Hills of Neglect

North East SUN , november 1-15, 2009

Hills of Neglect
Ninglun Hanghal

“Self rule is not a new concept. Chieftainship existed and continued in Manipur even after passing of the village authorities act and the hill areas acquisition of Chief’ rights act in 1967, proving the villages not desirable for the common people due to their structures and institutionalised village societies.”

After 20 years of silence an independent District Council in the hills of Manipur will rise hopefully by the end of the year. All these years, the ADCs of Chandel, Churachandpur, Senapati, Sadar hills, Tamenglong and Ukhrul were without “power” and “authority”. With the Governor of the State pushing in and the Tribal Minister assuring his hope during the assembly session, the ADC poll fever kick started at several quarters. Spear headed by the hill people under the Indigenous Democratic Forum and the Tribal Council.

Decentralization is a popular emerging perception of good governance and a basis of development paradigm in India. It is a prerequisite as well as an important factor for a successful functioning of democracy. Decentralization process in Manipur was introduced in the form of Panchayti Raj in the valley and the “tier- less” District Council in the hill areas.

Post Second World War “nation state” boundaries were being drawn. The “hill areas” of the present Manipur too came under the Indian Union. Till then (if history was rightly understood) these areas were “governing themselves” under the administration of the village Chief who looked after all the affairs of the village under his jurisdiction. Social life, tradition and custom were centred on the Chief and his associate - advisers. The process of governing (democratically) these areas and establishment of administrative institutions were initiated during the colonial rule, way before India’s Independence. Many colonial officers served as Sub Divisional, Block and Circle Officers and other administrative heads (..by an order of Sir Nicholas Beatson – Bell , Chief Commissioner of Assam in 1919, the Sub Divisional Office head quarter of Churachandpur was established and B.C Gasper was the first Sub Divisional Officer )

To strengthen democracy, the existing systems were further furnished in post Independent India. The Manipur Village Authority (hill areas) act was constituted in 1956. The hill people exercised their adult franchise to elect the members. The number of members of the village authority was based on the number of tax-paying house. To further empower the hill people The Manipur Hill Areas Acquisition of Chief’s Rights Act, was passed in the Assembly in 1967. In an attempt to abolish chieftainship in the hill areas, which was regarded as a hindrance to people’ participation in the democratic process.

Moreover, when Manipur attained Statehood in 1971, the democratic status was elevated by the India Parliament with the passing of the Manipur ( Hill Areas) District Council Act 1971 under 5th schedule, article 244 and article 371C of the Indian Constitution. Accordingly the hill areas were divided into six autonomous districts, each consisting of 18 elected and 2 nominated members. The first district council election in Manipur was held in 1973.

This democratic institution underwent through rough ride. The District Council began to be suspended from 1988 and was fully dissolved in 1990. Since then, all the hill district of Manipur came under the concern Deputy Commissioners. The Manipur Assembly Hill Areas committee in 1990 passed a resolution that elections for District Council will not be held till the provision for the 6th schedule were extended to the hill areas. Once again since early this year talks of holding election to the District Council resurfaced in the State Assembly.

If the provisions in the act were rightly interpreted, the role and “power” of the District Council is limited to implementation of plans and projects authorized by the District Administrator. Centrally approved and allocated ‘funds’ requires a protocol to pass through the State Government, the concern Department Commissioners and the District Officials. In terms of legislative matters the District Council can only ‘recommend’ that too on matters related to socio – cultures and customary practises like marriages. While all cases are decided in the District court, the Council does not hold any judicial power. In financial matters, the district council can levy tax on various items like tradable commodities or tax from a “paan” – betel shop, which is submitted to the District Administration.

Though there is no level or tiers in the Hill Areas, village authority is understood as the lowest level and the District Council as the next level of local governance in Manipur. Participation in the form of exercising adult franchise is regarded as one major success of a democratic process. The Village Authority and District Council were to replace the traditional village courts and administration. As a governing body, the District Council is supposed to function in the interest of its stake holders – the hill people, to adopt policies, make decisions and evaluate. On the other hand administration, development and particularly law and order in the hill areas are under the control of the District Administration – the Deputy Commissioners, the Superintendent of Police and other Departmental Commissioners of the State.

The forces of democracy and decentralization of power are shaping the world of the common people in the hill areas. Thoughts and practices are being transformed in tandem to the changing world order. Showing the way out of the hierarchical and feudal lordship of the Chief in the hill areas. Breaking from geographical barriers and isolation, the hill areas are liberated to take its own form and shape. Bestowed with individual freedom, fundamental rights and constitutional legitimacy, it is now open before the people to decide for the people.

Self rule is not a new concept; autonomous “chiefdoms” existed and continued even during the colonial times in the hills of Manipur. By and large these “autonomous villages” may not be desirable for the common people, due to its structure and institutionalized village societies. It may be also noted that even after passing the Village Authorities Act and the Hill Areas Acquisition of Chiefs’ Rights Act, chieftainship continues to prevail. The architect of the Indian constitution Dr Ambedkar himself do not think highly of “the little republics” a term given by the Governor-General of India 1835-36 to the self contained village communities govern by a body called Panchayat. Ironically, these village panchayat were the central ideological framework of India’s national movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.

Video Album – music unlimited and lots more !

Get a CD / DVD video album – available at every home and nearby shops in Manipur. Insert and play the video - the pictures along with a song coming on to the screen of the television, it was awesome. One wonders “made in Manipur ?” were those beautiful background scene our home towns ? villages? Are those performers our own “actors and actress”? Street corners and residential lanes, shopping lines in Manipur are filled with pop, rock – slow to heavy, reggae, “local” and songs of yesteryears – remixed. Every home (almost) had either a copy or more of these “collections” and every weekend sees a new album release. There is no denying and no condemnation in the work. No doubt the characters enactments were remarkable. The background scenes were superb. The technology and its “trick” neither lack behind.

Looking back, televisions came to Manipur in early 80s, which did not take long for the cable and satellite network to supply channels to every household. Also it did not take long for the highly and easily adaptive Manipuris to inculcate whatever the ‘entertainment industry’ brought along with it. A language based ‘ video album’ was produced by every community from the Meiteis in the valley to the hill communities, a playback music with picturization of romantic songs, gospel / religious songs, patriotic songs and many more. In fact, in most of the CDs / DVD we can see a harmonious diversity, where one video album production has a list of ‘artist and technicians’ from various communities involved. The singer, the enactors, the cameraman, the editor, the studio, though the albums were ‘communally or rather linguistically’ based.

In the field of films and entertainment, Meitei communities have received national and international recognitions. Over 50 celluloid films have been produced till now. As early as in 1972 the film “Matamgi Manipur’ bagged the Presidents’ medal in the 20th national film festival. In theatre, Ratan Thiyam is a household name and internationally renowned figure. As far as the others are concern, mentioned may be made of “I Hithaim” a Tangkhul film produced by RR Ama Shom in 2007. A dramatization of the Paite legendary love story “Khupching leh Ngambawm” in the late 70s in black and white celluloid can be vaguely recalled.

Music videos and films – local to international, have flooded almost all of the entertainment spaces in Manipur. While the technology associated with it was one attraction for the younger generation. One of the main arguments was the market and the commercial aspects. The maximum budget for a “ Mollywood” a Manipuri feature film would be approximately 15 lakhs, a small sum in comparison to the multi crore Bollywood or Hollywood films. It would be naive to compare though, a Manipuri film with a Bolly or Holly wood. Further films are being formatted into cheaper CD/DVD. With its easy accessibility and availability , where one can copy and paste a CD / DVD which cost a maximum of Rs 10 – 20 at the “Paona International Market” producers of the music videos and films does not seems to make much money out of it.

The productions have varieties to show and were eyes catching. There are many choices as well, pressing the remote control one can switch on from one playback to another passing the eye without leaving much of an impression. But one cannot be judgemental; it may make good stuffs for some. Definitely stuffy or rather crowded, one music production or a film accommodates as much as it can take. Hollywood stuffs like the costumes, Bollywood stuffs like running around trees, a touch of Korean hairstyle, rocking like the Backstreet boys or the spice gals, the oomphs.. ! Traditional stuffs and cultural enactments too get their part in the background, in the storylines or scripts. It is rather a combination – a mixture of all. But in its overall production one does not see much of a gel between these stuffs. And a difficult one to grasp the feel of its aesthetics or the art or its connection with culture and most of all the emotions it desperately attempts to exhilarate.

Music and songs have been an integral part of life in the valley as well as among the hill communities. In his article “Folk music of the ethnic communities of Manipur” Indian Folklife, August 2008, L. Birendrakumar Singh wrote “ The music of the ethnic communities of Manipur is rhythmic rather than melodious. In the music one finds their hopes, aspiration and frustration .The ups and downs of their voice and their tonal variations draw in the listeners’ mind the beautiful landscape and the hilly terrain, they also reflect the hardships of their agricultural activities .Music does not stand on its own. It accompanies dance movements or physical movements they perform while engaging in cultivation....It reveals the harmonious confluence in the culture of their musical instrument and the music itself” In the same publication, N. Premchand in his “Laiharaoba – a theatre in liminality” explained the connection of the performers , the music, beliefs in relation to the individuals with the society and their everyday life.

This sudden jump to modify the “ancient and unrefined traditional” arts and entertainment to a new transformation in the form of video albums and films would probably be to keep business going or to cater to the consumers. Nevertheless, in terms of its connections with the audience, the listener, the viewer, this productions will find it hard to replace the “Shumang Leelas ” that bring your tears down or gives you a rib tickling laugh. The plays produced by Guruaribam Yaimabi Devi that still touched you deep if one tuned on to the “old fashion” All India Radio - Imphal. The husky voice of Muana Ngaihte with his “ lailung zuangin ” and the rhythm of his classic guitar can still make your eyes moist. While S.Chingnu’s numbers takes you through a nostalgic sentiment.

www.zogam.com 2009

Visualising India's NE return to prosperity

Vision 2020 – a document of the dreams of the north easterners was released in New Delhi by the Prime Minister of India, Shri Manmohan Singh, in July (2008) . As rightly stated in the document, it was a collective efforts of who's who at all levels, grassroots, local, civil societies, intellectuals, bureaucrats in the eight states and at the national capital, passing through series of research, public hearings, plenary session of the NEC and endorsed by all the Governors and Chief Ministers . The journey of the document seemed peaceful and with no major bumpy ride on its way from the far east towards the capital.

Half of the two volume, available in the website of the Ministry of DONER contains about the land and the people - geography, history and socio – economy. Central to the development perspective is poverty alleviation, where the main pointer was on tapping resources and market strategies. Another frequent mention was upon building capacity of the people. As per the document, India's north east region will hopefully be in par with the rest of the country in the next decade. It provides statistical analysis and road map for accelerating production and income at the rate of desired percentage(s) to fill its yawning gap to catch up with the mainland. With its present rate of 4% GSDP growth, people in the region were advised to shot up 12.95 % GSDP level and generate the economic growth of India to 9 % by 2020 so as to enable the country to establish its position among the super powers in the world.

Interestingly, the vision statement started with “At Independence, the North-Eastern Region was among the most prosperous regions of India. Sixty years on, the Region as a whole, and the States that comprise it, are lagging far behind the rest of the country in most important parameters of growth. It further continues “ The purpose of this Vision document is to return the North-East Region to the position of national economic eminence it held till a few decades ago....”

