By Pradip Phanjoubam
No public indictment seems strong enough to shake the Manipur government awake to the reality surrounding it today. Reams after reams of newsprint must have been spent on reports and analysis as to why and how the state is rotting both physically and spiritually. It is almost becoming a matter of routine for neutral outside observers who come visiting, to call Manipur a failed state in their writings, and the adjective is beginning to stick like a painful carbuncle not only because of its continual repetition but because of the increasing irrefutability of the description.
Nothing about the state at this moment suggests all is well. Its roads are rotting, not just in remote districts, but in the heart of the capital city too; it must have been ages before garbage was ever cleared from the roadside dumps; when it rains even Imphal roads become un-navigable stretches of slush and mud; when it is not they come to be under a shroud of dust kicked up by motor-vehicles; safe piped drinking water is a distant memory, and today people have no other resort than to buy water from private parties. These are not scientifically treated water, but simply fetched from public ponds and rivers. Those who cannot afford these private services, fetch their water themselves from these same sources.
These are only some evidences of the physical decay, but these visible signs are the metaphors of a much deeper spiritual erosion. As for instance, the brazen audacity and disregard of the law, not so much by militants or ordinary citizens, but by VIPs, is bewildering beyond words. Not too long ago, we remember the chief minister, Okram Ibobi himself making the pledge that the Kangla would be out of bounds for vehicles, except of the constitutional head of the state. Today, to see VIP and not quite VIP vehicles whizzing through this sacrosanct space which whining sirens is no longer an uncommon sight
It is rather ironic that the chief minister could think of touring Southeast Asia and East Asia to woo investors, even as the state is stuck in this depressing state of decay. Shouldn’t he first think of straightening the home front, particularly because he also has reserved the home portfolio, among some other most lucrative ones, for himself? Quite obviously, nobody would want to do business with a place that has become so unstable in terms of basic governance, but in particular, law and order.
The trend today is not of capital gravitating towards the state but of a reverse flight, all for the lack of governance. Even tourist traffic, both domestic and foreign, has trickled down to nearly nil. Who would want to come here and choke in the stench of filthy dust and garbage anyway? In the last decade or so, the image of Manipur before the world has become so shamefully negative, and yet its leaders and elites still seem only bothered about feathering their own nests by hook, but more familiarly by crook. They should realise, when Titanic sank, both rich and poor passengers drowned together.
So while poverty and unemployment ravage a growing percentage of the state’s population on the one hand, opulence far beyond known sources of income are evident in the surreal pictures of palaces that keep sprouting up from amidst expanding urban ghettos, to rub shoulders with mud hovels and ramshackle homes. If corruption has been reined as claimed, those holding the reins do not want it to end its avaricious gallop.
Needless to say, the future is grim. Take just the case of the employment situation, undoubtedly one of the keys to many of the state’s ills. In the absence of a tangible employment generation programme, unemployment is spiralling. At last count, the government employed about ninety thousand directly, and even this was considered above its ceiling of need as well as affordability. At best, it can marginally expand this capacity artificially, but not without the financial blessing of New Delhi, unable as it has always been to generate enough of its own resources.
As it stands today, the only sector which can absorb this extremely onerous burden is the private sector, but unfortunately this sector is increasingly condemned to remain weak and ailing in the absence of sustained and tangible policy props, with the result that the crowding of job-seekers at the government employment exchange continues unabated.
Looming Social Dementia
Recent newspaper reports suggest that the psychiatry wards in the hospitals in Manipur are showing a general upswing of cases should be enough to ring the alarm bells for everybody, in particular the government. Surely there is every reason to believe that this has greatly to do with the inevitable breakdown of institutions, traditional and modern, consequent upon the prolonged state of mindless violence and spiralling lawlessness the people are exposed to.
It is reasonable to even suspect that the conditions for dementia everybody has come to be subjected to have taken a much wider toll. This may be a little beyond the scope of journalists, constrained constantly by the pressures of extremely short deadlines, and work volume in the case of the provincial media which are generally not staffed or moneyed enough to spare reporters or sponsor researches that may take months, but definitely a meaningful pursuit for academics and academic NGOs to establish a correlation between the rising cases of psychiatric cases and the uncertain and unsafe social environment in the state.
There perhaps is also a correlation between this chaotic and intimidating state of affairs and the rising cases of stress related disorders, such as hypertension, migraine, stomach ulcers etc. In all likelihood, the perennial state of mayhem, overbearing decrees and threats of physical injury and elimination are cumulatively becoming a cause for chronic and extremely alarming health issues.
Come to think of it, what would be a day in the life of an average man or woman or even child in the state like? From dawn to dusk, information which get registered in their consciousness are those of violence, tragic aftermaths of murderous aggressions, faces of laments and protests, threats and diktats. They literally go to sleep with news and images of bomb blasts, kidnaps, abductions and bloody encounters on the local cable TV channel, and then wake up the next morning to be greeted by pictures and news of blood, gore and deaths, staring back at them from the pages of their morning newspapers.
