Birth of Rifles With Eyes


Nobody could have put it better than Latin American literature Nobel Laureate, Pablo Naruda, in “I’m Explaining a Few Things”, explaining how violence begets violence, and injustice perpetuates this vicious cycle of mayhem. He was writing of Spain, his foster home, but substitute Spain in this poem with Manipur, and the explanation of anger within the society, or the brutal poetic justice at play, would be well understood by all of us: “…. and from every dead child a rifle with eyes, / and from every crime bullets are born / which will one day find / the bull’s eye of your hearts.” The rifles with eyes born of dead children, and the bullets born of injustice in our society, are all now coming back with a fury capable of turning the society upside down. “Treacherous generals / see my dead house, / look at broken Spain….” the poem continues. This accusative finger may have been any one of ours pointed at our own leaders for the mess Manipur is in today. Things are falling apart, and if there is hope that the place would finds its own feet again, it is not because of what the establishment does, but a testimony of the resilience of the common man on the streets. Hence, from amidst the roaring inferno Manipur is immersed in because of consistent brutalisation of the society, it is a wonder that the place is still able to produce champions, most prominently in the sporting field, but in so many other fields as well. As for instance, the ongoing Commonwealth Games in New Delhi has in many ways showcased Manipur and the talent of its people in a fitting way.

At the opening ceremony, M.C. Mary Kom, was the first to bring Manipur to national consciousness, given the honoured place to be one of the Game’s final torch bearers to complete the length of the fabulous Games opening ceremony venue. Then there were the pung drummers, which opened the opening ceremony stage shows, followed in turn by Ras Lila dancers, and the bamboo dance, which is also partly Manipur’s. The most prominent motifs of the Games Village decor are also larger versions the Manipuri dolls which replicate Ras Lila dancers. Foreign athletes posing for photographs before these dolls have adorned the front pages of numerous newspapers all over the country, as well as featured on satellite newschannels with global reach. This is not all, on the sporting fields, since the opening day of the games, so far the 14 sportspersons from the state taking part have together garnered seven medals for the country, three gold, two silver and two bronze. The first to win a medal for India in these Games, was by a sportswoman from the state, Sonia Chanu, although unfortunately it was not a gold as she was expected to win, as she was not performing per her potential on the day. But this is what sports is about. The point is, Manipur is very visible these days indeed and not just in these Games. These are not the usual picture of violence, mayhem, drugs and diseases which have been the usual images the state and its people have come to be associated with.

If this is what it is on one hand, the other side of Manipur is not pleasant or encouraging. While a corrupt system of politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus has ensured the emergence of many overnight millionaires, unemployment and poverty is continually on the rise. If not for traditional social support systems and institutions, even in the capital Imphal, poverty and its ravages would have become extremely visible. Even the poorest still have a home to go back to; a joint family tradition softens the impact of poverty and ensures that even the unemployed are not starving or are out on the streets etc. But the times they are a changing. The divide between the rich and poor is growing alarmingly. Even as poverty grows amongst the larger section of the population, an unholy cabal continues to amass wealth, destroy the natural ascendency of the meritorious on the social scale so as to ensure their and their progenies’ monopoly over power is perpetuated. But with every act of corruption that destroys the sense of justice; with every child left helpless because of systemic deprivation; with every young man left frustrated because his prospects of a dignified life have been stolen by somebody else who bribed his way, Pablo Neruda’s prophesy would have been played out. Somewhere a rifle with eyes would have come into existence and a bullet with a name would have also begun looking for the bull’s eye. Treacherous generals, see my dead house, look at broken Manipur.

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