These also correspond to the lines in the background presentation of poverty which states that the estimated poverty ratio in the region was 17 % in 2004-2005, whereas the overall ratio of the country was 22 % .
The challenge, as analyzed, remains in complexities of the region – valley vis a vis hill, tribal vis a vis non tribal, geo physique , backwardness, hostility, tradition and practices. Historically indeed, the document do not put much weight over the issue of insurgency which is infamously a typical characteristics of the region , though the lines about law and order situation could not be missed out, and the terminology on the trend of violence has moved on from insurgency to terrorism. An important matter that figure out apart from the many backward and forward linkages of developmental issues was governance in the region, which was never or otherwise ignored by previous development initiatives. Inclusive governance as a growth factor, though, raises a further deeper question of inclusion of many factors within itself.
Various strategies and systems were devised for integration of the region into the larger system of administration, since India's independence. Institutional and structural mechanisms were designed for the region with the basic concept that the people , particularly the tribals are awfully backward and susceptible in terms of administration, economy and modernization. Therefore administration was feared to be left in their hands , the tribals. Further this evolved as a development model, a paradigm for the region. The Constitutional provisions like the sixth schedule for administration of tribal areas. Institutional mechanism like the inner line regulation ( 1873), the partially excluded and excluded areas 1935, the autonomous district council etc. Thus the region was nurtured by various systems and directions. Subsequently creating a relationship of paternity and a gradual dependency to the union. Along side these the heads in traditional systems were expected to see the administration and welfare of the people.

The document recognized that one of the strength of the region lies in its unique community spirit and democratic traditional governance system, the region with large concentration of tribals, as self governing and self sufficient. On account of its geo-location, the region would serve as a perfect buffer zone for trade and commerce. Rich in natural resources and biodiversity, to capitalize them for market and production. Literacy rate is higher than the average country overall , while poverty level was lower than the national level. Yet , the region is under develop and evidenced to be plagued with poverty in terms of human resources , economy, in fracture, so on and so forth. The people weak in governance and administration, indicated in terms of law and order records.

Complexities,complications and conflicts gradually forms as the base for perspectives of India's north east, a common denominator in all developmental interventions. Traditional systems are projected and romanticized as best practices, with an unending talk of institutional or structural reforms. While underlining self sufficiency promoting an 'open up' for increasing income and output. Looking back at the vision statement it remains to be understood over the region's regression towards a situation of formlessness and fragility. Could be, there is a missing link between prosperity before and poverty thereafter..as former Governor of Manipur and Nagaland ( Rtd) Lt.Gen.V.K. Nayar, at a panel discussion in New Delhi, August 18, 2008, on 50 years implementation of the controversial AFSPA in north east India puts it “ you won't understand, in another 50 years, how this country functions...!” In fact, to find our way back will be long and winding, bone rattling across the porous terrains.

The Imphal Free Press, 2008

Election 2009 : young voters gonna rock the polls ?

An aged India, above 2000 years (of civilisation) wants to look younger. As the general election to form the 15th Lok Sabha came closer, political parties turn towards potential voters. For an image make-over “change” was the catchword for wooing voters in the much awaited verdict 2009. The younger generation, their role and issues came into the forefront of election campaign.

In the past Parliamentary and State assembly elections this does not seem to figure as an important matter. So also, Indian youths in general, were indifferent to the political process and if not all, most of them refrain or do not give importance to exercise their franchise.

As it stands, age or “youngness” seems to play a deciding factor in the upcoming election, at least in the urban constituencies and with major national political parties. Young electorates are indeed potential and will play an important role in the number game. In India an age between 15 and 24 are identified as youth, though till the age of 40 is considered ‘young’. Youth between the age of 18 and 30 who forms 30 % of the population, were at the helm of the most potential, in their capacity as well as a campaigner for an image make-over. An estimate by the Centre for Studies of Developing Societies, Delhi, shows that in India the younger the voter the lower the turn out. Not only the electorates, the 1st Lok Sabha has 140 member of Parliament who were below 40 years out of the total 545. From the 3rd Lok Sabha the numbers follow a descending order, with only 61 members below 40 years in the 14th Lok Sabha in 2004.

It may not be very wrong to say that this motivation and all about young voters came with the Obama effect and the momentous US Presidential election of 2008. A 47 year old Obama himself was one major pull during the election campaign drawing crowd of students and youngsters, though the average age of his predecessors were between 45 and 55 years. When it comes to youth, the interest and the issue varies, nor are Indian youth homogeneous. Youth for change echoed from the upper strata of the affluent constituencies. From the shaken youths and civil society in the aftermath of the infamous Mumbai episode of November 2008. This also comes with entry of the “sons of the soil” ( the young gandhis) who seemingly emerged at the right time, doing the right thing with the right support while trying their best to assert themselves as the right choice and an inheritor. While caste still divides the rural electorates and their youths.

Elsewhere in the North East the age old AFSPA (1958) still rules the poll plank. Peace, territorial integrity and development comes out as a prominent election campaign and manifestoes in Manipur. As a matter of age the State of Manipur did quite well, though the gender representation failed miserably. Representatives to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies shows an average age of 40 – 60 years, with 6 members in the current State Assembly in their 30s. The representatives to the Lok Sabha too were “not old”. Both the current sitting MPs were 45 and 55 years old.

In terms of participation, in the last State assembly election, voters of all the 60 constituencies in the State of Manipur the turn out rate was 70 – 90% which is an interesting phenomenon (www.empoweringindia.org). Hundreds of youths study outside and were employed in both Government and non Government sector. According to the Directorate of Employment, Imphal 1999, the number of job seekers recorded was 3,87,276, half of whom would certainly have ventured out of the State for employment. According to 1991 census the work force participation in Manipur was only 38.6 %. The number of chemical dependent estimated was 40,000 ( VHAI – Manipur branch) out of which 95 % were in the age group of 15 – 35, probably being sheltered inside the various rehabilitation and counselling centres. Meanwhile with the frequent boycott calls during election the turn out rates looked rather incredible.

One of the most unpredictable of the Indian elections, with an everyday poll updates giving new twist and turns, at a time when millions of people loss their job, when citizens all over the country feel insecure, nationally, religiously and communally. This is at a time when the Government spending increased from 10.45 crore in 1952 election to 1,300 crore in 2004 and estimated to come up to 10,000 crore in 2009 (the Week, March 29, 2009). With 50 % expenditure financing from the corporate sector, another additional bonus for candidate and political parties this election ropes in the thousands of migrants labourers who were forced by job loss to head their way back home.

