By Akendra Sana
A lovely woman rolls up
The delicate bamboo blind.
She sits deep within,
Twitching her moth eyebrows.
Who may it be
That grieves her heart?
On her face one sees
Only the wet traces of tears.
—A Taoist verse
Tears have little meaning when the struggle is to catch that last proverbial straw. But has this been not too often. Months-long disturbance on the National Highways (NHs) in Manipur have only been making communities cling to strands of straw for survival and for continuance of all life giving resources.
During blockades of NH 39 in the past, were there not talks, meetings and even actual steps of building a corpus through private funds collection from the public for making NH 53 better and to be the “alternative”. How naive! This is not with the benefit of hindsight. It was naive then. Such an idea is naive anytime. Voluntary individual private contributions cannot be allowed to substitute government fund for public infrastructure. Reasons are simple: Private individuals pay taxes to the Government for it to govern and ensure development. A group of average private individuals, however large the group do not possess the capacity of mechanisms of collections of funds, and its management over a sustained period of time. Such an idea can at best be described as only a call of a desperate community, a weak straw incapable of saving.
And we should preferably not be thinking of “alternative routes” only. The focus all the time must be for improvement of all the infrastructure the state has inherited and possesses now. Here inheritance is significant because let us not forget how many centuries of our past generations and decades of modern development of infrastructure of roads and bridges have contributed to arrive at the present position, whatever the condition.
A grand holistic approach must be to have a time bound roadmap for development and improvement of all the National Highways 39, 53 and 150. And let us not underplay the word “National” in all this. Major economic power India has the capacity and the entire wherewithal for the job. The other, perhaps more important requirement is the will of all the stakeholders. In this it is the village, the subdivision, the district, the province and of course the country who must appreciate that improvement of infrastructure is only an inorganic exercise but important for the wellbeing of humans and to foster brotherhood. Think of health, education, economic progress and how closely linked are they to good undisturbed, unblockaded roads.
And look at the human cost of all these road blockades – both for the enforcers, the protestors and the rest, perhaps more for the protestors. Why do we so repeatedly and so often indulge in self infliction?
With so much of fire, burning down of full load goods carrying trucks for instance, destructions are so visible. Will peace, reconciliation and brotherhood have any meaning when there are only ashes left? Whether we dwell in the hills or in the valley, we are all fellow travellers in this impermanence called life. Let us reconsider our positions so that we all together can strive for peace and brotherhood when there is time.
The above Taoist verse is titled ‘The Night of Sorrow’ and has no relevance to Manipur, per se. Does it not however sound as if it is about Manipur? This is because every household in Manipur endures ‘The Night of Sorrow’. Strong and effective National Highways blockades only ensure that the Nights of Sorrow are longer and more unbearable and that there are more such Nights of Sorrow. Are we all going to leave behind only Nights of Sorrow for our children?
What is important is what we do after one blockade before another blockade? All actions or more importantly inaction are the root causes of all successful blockades. To ensure that the next blockade is effective or not, it is important for all the communities in the hills and the valley to appreciate completely the issues involved that push communities to indulge in self-infliction. How do the atmospherics change, how do they build up, what are the provocations, immediate or otherwise – all need to be appreciated particularly by those who are not the protesters but who are going to be affected by the blockade anyway. However, let no action lead anyone to infer any superior “us” and inferior “them” as we all grope for answers. This is a pre-requisite. Only on the basis of equality, practical and feasible solutions must be sought. As we seek reconciliation of all conflicting interests we need to pursue active peace through words and deeds.
The challenge before any self-respecting Manipur Hillman or Manipur Valley man and the state government, the onus is of course more on the government, is to draw up and implement projects that are inclusive, of relevance to all the communities of the state, that engage everyone in the hills and the valley and that fire imaginations and promote creativity. How about a huge world class museum cum cultural complex somewhere away from the state capital Imphal, somewhere where both the natural beauties of the hills and the valley can be showcased in which both the ancient and the modern aspects of this magnificent artistic and cultural masterpiece called Manipur can be housed with all the communities presenting their very best, both historical and contemporaneous?