Is tear gas shell the only answer?

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A State police personnel was injured, hit by a misfired tear gas shell on his face, just a day or two ago. Ironically, the tear gas shell was meant to disperse college students taking out a rally demanding implementation of the Inner Line Permit System in the State. Agitations are galore in the State at present and such reports fill not just the front pages but even the inside pages of local dailies. Student rallies, sit in protests demanding ILP implementation have become staple of the State today. However, the concern here is not of the movement demanding ILP implementation, but the use of tear gas shells, smoke bombs and rubber bullets to control agitating students.

Manipur University hostellers are shouting their guts out over what they call “unreasonable order” to vacate their hostels. Moirang students erupted over the tragic and bizarre death of a young student trying to mediate a fight between a mohori and his labourers, as reported by local dailies. Yairipok residents are yet to find truce with the government over the suspected killing of a 33 year old housewife who was found dead with knife injuries on her body and continue to agitate. Ukhrul protested the arrest of eight NSCN (IM) cadres following the killing of ADC member in an ambush. Student unions of eight higher secondary schools in Imphal have been protesting lack of facilities and teachers in their schools. There are several other agitations confronting the State at the moment which are much subtler than these mentioned. Nevertheless, the State has its hands full of agitations.

Now the most common visual in all these agitations is the police being pitted against the students. The police, being the law and order controlling machinery of the State, are the ones sent to control any disruption of peaceful atmosphere. Police personnel in riot gears with tear gas shell launchers and guns slinging across their shoulders are pitted against students in uniforms. Student participation in violent agitations is another topic which needs a space of its own for discussion.

Is tear gas the only way to quell protests? Over the past few days, many have been injured in police action to control agitations, most of them students. Is the use of tear gas shells, smoke bombs and lathi charging against students, ethical, at a time when efforts are on to abolish corporal punishments from the classrooms? Although the two are of different contexts, the consequences could be the same.

Now, violent measures like firing tear gas shells and smoke bombs have been used not only where there are violent instances of protestors resorting to road blocks, stone pelting and attacking passing by vehicles, but against students taking out rallies. Students hold placards and shout slogans during such rallies. Does this mean that the State police is equipped with only tear gas shells and smoke bombs to control dissent? Many would love to disagree. Why not use water cannons for a change. Maintaining law and order would always remain the main prerogative of the State, but in a democratic setting, this doesn’t mean it could trample on the peoples’ aspirations.

Another important aspect witnessed during the agitations is that the education environment has been disturbed. Students are outside their classrooms, while they should be inside. Instead of waiting for the issue to get out of hand and then act, the sooner the government comes out with ways to solve the issues, the better it would be for both the general public and the State.

Leader Writer: Wangkheimayum Bhupendra Singh

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