And so, we stand now at the beginning of yet another year, which means we inevitably end up taking a relook at what passed us by, what we achieved and lost. A few among us might begin to scoff at the romanticism of the fuss that is associated with the annual cycle saying that the beginning of another year will not change things, that they will remain the same. Technically, a year is just a specific number of days (and nights) that exist with its flow of weeks, months and seasons. Yet, for all purposes when January 1 dawns on every ‘new year’, people all across the world will herald its advent with cheer and celebrations. Millions of people will peg on hope that there will be better times ahead, that there will be more progress and peace: this, when millions others will stay hungry, sleep on the streets pr live in situations that are neither safe nor secure. But that is the paradox of our lives and the way of the universe: that there will be sides to the same story.
It is another common habit to take a look at what has happened by looking at a balance sheet of sorts that marks what has earlier happened in the 365 days that has gone by. Manipur’s 2013 started with the aftertaste of a bitter brew that came close to breaking the camel’s back over la episode Chandel where an actor and other artistes performing in a musical event in the district had to undergo some unwanted attention that then led to an ugly episode. The episode could have been better tackled with grace but the pressure of trying to show who could shout the loudest may have contributed to the mess: widespread agitations, a stringer for a news channel shot dead while filming demonstrations. Happily though, we did not have to trudge through long standoffs in the form of mammoth economic blockades. Personally, I would not hesitate to undertake a publicity campaign for ‘economic blockade’ to be recognized as one word in the dictionary: come to think of it, we may as well get a bit of hype over the fact that the word has its origin from this soil. Even as distant Delhi woke up to street rage brought about by the horrific rape and subsequent death of a paramedical student led to the country adopting very stringent laws relating to rape, sexual harassment etc even as the impact of AFSPA vis a vis rape and such passed any criticism, the new laws ensured that strict sentencing were passed against those convicted of rape related cases in the state. But if we are to believe that such punishment would be cause to rejoice that such crimes will abate, that would be very far off the mark for till the time women are looked on and treated with respect and dignity, such crimes will continue.
If there is one positive trend that emerged in 2013 for the common people who have lived under the shadow of fake encounter killings, some high profile visits to the state ensured that the body count decreased. The first such visit to the state was the Supreme Court Appointed Commission, headed by Justice Santosh Hegde following a directive from the Apex Court following the filing of a PIL that detailed 1528 cases of alleged extra judicial executions. The PIL was filed by the Extrajudicial Execution Victim Families’ Association, Manipur (EEVFAM) along with Human Rights Alert (HRA). In the hearings that took place in Imphal and New Delhi with regard to six cases that resulted in seven deaths, glaring loop-holes in police related investigations and procedures came to light while paramilitary forces or more specifically AR personnel were careful to say they were only part of the larger picture under ‘joint operations’ but not involved as the main actors. The second high profile visit was that of the UN Special Rapporteuer on violence against women, its causes and consequences while the other significant visit to the team was that of the National Human Rights Commission. The rap on the knuckles that these visits gave to the top levels of administration but mostly, the police department could have contributed partly in the manner in which insurgency related killings did not touch high points. In fact, the South Asia Terrorist Portal (SATP) puts the number of insurgency related killings at 55 (till December 22, 2013) as compared to 408 deaths in 2007, 485 in 2008 and 416 in 2009. But even with the decrease in the number of insurgency related deaths, a spate of mysterious IED blasts in Imphal, Thoubal and Ukhrul ensured that the ‘disturbed’ tag would be in place for the long shadow of AFSPA to keep its hold over all of us.
A complete year review will not be possible in this column but to sum it up: if we can still live 365 days everyday with 5-6 hours of electricity for every 24 hour cycle, if we can make a beeline to the petrol pump or to variety stores to hoard up salt packets without much drama, if we can make merry over the fact that the state Highways were not held to ransom, and if we can still breathe despite the stink on the streets and live with the piling garbage or the dust on the roads, it means that we will probably have more of such times in 2014 as well. But a ‘New Year’ set to begin should not only be confined to the solemn and the gloomy bit. Like Pandora’s box, which unleashed sickness and anger and unhappiness but also had hope, we should all have a glimmer of hope that we do have what it takes to bring out the best in our self and in the people around us. As we shake our heads and say the all too familiar, “things will never change”, let us resolve that each one will take the responsibility to change what we can. Trouble and strife is what fills our spaces in the newspaper and media sector but maybe, there will be a time when we can sit down and write about things working, about how life is changing for the better. Here is looking to that time.