Tragedy struck at the 1st Manipur Rifles ground yesterday. An elderly woman Irengbam Purnamishi Devi, 75, of Khagempalli Pankha collapsed and died at the government facility where a number of elderly pensioners were herded in and made to wait for the entire day for paltry sums of a few thousand rupees accumulated over a couple of years as Old Age Pension at the rate of Rs. 200 a month. No insult can be less forgivable than this. The social welfare minister, AK Mirabai must take full moral responsibility for the death and also the humiliation she heaped on the all elders and resign immediately, if she has any shame. In legal terms, we wonder if the criminal neglect and insensitivity involved in the incident would not amount to culpable homicide though not amounting to murder. The public must demand an apology not just from the minister, but from the Chief Minister Okram Ibobi himself. He too must accept responsibility for this outrage of modesty of the entire society, overturning the place`™s the sense of propriety and civilised tradition of respecting elders. Once upon a time, our children were taught parents and elders were the embodiment of divinity. Yesterday, the Government just herded and abused them like cattle.
The trouble is, it was not public welfare the Government, and in particular the Social Welfare minister was aiming at. It was instead greed for political spectacle which was on display. The Rs. 4000 or so which was doled out as the accumulated entitlements for two years to these elderly persons were not what was important. It was also not the gratitude of the obviously impoverished elders which the Government was craving for either. Instead, what was important to it was the announcement of the supposed kindness before the larger public. It is unimaginable what despicable and empty theatrics our brand of politicians can resort to just for a cheap kick for their small egos. Where exactly was the need to parade the elders as was done yesterday as if in circus? The technical issue of ascertaining whether the pensioners were still living could have been done more discreetly and without causing the immense physical inconvenience they were subject to. The concerned department could have sent out officials to survey and confirm this status and then quietly transferred the dues either online, if the elders had a bank account, or else sent the money to their addresses through couriers or by the good old postal money order. None of these modes of payment however is likely to have generated the spectacle the government hoped for, therefore it must have been considered essential to parade the elders, after all, the unholy creed of politics in the land is not extending acts of kindness anymore, but to be seen publicly as having extended these acts of kindness. What a shame!
The death of Irengbam Purnamashi is unlikely to result in any heads rolling as the words shame and remorse no longer exist in Manipur`™s political lexicon. It is unfortunate that today people think of politicians not in terms of statesmanship, leadership or administrative skills. Plato`™s philosopher-soldier is certainly not even remotely in mind in referring to them. The more familiar pictures evoked in any contemplation of politics in the state are of government contractors who have bought themselves into the corridors of power to do bigger contracts and wallow in more unaccountable wealth. Charting out a blueprint for the collective prosperity of the entire society is no longer a concern, or the prospect of the society going to ruins a worry. Can the predicament of the society be more dismal than what is unfolding before all of us right before our very eyes? Late though it may be, there is time yet. Let the government own up responsibility and award penalties to all those responsible for causing the tragedy just witnessed.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam