Living with Blockades

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In football, the expected etiquette when a player is injured and on the ground, whichever team is in possession of the ball kicks the ball out of play so that the injured player can be attended to. When the injured man is either treated or else replaced by a substitute and when the ball comes back into play, the team taking the throw in deliberately passes on the ball to the team that kicked the ball out of play. This is fair play and now a universal norm. Sometimes certain teams violate this, and though this is not against the rules of the game, it breaks unwritten understanding of decency and even if the team that resorts to such behaviour does not get penalised on the ground, they nonetheless leave a bad taste in the mouths of all the onlookers and earn their ill will as well. It goes without saying that such behaviours are today a very rare exception.

Unwritten laws are the sinews of civilised societies. When they become more institutionalised, they are what make traditions. We all understand what tradition is, and how traditions not only maintain the sanity of a society but also keep it going. Without tradition, as Topol the protagonist says in the Broadway classic of the 1970s, “Fiddler on the Roof”, which tells of the life of a milkman in a small Jewish village in Tsarist Russia, which also incidentally earned quite a reputation as a Hollywood movie, we would all be fiddlers on the roof, never firmly footed, never able to anticipate what would come next, always shaky and thereby never secure. Tradition keeps the society moving, to use an aviation term, on auto pilot. It makes the tailor do what he does, stitching dresses to cloth all, the farmer makes sure there is enough for all kitchen, the car workshops, the refrigerator repair man, the teacher, the student, all do their part without questioning, thus keeping the society vital and alive without anybody dictating anything… To use Topol’s words again, if tradition breaks at any of these points, the system would go ill, and ultimately collapse. And when the system collapses, everybody would sink together, the law breakers and law abiders alike.

The current twin blockade by those demanding the SADAR Hills district as well as those opposing it, have already broken one established etiquette of this strike-prone, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religion state. In the past, festive seasons of any particular religion was spared of these extremely disruptive strikes, and even hardcore street-fighting agitation leaders were soft on appeals for suspension of their strikes during the period of these festivals in order that they are not dampened. This unwritten norm now seems to be on the path of being relegated to history already. The major Hindu festival of Durga Puja is being celebrated amidst the ongoing prolonged blockades, and in a week or two from now, there would be Ningol Chakouba, a major, if not the most major festival of the Meiteis, when married sisters return to their parental homes for a meal with their brothers. This is a festival when the markets become alive more than at any other time of the year with parents and brothers shopping for gifts for their married daughters and sisters, and on the eve of the festival, for fish and vegetables for the all-important, once in a year meal. This year, in all likelihood, the meals are going to be incomplete, especially for the not so affluent families. For one, the stocks of essential commodities in the market are low and for another, their prices have hit the roof. Approaching is also another important Hindu festival, Diwali. And yet, there is no sign of anybody showing any sign of leniency.

There is time yet to make amends. The strikers must show respect for the tradition of tolerance this state has been known for despite all its problems and complex ethnic relations. As much as the goodwill earned would go miles, so would ill will. Even if nobody is willing to bend this time we hope the break in etiquette is not contagious and the mood spoiler does not become an accepted practice rather than an exception. The amount of bad blood created can be imagined if the reality turns out to be just the worst case scenario imagined and nobody any longer cares for the sensitivities of other communities. For indeed, from October onwards till the Spring of the coming year, there is a string of festivals of practically every community lined up. But even as the SADAR Hills issue remains unresolved, there is the possibility for the United Naga Council, UNC, intensifying its strike as it announced yesterday, this time on the issue of a separate administrative arrangement for the Nagas. Not only would this be a mood dampener for everybody, but it would be directly pitched against the demands for SADAR Hills and indeed Manipur’s interest, thereby the potential for heightening the bitterness all around is much more.

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