Heterogeneity apart, unemployment and insecurity holds strongly among the youths in India. Fortunately or unfortunately, for the young India many role models have also sprung up, like the Varuns, the Mayawatis, the beautiful people. If Indian youths are to follow the American steps of “yes we can” one needed an “Obama”—a role model, who exalted not only youth, but hope, a confidence in himself as well as his fellow citizens. An “Indian Idol” who can rock the country to a rhythm of change. To say this is the meaning of democratic creed, as Obama said at his inaugural speech “This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed—why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”.

The Sangai Express, April 2009.

At a crossroad in the civilised world

“We came to know about her only through the mobile number she was in possession of...the jury that sentenced her...didn’t have time to ask her name... nationality, relatives, neighbours or friends...they underline the religion she practised ...and spend hours at stretch ...relying on the charge sheet and affidavit..that enumerated...the nature of books in her library, the nature of music found on her laptop, the nature of video clip on her DVD rack...and traced back her political ideology... not from the meetings she was part of ...not from speeches she wrote...not from letters she sent ...”

Lines from –“elegy to an unknown person” – by Himanshu Upadhyaya

Standing at the crossroad, the multiple signs read – empowerment, liberty, human rights, economic independence, tradition, identity. The arrow marks to the bye lanes say: women on top,... it’s my life .Women today have choice provided by modernity and civilization. With due credit to the feminist movements of the past, the present and the continuous fight to enable women to explore a niche in a man’s world. Many have made it to the top, while larger numbers are yet to decipher the signs over the highways, subways and flyovers on the journey to a better world.

A series of decades after decades of women’s movements and a breakthrough from playing second fiddle to their male counterpart were recorded. The first women’s rights convention was held in 1848 in New York. In the following century, in Europe the 40s and 50s recorded women coming out to seek employment. The women’s liberation movement of the 60s fought for basic rights, political rights to reproductive rights. The 70s recorded establishments of numerous colleges and institutions for women exclusively. Women movements in early 80s proclaim the 8th of March as international women’s day – to mark their struggle and to celebrate achievements. Women in the 21st century managed to find seats as Managers and Chief Executive Officers in multi- crore business establishments.

European women in the 40s and post World War II were forced out of their homes to seek employment due to economic depression and unavailability of man power. Women’s war “ Nupilal” of 1904 in Manipur was fought against the British due to the rising price of rice and illegal export by merchants from outside the “Kingdom”. Today’s north east India, comprising of Arunachal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, plagued with violence, unemployment and conflict, one need not explain the reason behind the women of these region for looking towards the north : Delhi, west: Mumbai and south: Bangalore. Simultaneously, economic independence was and has been the major force of liberation for women. The market and global economy further permits an easy entry into employments at various levels and forms. A large number of women throng metro cities and urban centres for an earning to keep the kitchen fire burning as well as feeling a sense of independence. An opportunity too, for women from the “backward” yet highly literate North East India, a breath of fresh air from turmoil and being sandwich between the state and non state actors.

In contradiction, living in a city like Delhi does not seem to be a “dream come true”. Reports of harassments and rape of girls were major “Delhi news” in the daily papers published in the North East states. Some of the space that occupy news about north east in the national / capital newspapers were articles with lines like “walk into a spa you will meet professional doctors rather than a Linda from North East , the Times of India, dated March 2, 2008 and sentences like “ the next time a cocaine addict in Delhi orders for a fix...standing at the door....it’ll probably be a North East girl...and for a few extra thousand she will put sex on offer ...Mail Today , January 28, 2008.

For the community and student leaders in the national capital it was a mandate, literally, to list “rape cases” as one of the main agenda to be looked into. Though few feminist and women’s organization have come out to condemn and raise voices, in such “women related cases” it draws from within and outside the community similar responses. How to dress , when to go out, whom to go out with, gossips and “sexist , racist, indecent” remarks ,a typical patriarchal response like “Security Tips For North-East Students/visitors in Delhi” published by the Delhi Police headed by a person from the region himself ( read Robin Hibu ).

The fact remains that, though rape and harassment happens to any women, irrespective of age, a salwar / sari clad or a women with a minimum covering, in wee hours or in broad daylight , there has been a “value added” hype and exaggerations when the prey happens to be an unfortunate North Easterner. The national media loves to carry the news and the consumers had extra bites to salvage. It became the talk of the City. So also reports of such kind or police actions created an undesired attention for the victim within and outside the community. Known among her people as “that girl who bring shame to the community” and to the “others” all the daughters of the seven sisters were a “branded piece”.

The choice of jobs and lifestyles in the metropolitan cities are further influenced by the mainstream economy. One of the city hubs of the north east youngsters were at the call centres, shopping malls, Mcdonald’s and the like. A handsome salary with a package of western lifestyle it gives them a perceived edge over their peers back home in the “village”. The nature of jobs, flexibility, shift duties, isolated them from the society and particularly their own community, besides being just plain “North East Girl” in mainstream India is in itself a connotation. Two girls from Manipur, who were looking for a better placement, were harassed, black and blue, by their land lord in Gurgaon (Delhi) in December 2008. This is not the first and will not be the last. Such frequent incidents in Delhi showed a somewhat similar trend of victimization of girl employees particularly from the said hubs. Their attitude, how they take on their lives, decision making in personal and professional front, send wrong signals and messages to the mainstream Indian mass.

Not to say that the urban “other Indian” women do not face reactions for their intrusion in a man’s domain. In January 2009, girls were beaten up and chased away from a pub in the heart of the city of Mangalore. Journalist Vishwanathan of Headlines Today was quoted as “too adventurous” when shot dead on her return from work late night in one of Delhi’s posh area in 2008. The flag bearers of women and feminist movements like the US and European countries too were caught in the web of contemporary discourse. US first lady, Michelle Obama’s decision to give up her career for her husband’s election campaign and Rachita Dati, the French Minister for Justice, who returns to work after 5 days of her delivery, draws much criticism from the feminist angle. Surnames in pre and post marriages raises debate, particularly within the elite circle and the educated, career women.

What so ever the context or perspectives one fits them , empowerment, economic independence or necessity that forced them , women comes from the far east of India to find a living in the metro city , in a populously popular places like the national capital Delhi with a hope to find a better life and an earning. Tagging along with Her origin, Her look, Her dress, as a defining identity, with quotes like ‘easy going, broad – minded “ as an underling factor in any acts of performances and whichever circumstances she falls into. Caught in the junction, amidst a variance of ideologies, perceptions and attitude, looking yonder ahead, the civilised world does not seem to be so civilised. Take the drive or be driven, slow and steady, women from the North East India “You have a long way to go”.

