Gas cylinder for Rs 2,000; life Rs 20
Ajay Singh | December 16, 2011
Insurgent tribal groups fight among themselves and against the state, but the toughest of the fight is the citizen’s — for bare necessities. Even without blockades, they have little to feel part of India. An excerpt from the cover story, 'Do we care?', of the latest issue of Governance Now.
Time is money but life is precious.” Such graffiti abound the Himalayan hills through which passes national highway 53 connecting Imphal to Jiribam and Silchar in Assam. I was travelling on this highway under heavy police escort led by an additional SP to assess the impact of the 110-day economic blockade of the state and attempts by the government to restore the supply of essential commodities.
Nearly five-mile-long serpentine queues of trucks and heavy presence of gun-toting security personnel were proof enough to expose the deception and hollowness of the written words. In practical life of Manipur, truth is nearly the opposite. Time is irrelevant and life is expendable.
A telling example of this truth was witnessed on November 30 – three days before the visit of prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi to Imphal. Mohammad Kora, a rickshaw puller, was conned into carrying an improvised explosive device (IED) to the venue of the Imphal Sangai festival, a carnival organised by the state government.
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An interview with retired IPS officer Prakash Singh on northeast and his PIL on blockades in Manipur
A gullible Kora agreed to take the consignment to the venue for a paltry sum of Rs 20 without realising what the packet contained. Just at the venue, his rickshaw was blown to smithereens, taking away with it Kora’s lower limbs. A stunned Kora survived for a few minute only to tell his story. Kora lost his life only for Rs 20 while insurgents used him to carry their message. Of course, life is dirt cheap here in Manipur which has been facing successive economic blockades coupled with the worst kind of insurgency. The latest blockade, ordered by the Naga insurgents, lasted for over 110 days and was lifted just before the visit of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi to Manipur to inaugurate a few government facilities on November 3.
Contrast this image of Manipur with the history of rich cultural heritage and richness that earned the region an epithet of ‘Swarn Bhu’, the land of gold, in ancient times. But at present the state seems to be caught in a time warp. Time distorts life in Manipur along with the rest of the northeast which should have a different time zone, ahead of the rest of India. The sun rises and sets here nearly two hours before it does in New Delhi. But people are forced to regulate their life according to New Delhi’s time zone.
Take the case of Priyo Ranjan Singh who teaches economics in Manipur university. A sound economist that he is, he knows the value of time and money. Yet on November 24, he got into a queue to get petrol near Sinjamei market around 5 am. His car was 35th in the queue. Two hours later, his car was pushed to number 45 as those wielding influence and clout jumped the queue and pushed the professor’s car to a distant slot. Though the professor protested, he could do little. Thankfully, he got the fuel and filled up his tank around 11 am.
But only a week earlier, the petrol was rationed. Though the government had fixed a limit of 10 litres of petrol for car owners in Imphal, nobody got more than five litres. For two-wheelers, a weekly rationed amount was fixed. It used to take nearly half a day to get this petrol for an average resident who must possess plenty of courage, patience, money and muscle –a rare combination of attributes. That people of Manipur have acquired these attributes through lessons of life is a tribute to their learning process.
For more than three and a half months Manipur faced an economic blockade which is unprecedented even by local standards. All essential supplies to the densely-populated valley came to a grinding halt. Prices of vegetables spiralled and fuel became scarce. A cooking gas cylinder would cost more than Rs 2,000 each. Can one imagine such a thing happening in New Delhi or any part of the mainland? Hoarders and black-marketeers thrived while average Manipuri cried copiously. But New Delhi chose to be blissfully ignorant.
By all accounts, Manipur is a story whose plots and sub-plots are so intertwined and complex that it needs an extraordinary elaboration.
Read the full story in the latest issue of Governance Now, along with more reports and backgrounders on the Manipur imbroglio.
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