By Amar Yumnam
Time is of the essence. This is more so in in the case of development trajectory of a society. A society does not enjoy opportunities (economists call them shocks) all the time and in every phase. These do not come plenty but only rarely do they present themselves. In most of the instances, they present themselves in a very covert way, and the people really have to work hard to explore the shocks and use them for societal progression. Sometimes, absolutely sometimes, they do come in a very open framework. The fact of development, however, remains that the shocks themselves do not cause it; it is only conversions of the shocks into real phenomena for advancement that would lead to development of land and people. It is here that self becomes much more significant than others in pushing ahead in the race for transformation. I feel strongly that Manipur is now standing at that very moment of shock which we could convert into an opportunity for moving forward.
I have two shocks in mind as very critical to Manipur’s moment of history.
One is the unfortunate death of Richard Loitam. Though he is no more with us, the fall-out of his death has certainly caused a shock which could serve the cause of Manipur in a very lasting way. He definitely must be a boy who had Manipur in his mind and heart so closely that even his death has played such a wonderful role to shake up the Indian psyche as never before. The moves of the people of Manipur from all over have helped in making the shock of his death to bring Manipur to centre of Indian attention. Vir Sanghvi writes in the Hindustan Times thus: “The days when north-easterners were seen as foreigners or as exotic people are now over. In many sectors – hospitality, beauty, etc. – north-easterners are the employees of choice. Ask any beauty salon who it would hire, all other things being equal, between an Andhraite and a Manipuri, and the chances are that nine times out of ten, the Manipuri will be preferred. So it is with restaurants and airlines. Most employers will take someone from the north-east over somebody from, say, Bihar.” The death of our boy has even caused addition of a phrase in the Indian lexicon of social concepts. Indrajit Hazra has coined a term called Loitam’s Law, following the surname of Richard: “So, if you`re unlucky enough to be a victim of murder, violence, rape or general thievery, ensure that you`re well-to-do. If you can`t be well-to-do, try and be visible enough for the mainstream polity and media to ensure you get attention. That`s Loitam`s Law.” Hazra continues: “The truth is that the law is like a busted radiator that sometimes works, sometimes doesn`t. But it also specifically comes in the way or turns its back with certain `kinds` of people…….The fact that the authorities initially suspected death caused by drug overdose was one sign that regional-racial stereotypes were at play. `North-east boys take drugs; North-eastern girls are loose,` is a standard `Indian` trope. The initial autopsy found no traces of any drug in Richard`s bloodstream except for small doses of the painkiller he had been prescribed after his accident……The truth is that the law is like a busted radiator that sometimes works, sometimes doesn`t. But it also specifically comes in the way or turns its back with certain `kinds` of people….The case of Richard Loitam is the story of a bias embedded in an existing creaky law enforcement structure. Richard may have indeed died because of injuries received by his scooter accident. He may have succumbed to injuries after a hostel brawl. But the inaction of the authorities point to something else: the lack of importance given by them to certain `types` of people. Law-enforcers pre-suppose certain traits about the victims – whether it`s regarding Aarushi Talwar`s `character` or Hemraj`s `background` or Richard Loitam`s `ethnicity`.” Any death has not caused the purpose of causing social rethink among the Indians like the lost of life of our boy in Bangalore. It is so wonderful of Richard that his leaving this world has also served the cause of putting Manipur in the centre of Indian attention; he has shaken right from the microfoundations to the macro structure. But the moment is for us to catch for causing long term policies to emerge for our land to move ahead faster.
The second shock I have in mind is of the global changes around us. It was only in October 2010 that the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) brought forward their Comprehensive Asia Development Plan wherein they had defined East Asia as including South Asia as well. In this document, they had identified projects for further enhancing the development of East Asia for regions even in Southern India. It was in the middle of 2011 that the core experts who had prepared the plan were here in Imphal for discussions on the missing component of their plan. We did have a thorough discussion on the core development issues of Manipur in particular and North East in general. Now the ASEAN has come out with a second component of the Comprehensive Asia Development Plan by incorporating the projects for linking Manipur and North East in the whole connectivity framework. One of the key experts was here recently along with other experts from the neighbouring South East Asian nations. We did have long discussions on further strategies for taking Manipur along in the development designs of South East and East Asia. Now it is pretty clear that the countries in the South East and East Asia are pushing hard for their global agenda, whether India and Manipur prepare for it or not.
Catch the Moment:
The above two shocks have thrown up a moment for Manipur to catch and catch for causing a sustainable development happen. The globalisation and development plans of the South East and East Asian nations are going to touch us. We cannot afford to be just plain spectators unless we are prepared to perish as society and community. The emerging connectivity frameworks and comprehensive development plans need to be supplemented by our own connectivity framework and comprehensive development plans in order that we have genuine development happening here. It is exactly at this moment that we should utilise the shock of Richard Loitam serve the ultimate cause of development plans for the land and people here to emerge. The government of Manipur should now push for evolving a comprehensive development plan and ensure that proper funding is affected for these. The moment is for the people and government to catch and move beyond the mind-set of petty contractors.