The Imphal Free Press, March 2009.

Breaking Newz! Mumbai 26/11

After feeding information to the public, 24 x 7 x 100 channels by the media for about a week, the high profile hostage by terrorist inside the Taj Hotel, Oberoi and Trident, attack at the Nirman house and popular joints like the Leopold cafe, the breaking news of the Mumbai terrorist attack subsided into debates and analysis. Risking their live to report the news ‘live’, many journalist and reporters, most of them women, were at the very spot covering the entire episode only to receive a feedback of ‘irresponsible reporting’ as the top news gradually move onto the sidelines.
Bravehearts who gave their today for Mumbai’s tomorrow, top policemen - ATS Chief Hemant Karkare ,Assistant Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamthe, Encounter Specialist Vijay Salasar and Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan were given the nation’s highest honour and salute, while cash compensation in the form of condolences were offered by politicians to the grieving families. The episode also led to the resignation of Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Maharastra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Candle lights and solidarity meetings were held across the country, including socialites and celebrities speaking out on terror a.k.a terrorism. Mumbaites stands in unity during this time of crisis. Coping with sadness, evolving into anger, people call for action.

At the end of the second day hostage, November 28, Deputy Commissioner of Mumbai (enforcement) issued an order, under Cable Television Network (regulation) Act 1995, section 19, to all the city based cables and multi system operators to black out the news channels all over the city as it did not adhere to the programme code. The order empowers the authorised officers to block any television programmes that are likely to disturb public tranquillity. According to the statement given out by the police to the media, the transmission and live coverage of actions taken by the police against the terrorist is causing impediment in the police action and several operational difficulties.

The whole Mumbai episode and the debates that follow questioned the role of the media and ultimately an imposition of the Cable Television Network ( regulation) Act 1995.In India legal imposition or new legislations after every incidents and attacks were not new as Arundhati Roy said , at the Chingari Award ceremony in New Delhi on December 5, 2008, legislations would be imposed and new laws would be enacted after every incidents, but not for any of the terrorist or the perpetuators, but for people like herself. True to this the legal impositions and questions raised after the Mumbai attack, were actually meant for those young reporters and their transmission network, raising eyebrows over ethics and the responsibility of the media.

Many times media and media personalities are sandwiched between security concerns and information. In a state like Manipur, media houses were under constant pressure. Publications were stop for days due to threats from militants. For eleven days, since November 19 till 30 there were no publication in the capital of Manipur in protest against the killing of Konsam Rishikanta a reporter with the Imphal Free Press in November 17, 2008. The local channel Information Service Television Network – ISTV was banned from telecast in 2004 after the killing of Thangzam Manorama and the subsequent protest against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958. Reference to the Editorial the Imphal Free Press dated December 4, 2008 on media crisis retrospect, in conflict there is a tendency to presume that a deserving person get killed and there is an indifference of the people exposed to such conflicts and brutalities. Till today neither the underground claim responsibility nor the police came out with an encounter statement over the death of Rishikanta in Imphal. In fact had any of those reporters been killed during the Mumbai attack, obviously neither the terrorist neither the security personnel would claim responsibility, nor can they be held responsible?

In an attempt to provide information, particularly the urban electronic media with their elite audience, and being the first experience for many, reporters were enthusiastically detailing minute to minute information for the viewers glued onto the screen. Of which this has also formed an opinion that the information was more beneficial for the attackers. Admitting that the reporting was immature, Rajdeep Sardesai ,Chief of CNN – IBN during the discussion in media under scrutiny mentioned that in the recent Mumbai attack there were no media briefing room with the security forces nor media management strategy. He further added that information about the attack came from the security, not that the media just landed up there.

Many stories would have remain untold, many memories lost had not the media been there throughout the 60 hours Mumbai ordeal. In fact it was only after the national media carried the news and pictures of the naked protest of July 2004 by the Manipuri women in front of the Kangla Fort in the heart of the capital Imphal that generated the attention of Delhi and many outside the state got to know of Manipuri women. Bomb blast and terror attack are gaining momentum, there is no city or towns left in India with no record of serial blast. Fear and insecurity looms among citizens across the country as the Mumbai terror dust slowly settles down. It is time that blame game are no longer played, and the citizens, the security, politicians and the media come together and fight in unity against the threats to our secular fabric.

The Imphal Free Press, November 2008

Stories of “mautaam”

The once upon a time “mautaam”- a local term for famine, strikes again in Mizoram and parts of Manipur, effecting the districts of Tamenglong , Chandel and Churachandpur. In 2006 signs of the calamity draw in with flowering of bamboo and swarming of rats, feeding upon villagers’ harvest. By 2007, four out of the five sub – divisions in Manipur’s Churachandpur district confronted the famine. More than 16 hectares of jhum cultivation were devastated with an estimate of over one lakh people affected. Resources in kind and cash were generated from individuals, philanthropic organizations, NGOs and Churches. Even communities living abroad mobilized and sent contribution to their brethrens. The Central as well as the State government too earmarked their funds and budget. Appeal for contribution continues as people were still reeling under starvation in these God for shaken hills of North East India.

Mautaam occurs within an interval of 48 – 50 years. The previous mautaam occurs in 1958 – 59, affecting the same geographical area. Many who have witnessed the calamity reminisce about their experiences and hardships faced during the famine. Days of the infamous Mizo National Front movement, formed initially under the banner of Mizo National Famine Front in Mizoram, resurfaced in many people’s minds. Not many documents were found to be recorded about the calamity. Most of the information available were oral recollections and articles about the rat menace, emotions at the sight of no harvest to reap, relying on edible roots and leaves from the jungle or if fortunate ,walking miles through the rough terrains to pick up a kilogram of rice dropped from above. Though there were few scientific studies or academic writings, mautaam remain a phenomenon that is still yet to be research, analyse and formulate prevention, management and crisis intervention during the havoc.

