Children in Public Agitation

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The agitation for the introduction of the Inner Line Permit system in Manipur is yet again throwing up uneasy light on ways our civil society works. While the justification or suitability of the Inner Line System, a direct legacy of the British promulgated Bengal Inner Line Regulation of 1873, in meeting the present challenges of the State, is another matter, it is the manner of the agitations for its implementation by our civil society bodies, and the government’s response to them, which needs further deliberations urgently. True, the two may be likened to the familiar analogy of the disease and its symptoms, and that the primacy in any long term problem solving strategy must without dispute lie with tackling the disease first and not the symptom. However, as is often the case, both the disease as well as its symptoms can become equally serious life threatening challenges to the patient concerned. There can be no better or more immediate example than that of the dreaded AIDS (Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome), the cause for which is the HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). The disease is a killer, but equally, secondary infections such as tuberculosis to which the patient’s resistance have been destroyed, can devastate.

A lot has already been said on the ILP, the historical compulsions which made the British think of introducing it in its province of Bengal to which Assam was initially incorporated and the ramification of this frontier policy in what is now known as Northeast India. The significance of this regulation has greatly transformed in the present times, though this new meaning attributed it was not exactly what the British intended at the time of its introduction. The IFP has carried closer studies of these matters in earlier articles and will publish more in the coming days in the hope that more lights are thrown on various aspects of the issue at hand, and the possible benefits and drawbacks of the ILP understood better. For now however, the focus will be on the manner social agitations, including the current one, are pushed in Manipur, as well as the way they are retaliated by the government, for there is something very disconcerting in these developments.

This is not a recommendation for aping whatever happens elsewhere in the modern world, but one of assessing our own situations by referring and comparing them to how other progressive societies have handled similar situations. The current agitation in the State is spearheaded by students therefore a look at this youthful and extremely vital section of our society is imperative. True to the saying that the future belongs to the young, behind many of the most powerful social movements throughout the world have actually been the articulations by students’ communities, of various political and social aspirations thrown up before them by the changing times. Manipur too has seen its fair share of youthful restiveness. But the problem here is, the term “student” tends to be painted with a broad brush and used indiscriminately. While you often see 40 year old “student” leaders who have long ceased to be student, directing and orchestrating student agendas, you also more often than not see school students in uniforms barely out of their toddler days being led into the streets like lambs to the slaughter, to be the foot soldiers of aggressive protests. This is a pity. What the chief minister, Okram Ibobi reflected on the matter when he told the Assembly on the last day of its Budget Session on Monday, that these agitating students should not stray into politics just as yet, resonated strongly on this observation.

The jarring thing then is, while elsewhere in the world, student movements germinate, incubate and mature in university campuses, here in Manipur political thoughts seem to take birth on high school playgrounds. It is indeed a pain to see kids in school uniforms being pushed into frontlines and made to brave retaliations by the State. To every onlooker’s horror, the State has been at its brutal best in clamping down on these bewildered, slogan shouting, boys and girls, still wet behind their ears. There can be no excuse whatsoever for this lack of restraint, and the forces involved deserve unqualified universal condemnation. However, the manner in which these school children are dragged into the adult world and consistently made cannon fodders of political agitations, the full implications of which these children are unlikely to be familiar with, is tragic and no less condemnable.

If those who come out on the streets to confront the State on contested public issues were to be students and faculties of universities and colleges, it would have been expected and appreciated. The movements they initiate too would also more easily win the moral support and confidence of the public. The universities are acknowledged seats of higher learnings and birthplaces of revolutionary thoughts and ideals, and students as well as faculties here are looked up to as agents and catalysts of ideas capable of ushering in changes for the larger common good of society. Unfortunately, while university and college students have been conspicuous by their silence on social issues, their faculties have been indeed on strikes, unfortunately, more often than not on issues of service perks and other benefits supposedly denied them.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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