Kidnapping for ransom is simply a business. Some say it is the second oldest business. Evidently, it has become a thriving business in Manipur with several cases being reported in this month of January itself. Moreover, a large number of cases have not been reported to the authorities as the people lacked faith on the latter’s capabilities to secure the safe release of the hostages and the police are weak. In several cases police were discovered to have been involved themselves for making money on the side. To make a conservative estimate, the kidnapping and ransom business in Manipur must be worth crores and crores of rupees. The number of cases has exploded during the last ten years or so, coinciding with the rise in unemployment and the easy availability of guns.
Speaking at the Statehood Day observation, deputy chief minister Gaikhangam tried to identify a distinct pattern in the abduction cases that had taken place in the recent past. Giving his observation, Gaikhangam, who also holds the home department and the post of MPCC president, stated that the perpetrators are mostly from the hills and the victims from the valley. Hence, he stressed on the possible impact it can have on relations between different communities. Coincidentally, on the same day, the Saikul branch of the Kuki Inpi, an influential social organisation in the hill districts, conducted a press conference appealing for the release of a labourer from Thoubal district from the captivity of hill-based militants. Gaikhangam’s primary concern on maintaining cordial relationship among the hills and plain dwellers is in the right place. But, the kidnappers are not driven by communal motives. The kidnappings appear to be mostly crimes of opportunity, not hate. The kidnapped persons are either labourers or drivers who work under contractors and vehicle owners perceived to have the capacity to raise the large amounts in quick time.
As a community leader and the chief of a political party, Gaikhangam’s appeal does have a point – refrain from rousing the sentiments of another community. Otherwise, as he heads the operation of the home department, it would have been more uplifting for the shrinking public morale if he had instead talked about steps to stop the kidnappers or bringing them to justice and controlling the spike in kidnapping cases. The administration looked to have by and large ignored the point of catching the criminals and indirectly allowed payment of ransom most of the times. The reasoning of the victim’s family in such circumstances is very clear. Why risk lives by defying the demands of the abductors and contacting the authorities? Militants, who are the perpetrators in most cases, are operating with impunity and police have in the past done little to help other victims in similar situations. How many of us really share the belief that the kidnappers will even ponder over the minister’s sermon? The stark truth is that kidnapping is simply business for them. And the ease with which they are piling up the dough, the safety of scores of manual labour, drivers and officials minding their business in the peripheries of Imphal and interior areas of the state has been put into serious question.