A highly philanthropist Mizo- Zomi- Kuki community faced the situation in the previous famine helping themselves, sharing whatever little available. This was visible and prominent in terms of help and intervention in the current situation too. Aids and relief materials were distributed through community or tribe based philantrophic organization like the KKL – Kuki Khanglai Lompi, the ZYA – Zomi Youth Association, HYA – Hmar Youth Association, the YMA – Young Mizo Association. The amount of contribution, both in kind and cash, if put together, collected within individuals and community, donations from civil society, would far more out weight the Rs 4,42,62,360 earmarked for Churachandpur district from the Central government’s total amount of Rs 67 crore approved. According to reports, relief spending from the six parent churches in the district, more than 2 crores were already spend in cash on famine relief this year. The parent churches include Reformed Presbyterian Church – NEI, Partnership Mission Society, Evangelical Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church of India (R) the Independent Churches of India, the Chin Baptist Association etc. Apart from the aid and relief work, seminars and concerts were held to campaign for famine affected people.

Besides starvation, rats and relief, survey visit by the Manipur Hills Journalist Union in November 2007, reveals many other faces of the mautaam story. The team helped by villagers to drag their loaded Jeep in the mud filled track, the deserted office of the Sub Divisional Officer in Thanlon which has turned into an abode of cows and goats make good pictures and are thought provoking. Of all the 38 villages surveyed, one village – Maukot received its share of two months, rice and dal etc under the public distribution system- PDS for the year 2007. Other villages like Dialkhai, Pherzawl, Lawibual , received 2 to 3 bags of rice. While 25 village out of the 38, did not receive any PDS at all. Only 40 % families in 18 villages have BPL card, below poverty line, a category for benefactors. Therefore, PDS for the BPL was shared with the APL - above poverty line.!! The survey report suggest that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act- 2005, commonly understood as 100 days job, would have come as an emergency relief, had it been implemented at the right time. At the time of the MHJU report, all the 38 villages were awaiting the job card to be issued.

It was reported earlier that the Central Government in Delhi sanctioned Rs 16 crores and as per latest information, December 2008, a total amount of Rs 67 crore was approved. The State Government earmarked in its 2006-07 annual budget an amount of Rs 9.9 crore to combat famine. Similarly, donations and contributions from Churches, organizations, individuals etc comes up to crores of rupees. The total amount, in kind and cash, if put together in figures, from government and non-governmental, not to forget the individual contributions and the physical labour, will not be a small sum.

There has always been a concept of ‘welfare approach’ intervention in developmental issue and crisis, specifically in the North East region of India. Development packages or Funds are common words and strategies, including law and order. Every budget session in the parliament has an estimated package, grants or funds for development of the North East region. It may be recalled that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on his visit to Manipur in 2004, post the naked protest and uproar over the AFSPA, offered development packages worth Rs 28 billion, laid the foundation of capitol project estimated @ 317.54 crore etc .

Passed on from generations to generations stories about mautaam was heard and known. At this stage, the information, including campaign for the affected population was communicated in print as well as in electronic form. In comparison to the previous mautaam, the humanitarian intervention, concerns and resources raised in the current situation was unprecedented. Vialzakham, who witnessed two consecutive mautaam recounts and feels that, “in the previous mautaam we were still backward and solely depend on jhum. Today not only are we in the modern age but also have our own government / state administration. After 50 years and well aware that it will occur again, it is sad that that we still do not have an alternative.” In case, there were no funds from the Government or no contributions after 50 years ahead, the next generation need to prepare as mautaam will definitely resurfaced again, as our forefathers narrated us through our folklores.

The Imphal Free Press December 2008

Catch them young

In the past few months, an extremely shocking cases of children missing were reported in Manipur's media, mentioning that such reports, to the police as well as to the media came only after more then 45 children disappeared since the beginning of the year. The exposure was followed by protest and demonstrations in various parts of the State by civil society, schools and students themselves calling out for 'pens' rather than guns. It was only as late as July and August that it became much talked and written about, reaching far and wide. It also came as a blow to the people since child militants or child combatants were not on the record and 'something new' despite Manipur being a conflict zone, although, militancy or insurgency related reports began mentioning about cadres as young as 10 - 13 years of age being part of the outfit, either as militants , or helpers running errands. Surprisingly, NDTV story on 'children of conflict' in 2007, did not get much attention, almost unnoticed.
In the recent case of missing children, there were those lucky , whose parents lodge compliant or rescued them. And some of the children being repatriated back, due to voices being raised in different corners of the State, in fact for the first time in the hill district of Chadong in Ukhrul. Arguments and blame game too arises, over the children either being in these 'camps' for a cause upon one's own will or under duress. For proof, child militants were made to confess and children who escaped or rescued were made to tell their stories. It is indeed a natural phenomenon, a child growing up with guns and militants around ( thousands were there) do not need to be wooed or taught to be like one. In fact some of them would be in these camps looking up to their elders or in the true sense of a hero worship, out of admiration or an imitations. An armed uniform militant vis a vis security forces is perceived as a “protector” and associated with qualities of 'masculinity'.
A child labor, a chowkidar in a Church, 15 year old, Jangpao, reveal that even his small earning of rupees 1, 500/- was snatch away by his kidnappers. As told to the media, his story tells more than just an ordeal or an escapade. Belonging to the hill community, the boy was in the capital city Imphal, making his own ends meet and studying, away from home. Immediate contact he made was to a friend and an aunt, not a mother or a father , an indication that the boy could be an orphan, or that his parents were living in far flung areas, who could not be reach at that moment of despair. One can also imagine , the other captive girls, not as brave or lucky enough to follow Jangpao who became a savior for them, what their fate and future holds.
State authorities and the common people wake up when parents began report of their missing children, and 'mothers' braved the captors for their sons. This gave the Government the idea of forming an all women force as watch dogs. With the two word that always go together 'women and children' this seems the right thing to do. More so, women in Manipur are quoted as brave and known for being in the forefront for social cause. Though combat does not necessarily come with bravery, as in case of Manipuri women, many a time their actions came out of sheer anger and extreme sentiments, particularly in these conflict ridden State. The other solution formulated was that parents should accompany their wards, wherever they are.
Come November 14 and the next few days, India will be celebrating children's' day. Once again schools in Manipur will too be buzzing with activities, dances, songs, competitions or a 'holiday'. For many whose parents dare not report about them disappearing, or who are not so lucky as Yenkhom Naobi and Angom Langamba who were released after 6 days by their kidnappers, when local residents protested and many like Jangpao , who has to earn for a livelihood, children's day does not seem to have any meaning. This also reminds us about children like Elizabeth Lungnila, daughter of the then education minister in the Manipur government in 2003, whose high profile parents could not save her, and was made a scapegoat.
It may also be recalled that 22 children from Moreh, who were kept at the Life Trust Ministry Home, an orphanage in Padappai, Chennai, that even after reports about the condition of the home and an attempt to escape by the children, their parents still feel that was a better life for them rather than be in extreme poverty after being displace from their homes. Like the 5 girls from Tamenglong rescued in Malaysia in October this year, who were held up by an NGO – Abel and Leo private limited, under the pretext of a job, many are yet to be discovered and rescued.
Moreover, educational establishments as one of the soft target for demands of all kinds, closure of schools are one options many authorities resorted to. Echoing the same feeling and a sense of insecurity, many a times parents too hold back their children at homes. On the other side, sending their children with a hope for better education in the valley, anxious villagers like Honsan Kasar who pours out “with our children in the valley parents in the hills are sleepless” while another added “police stations are far away”. Recollecting the State's ordeal during the past months, let this ' children's day' brings for the children their right to education,protection and growing up in the spirit of freedom, peace and harmonious environment.
The Imphal Free Press, November 2008

