It is depressing that today freight truck managing to reach the state capital has once again become material for front page news. A decade years ago, when the state government chose to implement the 5th Pay Commission recommendations for its employees without first getting the concurrence of the Central government, in the process going totally broke, it was the status of the state government’s bank balance with the Reserved Bank of India, RBI, which made headline news. RBI releasing funds for the state at the time had then come to be awaited eagerly by everybody in the state for it meant payment of government salaries. It is now unimaginable that at the time salaries for government employees were paid at intervals anywhere between three to six months. Anybody older than 15 years would remember what difficult times those were, with the markets acquiring a cadaveric hue, considering the biggest source for its liquidity was and still is the purchase power of salaried government employees. As always, the poor who had little or no credit worth were the hardest hit. Such things can only happen in Manipur. Here events and things which ought to be drearily normal and routine have become abnormal and conversely what would be considered abnormal anywhere in the world have become normal and everyday reality.
Now that the state is managing to maintain a healthier bank balance with the RBI and at least salaries for government employees are no longer the unbearable burden that it once was, there are other ordinary things which have taken their turns to acquire a grotesque visage, haranguing the ordinary citizenry once again. Essential commodities are beginning to disappear from the shop shelves, so have the petrol pumps dripped dry, prices are skyrocketing, and amidst all this government heads are either playing their fiddles unabashed, or else frantically and quixotically shadow boxing as if it believes this is enough to convince the people it means action. The twin economic blockade along the state’s lifelines by those demanding as well as opposing the proposed creation of SADAR hill district has come to rudely upset life in the state, bringing back the unfortunate reality of routine events turning into nightmares. And so, trucks movement along the highways have been transformed into headlines material. How much more pathetic can the situation get, and more importantly, how much longer is the government simply going to wait and watch this mounting misery unfold in the life of the state?
The contrast is rather uncanny. But if the routine can become abnormal in Manipur, so can many shockingly abnormal events also get reduced to the mundane. Visitors to the state would vouch this is so. They are bewildered at how ordinary citizens tolerate so many overwhelming but avoidable odds in daily life. Imagine this is a state where electric power for domestic consumption is available for only four hours a day; piped municipal water likewise is available to consumers for as little as an hour on alternate days; black toppings on city and country roads get washed away every monsoon. Broken roads mean mud during the wet seasons and dust during the dry. It is anybody’s guess what health implications this would have on the citizenry. Yet everybody seems to have come to accept all this as normal in a frustratingly fatalistic way. No accountability is ever fixed for all these failures and equally, no accountability is ever sought by the public for any of these either. The notion of citizen’s rights has been so badly skewed that today only the crassest violations seem to qualify to be called infringements. So while the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, is seen as the overbearing state breathing down neck of the ordinary men and women, health hazards posed by scarcity of safe drinking water or the omnipresent cloud of dust hanging above the roads in the state is seen as nothing to be so upset about. The threshold of concern has indeed been pushed up extremely high and only unnatural and violent deaths and injuries are seen as threat to life and dignity of the people. This raised threshold is dangerous, for it will end up a excusing a whole range of nuanced and not so nuanced atrocities by authorities given charge of the affairs of the state. It is time for the ordinary people to be sensitised on their rights that go beyond the loud and overt. In the end, it is coming to grip with all these rights, and not just the obvious, which is going to define the quality of life for everybody in the state.