Absurd theatre reloaded

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Manipur has yet again relapsed into the absurd theatre it turns into periodically. On the one hand is the crisis of currency notes with the sudden announcement of the BJP government at the Centre of the discontinuance of the two highest currency notes in circulation – Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000. While the Rs. 500 notes will be replaced shortly by freshly designed and minted notes of the same denomination, the Rs. 1000 has already been given an unceremonious farewell. Its replacement will be by notes of denomination twice its value – Rs. 2000. The latter is already becoming widely available although it is doubtful if it will ever be as handy and user friendly as the Rs. 1000 note it has replaced. Its value is too large, and is already proving to be intimidating for micro businesses, including the vendors in our Keithels. For them the question as to where to get the change to cater to buyers who tender Rs. 2000 notes for purchases, say for Rs. 600, would understandably be a nightmare? Probably, most of the time, they would end up unable to accept the new notes of the denomination. The currency transition, for the well off and well integrated to the wired world, is just a temporary inconvenience, but for the majority outside the advanced cities and metropolises, it has indeed been a trauma. While there can be no doubt the intention of battling black money and corruption is honourable, there will hardly be anybody not dismayed by the thought that if the government had prepared itself more to meet the move’s immediate consequences, a lot of this harangue could have been saved. As for instance, why could not the government without revealing why, first printed adequate notes of the new denominations, stocked them up in all the banks in the country, and then announced the discontinuance of the two important notes. Everybody would have believed new notes were soon to be introduced without suspecting the old ones would be discontinued, therefore the intended surprise to black money hoarders would still have remained.

But if the sudden appearance of perennially long queues of people outside banks and ATM booths in Imphal and other townships are surreal, there is another set of queues, this time of motor vehicles outside petrol pumps, which are closer to macabre than surreal. Some of these ghostly queues of vehicles build up in the evenings, brave chilly nights and are miles long, waiting patiently in the hope of a few litres of petrol. Even in the midst of this absurdity however, the inner discipline and patience of the communities can only be described as striking and admirable. Nobody jumps queues, no public uproars happen, and these queues even leave spaces whenever they cut across people’s gates and transecting roads so that nobody is unnecessarily inconvenienced. Amidst all the cacophony and chaos that has come to mark modern life in the state, these spontaneous shows of a capacity to organise and order public life in times of crisis, must have to be a spark of civilisation inherent within. Our society is indeed blessed with unique inner strengths, probably ones which were responsible for its survival as an organised society through the aeons as well as for all the unique achievements it has made so far.

This however does not mean the absurdity of the situation is any less profound, and this precisely because of the triviality of the reason life has been thrown into such disarray. A blockade has been imposed by the United Naga Council along Manipur’s two lifelines in protest against the Manipur government’s move to fulfil a long standing demand of the people of Sadar Hills and Jiribam to be upgraded from their current status of Sub-Divisions to full-fledged districts. While Jiribam is a tiny enclave on the Assam border, inhabited by non-ST communities therefore attached to a general non-reserved district (in this case Imphal East District), Sadar Hills, though a Sub-Division of the Senapati District, has always been a de-facto district. It is large, and virtually forms a ring bridging the hills and the central valley. Demographically, it is also Kuki majority, which is also the reason why the UNC is objecting to this administrative overture. It is confounding why traditional communities have still not learned to live peacefully together, and in manners aimed at optimised administration. It is equally confounding that communities here still insist on living in the atavistic past, in mutually exclusive notions of archaic ethnic homelands. Even here, memories of these homelands may be flawed. Historical memory as they say is short, especially unwritten ones. If myths and legends were to determine whose homelands were where, it will not be a surprise how much overlaps there are between different claims, indicating once again a common heritage of traditional communities. In this traditional world, hard boundaries were non-existent, not even between the hills and valley. These divisions came about because of the modern land revenue management mechanisms brought in by the British, for whom segregating the administered revenue land from the un-administered non-revenue land was important. We suggest the government facilitate a dialogue between those demanding Sadar Hills District and those opposing it so that the matter can be resolved at the soonest and the state is spared of more absurdities.

Source: Imphal Free Press

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