By Chitra Ahanthem
Let us start from the beginning of it all. It is not going to matter how long the highways are blockaded really. The media in Manipur will rave and rant but the political leadership in the state will play deaf and mute. The national media will go about their everyday life, catching up with the buzz over the 2G note between Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram. They will park their media vans and take a sound byte from everybody left, right and center. There will be television prime time discussions on whether the Manmohan Singh led government at the center is weakening or not. What one won’t see at all is how the people in Sikkim coped with the earthquake that left thousands homeless on the streets.
Cut to the 60 day and more old economic blockade in Manipur that has left life for the common man difficult, what does it mean first to the very common men and what does it mean to people outside the state? The answer(s) to both questions are inter-related in a way. What strikes me of course, is the sheer irony of it all: that it took a 60 day impasse for the national media to do their “concerned” TV programs, that it takes that long for people to call us and ask “how is life being affected?” The national media seems to have a mind blockade of anything that happens in the north eastern region of the country and often, it is only when the issue at hand goes on and on that they can afford to turn around and ask, “hello, how are you?”.
Sometimes, when one has to answer how the economic blockades impacts life in the state, it becomes a bit difficult to answer. To start with, life goes on…right? The vehicles on the road do not lessen any more. The traffic jams and the ear -drum splitting honking still prevails despite the sheer jump in the price of petrol in the black market. And then again, when the highways are being blockaded, ever wondered how petrol is available in the black market? Someone asked me, “Is life difficult?” and I said, “yes, it is…but we manage.” That is where the problem lies. Most of us manage it somehow, don’t we? We pay just that extra amount for petrol, LPG, other commodities and vegetables. But do we know how people without the means “to manage” are going with their daily lives? Someone I know told me how he came back with a substantial amount of potatoes and onions from Guwahati by flight. So? We manage…right?
And then, the festivities! The blockade may well lead to daylight robbery. The other day at a utility shop, I overhead someone asking the shop-keeper for a bottle of mineral water. He replied calmly and brazenly that a half litre of mineral water (normal price Rs. 12) would now cost the customer Rs 25. It certainly made me think how the drives in the non-Manipuri dominated bazaar areas in Imphal to contain hoarding of commodities or over pricing them do not mean much on the ground. It is the small outlets in your locality and mine that adds on to the blockade impact. Yet, they escape the notice of those who are trying to make things available at less inflated rates. Or is it a convenient oversight? More so, since the smaller utility shops in the locality are operated by our own brethren while the bazaar and big shops are operated by non- Manipuris?
With festivities round the corner, one would be deaf to miss out the sound of crackers going around. Crackers in the time of a blockade over and above the ban on the sale and bursting of them in the state says all too much about the dichotomy that is Manipur. Yes, the blocking of highways translates into total flouting of international humanitarian laws and conventions but it is also equally true that political unwillingness to address shimmering ethnic and political aspirations often leads to rampage on the highways. Blockades in turn have become a regular phenomenon and turned into an ineffective means of protest or act of calling attention. They have only come to mean local newspaper headlines lost on the political leadership while the hardships of the common man who do not have the resources to “manage” continue unknown by most.