All these are over and above the myriad, normal and awesome challenges of life everybody everywhere has to face. So average parents of school-going children for instance have not only to fight the clock to pack off their children to school in time and in order, but also desperately scan the pages of the local newspapers to find out whether the day is clear of bandh and blockade calls, lest their children get caught in senseless trouble and danger. Not just adults and government officers, children also get kidnapped these days. Sometimes they are sexually abused and murdered too. Almost as if by rule, so many meet violent deaths almost on a daily basis, for reasons that seldom become open. Frustratingly, the culprits also most of the times are unofficially known to everybody, but officially ignored totally.
Twenty years ago, such crimes would have elicited the bewildered response from anybody that these are unthinkable and impossible in Manipur. Today even the most naive and trusting grandmothers would accept these as Manipur’s beastly new reality. Once upon a time, the moderating influence of a belief in a benign divine order, as well as those of a deeply institutionalised traditional value system was strong. Back then, it did not always take the law to convince people the basics of what are wrong and right, or what are acceptable behaviours and what are not. Law keeping then was not so impossibly arduous.
The venerated space in society that elders once enjoyed, the respect reserved for women and the universal protective instinct for children, have all waned away. It is not just the law which has been turned on its head, but the intuitive values built over aeons as well. Something went wrong somewhere down the line and there was nobody to arrest the trend.
A lot of it probably had to do with the wayward ways of those in charge of the establishment. Official corruption must have been the first blow to shake up faith in social values painstakingly nurtured over generations. The law too soon was to lose its moral authority over the people, leading them to take it into their own hands. There was also, in certain quarters, an intellectual eagerness to destroy established institutions on the pretext that they were degenerate, before new ones were built. The fact sheet at this moment shows values of traditional and instinctual jurisprudence, as well as the moral hold of legal institutions of the establishment, have been effectively decimated, but their replacements are stillborn. If not, they are overbearingly authoritarian, undemocratic, hate-driven and obdurately hegemonistic.
Drought Follow Floods
And the government continues to fiddle. Take the case of the recent floods in the state. There is really nothing very much to be surprised about a state which falls in the wettest belt of the globe having to suffer cloudbursts. What is surprising, and tells adversely on the vision and commitment to public welfare of the governments the state has seen, is that despite knowing fully well its monsoon realities, it is still unprepared to meet this natural challenge at all. A week of incessant rain can bring floods and acute water logging. What also cannot go without notice is, the water logging problem is incrementally more severe each year.
If the trend in the past one decade or so is anything to go by, the bitterest irony is yet to come. In just about two months after the monsoon clouds have blown away, the state will be in a “drought situation”, and in all probability the state government would be rushing to Delhi with the begging bowl to look for funds to fight the new emergency. Why can’t Manipur’s leaders begin seeing beyond just the immediate?
The government must begin a serious study on the subject at the soonest. But even as laymen, those who have lived in the state long enough would have noticed certain growth and expansion patterns of Imphal city, and other townships in the flood prone valley region which have contributed to the present miserable conditions.
First of these is the disappearance of low lying wetlands everywhere in the valley, including in and around Imphal. Most of these have been reclaimed either as arable land or worse still as extensions of the city infrastructures. The Lamphelpat, Porompat, Sangaipat, Takyelpat, etc were once wetlands that served as the reservoirs to absorb flood waters during cloudbursts, and then as sources of water during the dry seasons. In the absence of these reservoirs, rivers are much more easily swollen by monsoon rains.
Even if reclaiming these wastelands are inevitable as the city grows, perhaps it would be wise for the government to leave at least part of them untouched, or even dig and deepen them so that what they have lost in area can be recovered in terms of depth. In this regard, city planners from a past era who dug such reservoirs as the Ningthem Pukhri, and the elaborate network of drainage systems known “Khongbans”, all of which flow into the then existent wetlands, demonstrated much more vision.
These planners of the feudal past, record books such as the Cheitharol Kumbaba tell us, even dredged river beds, linked and diverted river courses etc in the effort to manage water. They of course could freely use forced labour (or contributory labour as some might interpret it) at the time, but although this cannot be done now, the modern times have technology as substitute.
Why can’t the government think of taking a leaf out of the strategies employed in the past? They can for instance give the idea of river linking a more serious thought. In this small valley, this should not come across as too awesome. Through a system of dykes, during the monsoon especially, waters from dangerously swollen rivers can be diverted to other safer ones and thus avoid avoidable human disasters. Three lives were lost, but even when such tragedies do not occur, thousands of hectares of crops are destroyed almost every year. Hence in the not so long run, this recurring cost would be several times more than the investment to be made in a well considered, well planned, water management system in the state.