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No One Is Smiling In Manipur!!!

Welcome to SMILE-LESS State—MANIPUR. No one is smiling here. If you smile in this part of India, you could be suspected as abnormal being. ‘But’, you may say: ‘I use to see Chief Minister Ibobi Singh smiling from time to time’. Don’t take me wrong. I tell you, those were not natural smiles. Those were fake smiles—smiles of deception. He only smiles when inaugurating new developmental projects and during the induction of more armed forces in the State. Those were forced smiles and hardly last for 10 to 30 seconds. Not even a minute! He has to smile for taking pictures for newspapers and for sending it to the UPA Chairperson Ms Sonia Gandhi to give impression that “ALL IS WELL” in Manipur.   What about his Ministers? Do they smile? Once in a blue moon. Only when they were offered grand portfolio in the ministry and when they were invited to be the Chief Guest or Guest of honor in special occasions they smile. Sometimes, in such occasion they were overjoyed and fired bullets and hit their own friends!!! But their high status and money did not even allow them to go to prison. What about the members of Autonomous District Council (ADC) who are almost equal in rank to Ministers? Are they happy? No. The hill tribes did not accept the election of ADC. The ADC members are caught between Manipur Government and Hill tribes. They cannot even come to the hill areas. How will they develop the hill tribes (areas) when they cannot be there? Manipur Government has put their life into risk. They were given crores of rupees and few administrative powers but not empowered to legislate laws autonomously to protect the hill tribes and their resources.  Who is happy in Manipur? Who is smiling?

What about civil bodies in Manipur? Do they smile? Certainly not! Look at Meira Paibis (Torch Bearers), one of the best organized women organizations in the world. They were forced to fight against the excessive militarization in the region. Their sons and husbands were killed almost every day by Indian armed forces on the pretext of one or the other; their daughters raped, houses and livelihoods destroyed. They were forced to go for protest ‘naked’ in front of Assam Rifles’ Camp (2004). Every day, Manipur local dailies’ front page is filled with a picture of women holding banners, some with tears in their eyes, protesting against violence or Ibobi Singh with a fake smile. Everyday a child is born with uncertainty whether s/he would be able to grow up or would be killed in crossed-fire or fake encounter. In individual level, Irom Sharmila Chanu is on fast since 2000 to protect life and bring justice to Manipur. Just a view of Sharmila is enough to break down your heart. Who is happy in Manipur? Who is smiling?

What about the United Council of Manipur (UCM) who is spearheading for the protection of Manipur integrity? They don’t smile. They are angry with the State Government because the State has completely failed to bring cordial relationship between the hill tribes and the valley dwellers. So enraged were they that they burn down Manipur Secretariat Office. What about United Naga Council (UNC) and Kuki Inpi of Manipur (KIM) who represented the hill tribes? They are not happy as well. Frustrated with State’s negligent attitude towards the hill tribes, they want to sever all ties with Manipur Government. The State sometime tried to flare up ethnic conflict between these two ethnic groups. What about various student bodies? Many tribal students Unions are ever ready to impose economic blockade against the State’s failure to implement reservation for tribal people both in Government jobs and educational institutions. The Chief Minister Ibobi Singh, who is a non-tribal, has taken the portfolio of Tribal Development—an insult to tribal Ministers. There are no good Government schools and hospitals. With such discrimination, naturally smile will not come out from one’s heart. Who is happy in Manipur? Who is smiling?

What about youths? Are they happy? No. There are 5,48,704 unemployed educated youths in the State (2006). The economic survey report 2007–08 says that the problem of unemployment continues to be a matter of serious concern to the State economy. Do they have future in Manipur? They are restless. Many have joined insurgent movement. Do the school children feel happy? No. Their teachers have all gone to protest against the State’s negligence towards their salary. Students have burnt schools. They have locked class rooms. They threw text books in front of the Governor’s residence gate. Are they happy? Please tell me. What about the pensioners? The State Government did not spare them too. The State has denied many pensioners especially from hill areas their due share for many years. Many have died before the case is settled in the court. Simply because of 2 or 3 corrupt persons, many pensioners in the State were held ransom for many years without payment. Who is happy in Manipur? Who is smiling?

What about those police commandos and IRB which mostly comprise local youths? Do they smile? No. Many of them hate to hold guns and kill their own brothers and sisters.

But that was the only employment provided by the State for their survival. They torture and kill others to earn their living. How will they smile with such profession? What about State armed forces such as CRPF, Assam Rifles, etc? They feel posting in Manipur is like experiencing ‘hell’ on earth. However, Assam Rifles have cunningly called themselves as “Friends of Hill People.” They pretend to be “Good Samaritans” by distributing few cheap computer sets to schools, NGOs, etc. But they use to frisk our vehicles and check our bags almost every 7 to 10 km travel. They have power to shoot us without any provocation or reason. Where is the security for common people? Their action makes us very suspicious whether they are our friends or foes. Guns and bombs do not bring smile on the innocent face. Who is happy in Manipur? Who is smiling?

What about the insurgents who have taken up arms? Do they smile? No. They were completely separated from their family members and loved ones. How will they enjoy their lives living in a plastic-hut deep in the forests where mosquitoes, snakes and other reptiles and dangerous animals threaten their life every hour, every day? They were completely cut off from normal life. They were being hunted by Indian armies like a dog chasing a rabbit. They have joined insurgent movement to build a better future for coming generation who, they think, should not suffer like them. With bombs fasten in their waist and guns in their hands; it is difficult to think that they are enjoying their life. They dream of smiling one day. But the road to freedom is not easy… who is happy in Manipur? Who is smiling?

Do the common people in Manipur smile? No. An estimated amount of Rs 20 to 25 crores are lost every day in the State due to strikes, blockades and shutdowns called by different groups across the State. The cracks and potholes of National Highways in Manipur are a nightmare for vehicles’ owners and drivers. Every day, in Imphal Valley, people have to do shopping as fast as they can because at any time curfew could be imposed to maintain ‘law and order’. The flooding of cheap consumer goods from bigger national economies and international borders with its unequal market competition has degraded the local economy of handicraft and handloom based industries. In the hill areas, except those negligible numbers of Government employees, the State does not contribute anything for human and economic development. Livelihoods of the fisher folks in Loktak Lake, the Hmars and Nagas in the Tipaimukh dam area and the settlers along the bank of Barak River in Jiribam, are being destroyed in the name of development. The ongoing referendum on plebiscite is a startling example of mass dissatisfaction with the present system of governance. Who is happy in Manipur? Who is smiling?

Is the writer of this article smiling? No. Why?  Although, he is a tribal student, like many others, was denied post matric scholarship because he studies theology. Till his Master’s degree (2006), he was granted the scholarship but now as he joins research program (Doctorate in Theology), he is denied scholarship when he needed it most. Theological students never disturb Government by seeking Government jobs. Instead of denying them the scholarship, they should be even given more than secular students. My theological friends in Nagaland are enjoying handsome amount of Government scholarship. The Nagas in Nagaland are enjoying milk and honey. The Mizos in Mizoram are enjoying peace and prosperity. How many more months/years should we (in Manipur) wait to live like our neighbors? Who is happy in Manipur? Who is smiling? If anyone has genuine reason to smile today, share with us! We will smile together and change the gloomy face of Manipur!!!

*The opinion is written by ZK Pahrü Pou.

*The writer can be reached at zkpahr@gmail.com

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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