Tuesday, March 19, 2019 6:30 am IST

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Protected, As In A Zoo!

It sounds politically correct. It sounds marvelous. Who in his right senses will reject any overture from the state to protect him by forbidding the entry of so called foreigners to his home soil? Delhi certainly seems to have hit the right button in strictly implementing the highly ethical sounding Act, known as the Protected Area Permit or PAP in its short form while the other comes under the nomenclature, Restricted Area Permit. To Delhi, it is a sound political decision since the restrictions on the entry of foreigners indicate that the safety and security of foreign tourists or travelers is a matter of concern and in a way indirectly justifies the continued imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

On the other hand there is always the cushion of Positive Discrimination, which sounds politically right and has a universal appeal. In other words, this can be interpreted as the Government being overly concerned over the sanctity of the place and to protect its people from the influence of the big, bad world. These are all concepts borrowed from the British Raj and modified in such a way that it has perfectly blended with the political ethos of India, so much so, that today, PAP or RAP are issues which have been pushed to the  back burner. Exactly what are the factors that prompted the Centre to come out with the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order, of 1958 under which the PAP is enforced?

During the British rule, the restrictions on the entry of foreigners to this region were based on their assumption that the North Easterners should be left to themselves and exposing them and their environment to others, will be catastrophic.  The environment part is okay and acceptable, especially in this age, when it has become a global concern, but shielding the people from the rest of the world sounds archaic and outmoded in this dotcom age. This Act is not only discriminatory, but seeks to cast the whole region of the North East, as a place which should be struck off from the map of any potential foreign tourists. This is where it hurts.

As things stand today, Manipur is a much safer place for women than, say Delhi, where even a woman diplomat was not spared from the male libido of some demented minds. Unlike Bihar, muscle power is not so brazenly displayed during times of election and yes the culture of sycophancy is still an alien concept to the average Manipuri. So who is Delhi protecting from whom? This question has come up precisely because the PAP Act is by itself bizarre and goes against everything that is logical and in tune with the demands of the time. The funny or comical part is Delhi is today talking with earnest about opening the Eastern corridor. Are the policy framers of the country really under the impression that this dream project will serve as the highway to the burgeoning South East Asian countries, while the PAP is still enforced in the North East States? Nobody, least of all people willing to stake their hard earned money will be willing to enter untested water, especially when their status is not clear, vis-a-vis the entry and stay in a State like Manipur courtesy, the PAP.

It was only a few days back, that the Manipur Sangai Festival wound up and the irony of the situation could not have gone unnoticed to any of the sensitive citizens of the land. Sure the turnout was supposed to be heavy and for some days, the destination of many families with little kids, was Hapta Kangjeibung at Palace Compound. Manipur may have just entered the dubious distinction of being the only place in the whole world, where a tourism festival is held amid much hype without the presence of a single tourist and where everyone runs into everyone, who are familiar with each other.

And so Nambol Bora was on offer, maybe for the urbane people of Imphal, while the ‘native tourists’ had to make do with some rice and chicken pieces that passed off as Chicken Biryani. The dosas were anything but dosas, and if any staunch defender of South India cuisine, such as a Nayyar or an Iyengar or Nair were present, they would have balked at the very sight of their food being distorted in such a manner. It is the same with other festivals touted as tourism fests in the State and while political leaders of all hues and colors, ranging from the home grown ones to the guests political leaders, have been crowing about the natural beauty of Manipur and the immense tourism potential of the State, no sane voice has ever been raised over the continuation of an archaic Act like PAP.

Yes Manipur is strategically placed, and far from worrying about the safety and security of foreigners in this State, what Delhi is concerned about is the growing clout of the Chinese and how it has started cozying up to Myanmar. Remember the natural resources of this military ruled country are yet to be tapped and any project taken up there will benefit the partner country. Bangladesh may be another factor, especially in the face of Jihadis known to have penetrated into India from this country, but with the Awami League in power now, India has received some breathing space.

The question that is staring us in the face, whether the PAP has been enforced for a genuine concern of all foreign tourists or for protecting the identity of the indigenous people here. If the former is the case, then they should take a look at what is happening to foreign tourists in places like Goa and other hot spots and if the latter is the case, then the sobriquet of Liar, will sit comfortably on the head of Delhi for experience has taught us that the interest of the North East people figure nowhere in Delhi’s scheme of things, except to treat it as a frontier area, that needs constant monitoring, not for the safety of the Nagas or the Meiteis or the Kukis and Assamese, but for the security of Delhi and all those who tied with an umbilical cord with it. For the safety of Delhi and mainland India, the North East people should not be penned in like animals in a zoo!

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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