre’s appointed government and the state’s elected one, a third parallel government run by various rebel groups. They exercise a say in everything: from domestic disputes to government policy. There is widespread extortion from businessmen and many salaried people have a percentage of their income docked by the rebels. They also forcibly undertake all the government construction and supplies contracts under assumed identities.

            The armed secessionist groups thrive on a general resentment among the population against Indian governance. There are also various people who are taking advantage of this situation and who operate as mere extortionists. Much of the population is often caught between the armed foes on either side of the conflict. This quandary is a traumatic one in the absence of a cogent and well-articulated social aspiration and a common destiny held in the national mind. For almost 50 years, the situation in Manipur has been just short of a full-blown war but there just aren’t enough body bags coming out of the region to make national and international headlines. It is just one small corner of India, tucked up in itself.

            The root cause of all problems in Manipur is both political and ethnic. The three dominant communities—Kuki, Naga and Meitei—who were never under a single administrative unit have been forced together either by default or by design. In such a situation, communal harmony, justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, etc. were neither a thing of the past, nor of the present and is not going to be in future as long as the three ‘very different’ communities live under a single political entity. They are longing for their glorious past where they were friendly neighbours. The people need an everlasting remedy, not a pain-killer.

 By Anil Dhir from Imphal

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