Departure from Tradition

Talking about tradition, one would automatically link it with the tribal society, where traditions and customs are ingredients in their life and livelihood. Jhum or shifting cultivation was one such practice that became the way of life and traditions of the tribal people.

Tribal families go to the field every day, man and women, while children, who are too young and weak elders, were left behind in the house with the cattle. Beginning of clearing the forest area to sowing of seeds and till the harvest, it involves the family and community. Cultural festivals, marriages and other social activities were in one way or the other weaved around this jhum cycle.

Shifting cultivation is one of the earliest forms of food production practice by human beings. It is popularly called ‘slash and burn’ form of agriculture. In this system, people move from one area of cultivation to another in a period of a year or more. Since time immemorial shifting cultivation was meant for family consumption alone. Production was never meant for export or commercial purpose. The land for cultivation depend upon distribution and system of administration that prevail in that particular place, as in Manipur hills under community ownership, village council or a Chief /headman. In the whole cycle, the forest bio diversity regenerate back and the ecology was maintained. Sadly this was not a documented fact.

This jhum cultivation practice till today by the tribals was said to be a major cause that led to ecological and environmental destruction, thus, the blame being discreetly shouldered upon them. While there is no denying in its contribution to the growing problem, the exaggerations as the major cause and labeling of jhum cultivation as a ‘threat and a backward practice’ makes one wonder who actually increase CO2 in the greenhouse, what endanger the world’s bio diversity and how nature balance was distorted. In terms of population, tribals constitute only 6 % of the total world population. In India tribal population is around 8 – 9 % and in Manipur it is approximately 35 %. Tribals in Manipur inhabit the hills, which is 90 % out of the total area of 22327 sq. km of the whole state. Only 3 % of these 20484 sq km hill areas are under cultivation.

Environmental degradation, global warming and the recent world wide talks on climate change are due to various factors, propagated by human activities. Level of CO2 at the advent of industrial revolution in the 19th century was 280 ppm, that reach 380 ppm today and will hit 525 ppm by 2100. Burning of fossil fuels, coal, oil and other natural gas contribute 80% increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. Two billion cars are estimated to be on the road by 2057. Vast forest and agricultural lands are being taken over for mega projects like dams and other multipurpose plans. Not to forget the images of the remains of Atomic bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and gas emission from blast that occurs every alternate day.

Major reasons provided for the need to shift from shifting cultivation were due to this environmental issues and low productivity. Looking at Jhum cultivation as a factor in terms of endangering the environment per se, practice by the tribal people thereby is vague. An abstract of Analysis study ‘towards a tribal population policy’ by Jaiswal HK says that India which has the 2nd largest tribal population in the world, in its Census data of 1961 and 1971 on tribes shows a declining trend in their rate of growth from 31.96% in 1951-1961 to 25.59% in 1961-1971. Therefore passing on the blame to this small component of the world’s human population would not solve the global issue. Instead the whole issue of rural agricultural systems and policy, land use – this will include land holding, and resource management are an emergency at hand, which is related to productivity as well, particularly in the hills of Manipur.

Suggestions and alternative for shifting cultivation have been experimented, most of which were not successful like terrace farming, alternative cropping etc. In the hills of Manipur, if permanent cultivations were to be initiated, the issue of land holding would be the first confrontation, input and market would follow if cultivations were to focus on export oriented production, which will be another major vulnerability for the tribals. In any case whether the practice is backward or is of less productivity, it is evident that shifting cultivation has become irrelevant in the present context and situation. Well aware of the fact, departing from traditional practice has caused a knee jerk among the tribals, which transmit in the form of conflicts and violence. This process of moving towards a new livelihood would require time and practice, most of all the confidence and participation of the tribals in the whole cycle of change.

The Imphal Free Press , July 2008

O’ Churachandpur

Quoting popular introduction, Churachandpur (sic) was the most peaceful district in Manipur, officially and acknowledged by the inhabitants and those from outside as well. Indeed it was true. At least 10-schedule tribe with various non-tribals resides in the district without any breaking news or ‘headlines’ to be reported on violence and killing or worst communal violence. But that was history now and fondly remembered by many, as ‘those were the days’.

In terms of development and growth the district was recorded to be more advance than the others specifically the district headquarter town. Sadly enough, life was fast and ‘modern’. The town was infamous for modern diseases like HIV / AIDs. Since post independence and beginning of the 70s, people have slowly underwent a process of change in terms of socio – economy. In the late 90s and ever since the clash of the ‘ethnic brothers’ in 1997, the town and its surroundings became the hot spot of communo – ethnic war zone. Along with, this decade also saw the emergences of political consciousness among the tribal groups in the district.

