Imphal, Dec 31:
As the final curtain descends upon the tumultuous stage of Manipur in the year 2023, an agonizing tale unfolds, etching a disheartening narrative into the collective consciousness. The persistent specter of violence continues its malevolent dance, leaving in its wake a landscape marred by destruction, lives lost, and families torn asunder. Thousands find themselves forcibly displaced, while the mournful wails of those who have suffered irreparable losses echo through the hearts of the community.
The economic tableau, once a modest canvas of prosperity, now lies in ruins, battered by the unrelenting waves of unrest that have pushed it to the brink. Manipur, once a proud destination for tourists, now stands shrouded in fear, with visitors hesitant to tread its troubled paths. Those reliant on tourism for their livelihoods have been compelled to shift careers, with artists and performers now turning to manual labor to meet their basic needs.
Amidst this turmoil, the quiet corners of homes harbor the silent tears of mothers, their grief mirroring the profound sorrow gripping the community. Despite government assertions of concerted efforts, the results remain elusive, and a growing sense of disillusionment permeates the populace. The promised actions are perceived as mere rhetoric, leaving a disheartened citizenry in a state of despair.
The opposition parties, ostensibly the vanguards of accountability, find themselves seemingly incapacitated, unable to exert the necessary pressure for transformative change. The once-hopeful voices demanding accountability now echo in the emptiness of political inertia. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), ostensibly champions of positive change, are not immune to scrutiny, as their efforts, though well-intentioned, yield catastrophic results. The public, grappling with frustration, has begun to cast blame on these organizations for their perceived failure to maintain unity and deliver viable solutions.
Amidst the persisting turmoil in Manipur, where the clash between the Kukis and Meitei communities has resulted in a continuous onslaught of attacks and killings, the lack of a concrete solution from both the government and various organizations has left the general public in a perplexing state of ignorance. The ongoing conflict has cast a pervasive shadow, with the people of Manipur caught in a crossfire of uncertainty, creating a disconcerting sense of limbo. The profound wisdom encapsulated in Noam Chomsky’s quote, “The general public doesn’t know what is happening, and it doesn’t know that it doesn’t know,” poignantly reflects the complexity of their predicament. Manipur faces a broader challenge where the depths of the crisis remain obscured, and a collective understanding of the path forward remains elusive.
As the year 2023 unfolded, Manipur experienced a stark contrast. In its initial months, the government orchestrated the prestigious Miss India Contest at Khuman Lampak, garnering widespread appreciation. The event allowed many to witness the spectacle in their home state, with Bollywood stars gracing the occasion and leaving the public in awe. Manipur’s breathtaking landscape, once a coveted tourist destination, drew national and international visitors, marking a significant achievement for the government and its people.
However, the May 3 incident in Churachandpur shattered this semblance of normalcy, catapulting Manipur onto India’s map as one of the most dangerous regions. The violence that ensued painted a stark contrast to the earlier grandiosity. Despite the chaos spreading across the state, efforts from prominent figures, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, failed to bring about tangible peace. The people of Manipur had hoped for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the situation, but his prolonged absence and silence only added to their disillusionment.
In an unprecedented turn of events in Manipur, the pervasive violence cast a somber shadow over the cultural fabric, leading to the cancellation of Ningol Chakkouba, the state’s largest festival. The decision, driven by a collective sense of mourning and a lack of faith in the government’s ability to protect its citizens, underscored the deep-seated discontent among the people. Diwali, the festival of lights, normally a symbol of joy and celebration, transformed into a poignant gesture as Manipur turned off its lights, symbolizing the region’s inability to rejoice amid the ongoing suffering.
The repercussions of the conflict reached beyond canceled festivals, affecting the daily lives of the Meiteis, the dominant community in Manipur. Fear of anticipated attacks by Kuki communities has confined them, restricting their movement to the hill districts. This unprecedented situation has given rise to a disheartening sentiment that Meiteis, despite being in their homeland, can no longer visit their own homes.
