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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sixty Six Days of Economic Misery: Life Under Economic Blockade in Manipur

On 5th of July, the opposition parties of India called for a nationwide shutdown, to protest against the federal government’s failure to check price rise, especially that of fuel.

The 24 hour shot down call came under heavy criticism by media which was prompt in pointing out that the country would suffer a loss of 13,000 crore or 2.8 billion US dollar because of a 24-hour bandh.

Now, imagine this: a state shut down for, hold your breath, 66 days!!!

And this is a landlocked state with very little cultivable land producing very little food. So starting from rice and good items, all things of need, including cooking gas becomes difficult to access. Schools and colleges shut down because students can’t travel and dorm kitchens have no food supply.

Sounds shocking? Well, it IS the truth.

On 12th of April this year, two Naga political groups (though, incredibly they call themselves ‘students groups’) called for the blockade on National Highway 39 (Imphal-Dimapur) and National Highway 53 (Imphal-Jiribam). The groups were protesting elections to the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in Manipur hills and Manipur government's decision to ban entry of Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaac-Muivah group) – the outfit fighting for separation from India for decades – into Manipur.

Within days of the blockade, Manipur plunged into an unprecedented crisis in Manipur. The two highways under blockade are the lifelines for the state where all supplies reach through trucks. The blockade meant supply trucks couldn’t move in. Before a week had passed, Manipur had shortages of all essentials, including life saving drugs, foodstuffs and fuel.

Finally, on June 18, the All Naga Students’ Association of Manipur called off the blockade. But by then the misery of common citizens was complete. Hostels in schools and colleges had been shut, as there was no food in the kitchen and no power supply. Students were forced to leave. Hospitals stopped taking in patients. All construction work stopped. Temporary workers became jobless. Daily wage laborers were the worst hit.

Now, braving this chaos and agony, a community correspondent kept up her effort to report the story of a state under sieze. But how hard was it for her to do the story? Here is a picture:

The blockade created a huge fuel shortage which, in turn, crippled the transport service. Petrol prices, shot up to Rs 160 a litre and auto and bus fares multiplied. Due to this, shooting of the video itself became an uphill task for Achungmei as she couldn’t travel. Because of power cuts, she couldn’t charge the batteries of her camera for days. Many a times, there was no food at home as the market was closed and sometimes there was no food because there was no cooking gas. While shooting, she was also treated with suspicion and disrespect by many as she was a Naga tribal. Even after the end of the blockade, her family, like thousands others, do not have cooking gas as cylinders are not available.

Achungmei’s video, published only after the blockade that captures the community perspective as vividly as it can be. And it leaves one with the mixed feelings of frustration and hope. Frustration, because, even after 69 days of agony, the fear of yet another new blockade still looms large.

And hope, because, there is a lone community voice that would never keep shut, no matter how difficult the time is.

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