This political consciousness have originated basically from experiences of social exclusion and concept of nationalism / nation building brought in by education. This was further aggravated by the fear of losing control over resources, as community resources ownership was no longer possible in the modern governance system. For administrative conveniences and easy management of the ‘backward people’, tribals were classified into various ‘recognized tribes’ with nomenclatures on the basis of language, traditional dress etc. Thereby serving as tribal identity and the tribals too identify themselves based on these classifications. Subsequently as a tribal, the need to emphasized and protect ‘identity’ becomes so strong that it led to an extent of militarizing themselves to stand as a distinct tribal group.

Many have written and talked about Churachandpur limping back to normal and is picking up the pieces of the post ethnic violence. Yet, it is quite evident that the scare of the ethnic violence still remains and the after effect seems to breed more ‘conflict’. Whatever was there, both the social order and development paused ever after ‘97. The once upon a time happening town became still and lifeless. Five o’clock in the morning is too early, and five o’clock in the evening is late, and by 6 p.m the whole town is as silent as a graveyard. The only difference is that in a graveyard you can hear sounds of the souls, while in this town one can hear sounds of bullets amidst silences. Issues such as conflict and communal topics became too hot to be discussed (and if you dare touch, it burns you). At times the sounds of silence were too loud.

Rs 20 crore vanished in thin air with the recent decision of the government to withdraw the mini secretariat project due to the tussle among the public leaders over the location to set up the building. The project was drop but was diverted as the project money was already sanctioned (as per media report). Drop the project, was the best decision the Government could come up with, simple..!.and that was the conflict management strategy from the side of the authorities represented by public leaders, caretakers of secular democracy. In this particular decision the common mass will never come to know where it was diverted and for what other purpose the money has gone. It was always opined that conflict have always been propagated by the non-state actors, specifically in this part of the state, where communal violence was understood as an act of some underground activities. It is true to a certain level that the armed groups propagate communal tension. But here the interesting part is the tussle between the ‘community leaders’.

Some of the models of conflict resolutions or conflict management include use of police force or military forces, giving more autonomy to certain sections, negotiations with outfits in armed conflict areas and one of the most common in regions like North East India is through development packages.

The main reason, which the Government has provided in the case of the mini secretariat project, was the public leaders. Here the government and the civil society working on conflict could now add one more strategy that is resolution through leaders, say, “management of community leaders”. Another important aspect in tribal areas is the local governance system like the village council, of which many believed that issue such as conflict could very well be settled by the village council. But, of course provided village council still does exist today.

The Sangai Express May 2008 / revised version NE Sun April 2009.

NIIT - a key hole view

I happened to come across the news and write up about the establishment of a National Institute of Technology – NIT and recently on the shifting of the proposed esteemed National Institute and I too echoed with the Chu-rachandpurians a “wow”. Me too like any small town girl, imagined with pride the idea of having a national institute and that too a technology institute.

For sometime the media carried the news of protest from various quarters upon the upgradation of the Manipur Institute to a National Institute of Technology. This requires a new site and Langol happened to be the best area the Government could think of. This would suit the urban elites and a convenient location from administration or management purview. The JAC for protection of residential areas and the JAC for preservation of wetlands in Lamphelpat was later joined by many civil society groups including, students’ groups. It was disheartening to hear that the proposed NIT construction would destroy educational establishment, religious places, ecology and displace people from their homes.
My thought drifted back on how all this started and I came across the information that the NIT was proposed in 2003, in the Lok Sabha, by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The foundation stone was laid by the Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh during his visit in 2004. Later in consultation with the Chief Minister other development plans were also discussed, to upgrade RIIMs in par with AIIMS etc.

What I was confused about was that, the Prime Minister’ visit in 2004 November was in connection with the infamous naked protest in July by the “mothers” against the alleged killing and rape of Ms Manorama. Upon the information received in the media about the visit, the PM have promised many development project & packages and laid the foundation of the NIT. In his next visit in 2006, an allocation was made for Rs 35 crore for NIT facilities. I wonder whether the people of Manipur had asked for the Prime Minister of India to visit and sanction the NIT and development packages at that time when the State was burning? Or whether the NIT was a means to pacify the uproar over the Manorama case or for that matter the AFSPA.

On another front some sections protested while another section would gladly accept the “gift” The recent resistance as far as I am aware, might be of its few kind in the State against developmental projects. And it appears that the protesters do not mind if the NIT is constructed somewhere else, as long as it does not come under their “turf” – correct me if this is wrong.

NIT in CCpur, this remind me about the Industrial Training Institute – ITI centre for various trade and skills, situated in Saikot, about 3/4 km from the main town of Chu-rachandpur. I believe the institute building must be empty for most of the time, maybe some student visitors during exams or important dates (if there is any). The ITI is by and large not being utilized, could be not many locals from within Saikot area do not have the required qualification to apply for any course or trade, could be educated youths applying there were from the town who do not seems to have the energy to walk that far. Or could be that Saikot was not properly connected.

The recent write up in www.kanglaonline.com “ NIT – lets wait for its time” by V Tonsing unfold the technical aspects and viabilities. Indeed it calls for a further thought upon the establishment of a prestigious National Institute. If the Guwahati IIT expands over 700 acres of land, it would quite be tasking to look for the ‘land’ even if it were to be shifted in Churachandpur, maybe somewhere yonder Mission Compound, over Taiseng hills? Or along the National Highway 150, or in the Teddim border? generating an unending debate over where to treasure the ‘gift’.

If we are to have the NIT apart from the dream of a hi-tech education for the people, there are also other ‘blessings’ along-with that can be visualised. Definitely it will have to be away from the main town, if the destruction of human habitation are to be taken into account. This will require another battalion of military forces to protect and guard the institute from “anti social” elements. And the infrastructure would come as a superb background scene for video album and a wonderful spot to visit on weekends for leisure or picnic.

The Imphal Free Press
October 2007