It is great news that Booker Prize winning writer Arundhati Roy will be visiting the state in November this year. However, we wish she had much rather come for some event like inaugurating a book fair or giving a inspiring lecture to our college students or writers here in Manipur. The timing and the purpose of her visit has left much to be desired and may be quite disappointing for some section of the people who admire her writings, or have at least heard of her as a well known writer. Very very few people in Manipur today are not swayed by the overwhelming tide of what we may call Manipur’s own brand of nationalism. We in fact have nothing against this nationalistic fervor if it is cordial, decent, and compassionate towards the aspirations of all the people of the state. However, the popular nationalism as we see it here is dictatorial, threatening and overrides democratic or even human values. It is this backdrop, of a mass preoccupation with and support for a violent nationalism, in which we would like Arundhati Roy and other eminent personalities to view the now so famous ‘struggle’ by Irom Sharmila against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958. As outsiders who know very little about Manipur, people generally tend to look at the Manipuri woman’s hunger strike for the sake of the statistics involved, and not the deep rooted implications behind such a strike. Living in today’s consumerist age as long as the scales are tipping higher everyone tends to applaud, whatever the cause may be. And in Sharmila’s case too most people are just watching the scoreboard like in a game of cricket. But in doing so they are inadvertently harming the country’s interests, Manipur’s interests and also democratic values. This is because in appreciating Irom Sharmila we become party to the numberless Manipuris who have almost literally taken a vow to stand against the Indian polity. It has been accepted that the AFSPA has many loopholes, but like any other law it takes time to change or alter it, especially so when a near full scale war is on here and the country as a whole must be thinking of giving our men in the forces the best advantage in a territory which is hostile in every sense.
We don’t say Sharmila is representative of the anti-Indian people here. Her struggle could be (or could not be) only against the legal side of the AFSPA, but there are scores and scores of others who have now become part of her agitation for an altogether different cause, viz. to fight till the end for a separate country which has nothing to do with India. And this is where we think personalities like Arundhati Roy should reconsider or at least make known their views on a struggle like this, before they arrive in Manipur. Recently we have come to hear of even politicians like Mamata Banerjee speaking up for the Maoists. Likewise there are some others also who support the violent struggles by impoverished people in Orissa, West Bengal, Jharkhand etc. As outside observers we cannot support the armed part of it, but as human beings we do sympathize with the plight of the poverty belts where suicides due to droughts, starvation, and deprivation are becoming commonplace. The elitist ruling class also has to start thinking about its own exploitative business policies, to prove that they too are sensitive to human values. Well, this is another matter. But, what we are hoping is that in their enthusiasm and concern for the downtrodden people of India, people like Arundhati Roy and others do not start equating the separatist problem in Manipur with the problem of exploitation in India’s poverty struck areas. Manipur has some of the most fertile lands in the whole of the country and people here are proud that they can go years on end without help from anyone else. So while the impoverished masses in many parts of India are getting restless and violent to make their cry for food and drink heard, in the case of Manipur we can only say that people have enough food here but are crying for blood – an altogether different proposition.
Most of the dominant community in Manipur is not willing to look at any of their co-inhabitants here eye to eye, so much is their disregard for others. The anti-AFSPA brigade is also mostly representative of a people who would not listen to anybody but themselves and is almost racially motivated. Hence this would be the last platform from which we would like our Indian intelligentsia to address the problems here, as their good wishes is being interpreted and projected by some people here as a sign of weakness, or quite foolishly as an approval of the violence in the Manipuri mind. The problem is so acute that many of the hardworking businessmen from the Indian mainland who are traditionally doing business here are being forced to leave after selling their business and properties dirt cheap by the dominant Manipuri community under the naïve belief that usurping somebody’s hard earned position is the way to do business. We can only say that fighting for rights while denying the same rights to those who are dependent on Manipur for some reason or the other is hypocrisy of the highest order.