By: Bobo Khuraijam
Most people tell me that newspapers, or the news that gets featured in them in Manipur are becoming something akin to an ulcer: niggling at you enough to make you uncomfortable but not serious enough for life to be under threat. That is the unfortunate part since the newspapers in Manipur are only a reflection of what happens around us; the irony being that our lives are indeed under threat in varying degrees. Starting from the bad roads everywhere that is a real obstacle course for travel and transport, to regular electric power cuts (not to mention physical harm for employees in the power sector by the powers (we know who) be, to deluges from drains adding on to dry water taps which are true for people across the board. Yet, it is the more direct threats to personal safety that hold our immediate attention in a vicious cycle of ferment. The natural media space thus is on body counts, deaths and complaints given the nature of what happens around us but also aided by the fact that media houses in Manipur are poorly staffed, paid fragile (!) amounts of money and constrained by money for travel and time. The end result being that there is nothing pleasant to read about in the papers.
But amidst the blood and the gore, the complaints and the latest airing of the corrupt (read illegal stocking of petrol and other essential commodities), there are many taking great delight in reading about instances when people get together and take a stand against being bullied by various forces. It is now increasingly becoming common to hear of people grouping up and beating up extortionists and those who go around in the garb of protectors but who turn around and try to loot as has happened in the recent case of Ushoipokpi though it wasn’t the first such instance where security personnel have been found to have been involved in theft/loot/kidnapping bids. The purist will balk over the issue of mob justice while the legal experts will say, “Where is the legal sanction?” But such a scenario is not totally black or white. Rather, it is a lot of grey and is a sign of the total lack of trust in legal and police systems on one hand while on the other, it speaks of the shimmering anger and desperation of the people who have had to be boxed in from various quarters.
On the other hand, there is little in the media space on another area that is disturbing which co-relates with the utter silence from civil societies on the plight of poor non Manipuri migrants who have as much right to life, residency and protection as anyone else. Much as in any area of conflict: be it a bandh, blockade or tensions between communities, it is those who are at the lowest rung of the economic ladder who gets affected and left to their own devices. Those among the Non – Manipuris who have the financial resources and their network of business contacts have moved base, taking along their families, which the clamour at the airports (since the highway is not seeing traffic) shows only too well. The matter of irony is that the poor daily labourers not only end up as targets of intimidation and physical violence but those who will have far lesser options of relocating and rebuilding their lives again. Yet to put the issue in its context first, does anyone have the right to turn away people who have come to the state to make a living? And if certain organizations by dint of its hold over the psyche of people by its arms power send out a “quit notice”; why do we not get to hear of others who are the greater majority getting together to question that notice? The core meaning of the term “Human Rights” is that it is universal and covers every human being on earth, cutting across gender, class, caste, nationalities and ethnicities. Given this context, there is no way we can call for the protection of the human rights of a certain group of people and remain silent when the rights of another community are being compromised. The due rights that is sanctioned for one individual belonging to a majority community is equally sanctioned for another person belonging to a minority group. If we fail to give regard to this fact, we have no moral or ethical business crying foul when our own rights are violated.
One wonders if there is any co-relation with the spurt of violence and the presence of the various security personnel back on the streets again or whether it is some other reason. Some time ago, when they were pulled out to Mao Gate, there was no word on extortions or grenade blast at so and so place. If that “peace’ was because of a sense of solidarity by the various banned groups, in its deep respect of the State and Central Security forces stationed at Mao Gate and thereby, holding on to peace, should one be compelled to applaud?