By Amar Yumnam
‘The Good Society’ is title of a book written by Lippmann in 1937 and followed by another book of the same title six decades later by a team of social scientists. Today good society is an actively researched area among economists. The last one and half decades have witnessed a proliferation of hectic research by economists on individual happiness, subjective well-being and quality of life. Development research in Economics today has recognised and accepted the fundamentality of understanding and endeavouring development contextually. This general understanding has impacted on the research and appreciation of individual quality of life. This has led to the need and rise in research on the social quality of life or societal well-being. The last three years are particularly significant in this line of research with strong implications for policy formulation. The need for an assessment of the societal well-being within which we try to ameliorate our individual quality of life cannot be overemphasised in the context of Manipur. In one recent personal interaction, a villager in an interior area in Tamenglong responds that the village does not have any (no road, no power, no school, no health centre, no telecommunication facility), and so needs everything. This response came when asked to identify one need which, if met, he feels would make the villagers happy. This is about the mountains of which we take the poor qualify of life almost as granted and nothing to be surprised. Now come to the valley. I will not talk of the Iron Lady, Irom Sharmila whose struggle has wide and deep implications for the society and people of Manipur. Let me talk of myself as an individual. This Sunday I went to Kakching with my wife just for an outing to refresh. We had parked our truck almost on one side and away from the pavements in a region within Thoubal District; the pavements were absolutely free. A personnel of the local police force came in and told us that a VIP was coming and so he wanted us to take our vehicle away. I retorted that the vehicle was almost on the side and untouched to the pavements. The immediate thought which came to my mind was: “Are only the VIPs human beings and the rest only insects.” My quality of life was immediately compromised by this one behaviour of the policeman; while my wife and I went for refreshing ourselves to improve our quality of life, irritation turned out to be the result. After coming back to home, it also occurred to me that the policeman himself must have got into the police service by virtue of a purchased favour from a VIP (definitely not by his merits and competence), and his obligation is thus only to the VIPs and never to the people at large. These are realities true to the facts of social existence in Manipur. In the context of the global appreciation of the need for examining the characteristics of a Good Society Framework prevalent in any society, it would be prudent to examine the scenario of our own Manipur.
The most common components while examining the goodness of a society are: Child Well-Being, Safety, Health and Healthcare, Non-Violence, Integrity and Justice, Civil Society, Compassion, Environmental Sustainability, Education, Social Sustainability, and Social Cohesion. In the context of Manipur, we can also add Access to Public Amenities. Let us take a look at a few of these characteristics in the case of Manipur to assess if ours is a Good Society or otherwise. Child mortality rate is competitively good in Manipur. This is due to the traditional social environment and customs and not because of the interventions of the state as administered by the government. But there is already a deep and widespread danger of problems connected with child nutrition and unequal opportunities; the initial positive aspects of child well-being are fast being overshadowed by negative aspects. As regards safety, the rise and character of road fatalities in Manipur today leave a much to be worried about. In connection with violence, the last half a decade or so looked like that violence was showing signs of decline. But the absence of accompanying governance responses to these signs of violence has now led to the re-emergence of violence as a social character to perform and achieve. It is as if the governance of the land thrive in an atmosphere of violence. As regards Integrity, it happens to be something like where the society has accepted prevalence of corruption as a norm; corruption happens to be something to indulge, participate and flourish with total social acceptance. Add to this another culture which has to take roots in Manipur; I am talking of the absence of the respect for the Rule of Law in Manipur. Corruption and absence of Rule of Law are the Integrity and Justice indicators in Manipur. These are accompanied by the complementary and supporting functioning of the Lai Seva Committees in most of the places. The private Mahadeva Laishang at the Kakching Garden is richer than many of the community civil-society based Lais around in the valley. In the mountains too, funds are there for building churches but not for improvement of shared amenities. As regards education, time is now for complete reshaping of the whole system. The society is also not moving towards sustainability as evident by the vast and fast exodus of brains from the land. The ethnic fractionalisation increasingly taking shapes as norm for every political, administrative and social articulation and functioning indicate the crumbling of the age-old social cohesion.
Well, by any yardstick, Manipur’s cannot be called a Good Society, and there is nothing to be proud of in this status. This is happening at a time when the evolving international and domestic challenges to be faced with good society characteristics are on the rise. The governance acts today to correct the situation for otherwise we shall be plumbing the depths of despair sooner than later collectively as well as individually.