Trapped in Purgatory


Posted: 2010-08-12

It is unimaginable that even with an administration firmly in place, petrol and other essential products still remain out of reach of the ordinary citizenry. This, it will also be recalled, has been the situation for several months, in fact almost half a year now. What can anybody make of this? Not only this, not so long ago, Manipur Rifles personnel were found hoarding petrol, obviously to be sold in the black market for a huge premium. The incident was not only atrocious, but confirmed a popular suspicion that powerful vested interests within the establishment were at work, or at least were ensuring that not enough was being done to bring back normalcy. This is not a call for a witch hunt but for the authorities to pull up their socks and ensure that things are back to normal. They must control prices of essential commodities and not the least, ensure petrol and cooking gas availability at officially authorised outlets. No government can afford to throw up its hands in helplessness in the matter, definitely not for such a long period. Everybody is waiting for the day they can buy petrol from the petrol pumps at the official price, and cooking gas from official gas distribution centres and not pay 400 percent premium to get the same commodity from the black market.

The government must take very seriously the damages caused to the morale of the people by these acts of indiscretion. Let there be no doubt that the injury would not be just in the short run but have grave long term implications as well. The physical hardships and often very severe ones too, caused to the people, especially the poorer sections, must also be taken account of and made a factor in assessing the urgency of the situation. Because cooking gas has gone beyond the reach of those below the poverty line, they now have to resort to firewood and charcoal to cook, which is not only inconvenient but more expensive as well in the end. Down payment of Rs. 1200 for a gas cylinder is impossible for them and Rs. 30 a day for charcoal for cooking is easier but at the end of 45 days, which is what a cylinder of cook gas would normally last, the expenditure on charcoal would have reached Rs. 1350. The extra Rs. 150 may appear like small changes for the well heeled section of society, but not so for so many more living hand to mouth, of which class there is an ever multiplying number. In lean times, Rs. 150 can be as much as three days’ wage for the daily wage earners, or three days of meagre nutrition for their impoverished families. This is what is being denied them by the inability of the government to restore normalcy in the state.

Under the circumstance, it almost seems surreal that elsewhere in the country there are massive and passionate protests at the price rise of a few rupees of essential commodities or fuel. When the price regulatory mechanism has so thoroughly gone wrong for so long in the state, the people have come to believe even abnormal surges of prices are nothing to complain about in what can only be described as fatalistic surrenders. Because the administration has allowed such problems, even the eminently avoidable ones, to fester and become chronic, the people have come to be overwhelmed by what they now intuitively believe are macro issues of the political economy beyond anybody’s control, not even the government. They thus have lost the sense of agency in shaping their own welfare and future. This loss of agency, social scientist would vouch can spell doom generations and even the entire history of a people to impotency. In the words of Chief Seattle, in his famous reply to the Great White Chief in Washington, when the latter informed him his land would be taken over by the government and in its stead, he and his people would be given a reservation, such loss of agency and a sense of purpose in life, would be the end of living and the beginning of existence. Life in Manipur today, let everybody be reminded, is very close to this description of existence. Breaking this ennui is no longer an everyday act of living as it should be, but something needing extraordinary effort, such as in a revolution. Perhaps, the innate moral legitimacy of violence and violent protests that Manipur has become so accustomed to today, can be traced to this outlook. Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish could not have described this any better: “Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time / Close to the gardens of broken shadows, / We do what prisoners do, / And what the jobless do: / We cultivate hope.” In a skewed way, violence thus has been allowed to become the hope for breaking this ennui.


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