The conflict has left many displaced, seeking refuge in relief camps and prefab houses. While the government’s efforts to provide temporary shelter are acknowledged, the protracted inability to find a lasting solution has left countless individuals stranded in uncertainty. Despite attributing the attacks to illegal immigrants, the government’s failure to protect its citizens has led to a disconcerting reliance on public, volunteer, and women-led initiatives to safeguard homes and villages through village volunteer groups.
Despite India’s boastful claims of military prowess and a robust police force, the persisting attacks and casualties, even after seven months, highlight a systemic failure in ensuring the safety of Manipur’s residents. The grim reality is that people continue to be attacked, with the situation showing no signs of improvement.
In a perplexing move, the government, ostensibly to control misinformation and disinformation, imposed a ban on internet services, including broadband and mobile data connections. This sweeping measure, continuing for six months, and the ongoing restrictions in specific border areas, stands as an unprecedented and unpalatable chapter in Manipur’s history. In an era dominated by the Internet and discussions about the metaverse, such a severe curtailment of connectivity adds another layer to the multifaceted crisis faced by the people of Manipur. The once vibrant and culturally rich state now grapples not only with physical threats but also with the stifling absence of communication and information exchange.
The government’s ineptitude in locating the bodies of those who have gone missing or fallen victim to brutal acts by miscreants adds another layer of tragedy to Manipur’s unfolding crisis. Despite official claims of arresting suspected individuals involved in such heinous acts, the failure to identify the whereabouts of the missing persons or the locations where bodies have decomposed intensifies the anguish experienced by the affected families. This grim reality, marked by a lack of closure and justice, amplifies the profound sense of insecurity among Manipur’s populace.
Unprecedented in Manipur’s history, the creation of buffer zones to segregate the Kuki and Meitei communities, ostensibly to prevent clashes, has had unintended consequences. While the measure aimed to protect each community from potential conflicts, it inadvertently intensified the divisions. Notably, 10 Kuki MLAs abstained from attending the Manipur Legislative Assembly sessions, with the government displaying a lack of assertiveness in taking action against their non-participation. Despite public outcry for their removal due to perceived negligence of their duties as representatives, no concrete steps were taken.
The Legislative Assembly itself became a symbol of the government’s apparent detachment from the plight of the people. An assembly session lasting a mere nine minutes unfolded, showcasing a stark contrast between the urgency of addressing public grievances and the brevity of legislative engagement.
In a tone-deaf move, amidst the widespread suffering, leaders of the ruling BJP, including Manipur CM N Biren Singh, were seen celebrating election victories in other states, cutting cakes in apparent disregard for the prevailing pain and sorrow in Manipur. These actions have come to define Manipur in 2023, highlighting a stark disconnect between the political leadership and the grim reality faced by the people. The year has become a poignant chapter in Manipur’s history, marked by not only violence and displacement but also a profound sense of abandonment by those entrusted with governance.
In the midst of Manipur’s protracted ordeal, a pressing need arises for a sober contemplation of responsibility and a concerted effort to quell the flames that have consumed the region for over seven months. A pivotal question looms large — who bears the weight of accountability for this unprecedented hardship? Is it the Kukis, the Meiteis, or does the government itself bear culpability for its perceived failure to safeguard the people?
This inquiry transcends the conventional boundaries of caste, creed, religion, and community, delving into the bedrock principles of governance. The current predicament casts a lingering shadow over Manipur’s history, etching a lamentable chapter beneath the ostensibly protective umbrella of the democratic system. The enduring suffering of these arduous months demands a profound reflection on the efficacy of governance, challenging the very essence of a system designed to protect and serve the diverse population of Manipur.
In the framework of a democratic setup, the government has faltered in fulfilling its duty to safeguard the people of Manipur and protect its economic well-being. The heart-wrenching events witnessed during these challenging months underscore a failure to control law and order conditions, marking an unprecedented low in Manipur’s history. The democratic ideals that should underpin a government’s commitment to its citizens have been strained, leaving Manipur grappling not only with physical threats but also with a crisis of governance that demands urgent attention and redressal.