Sinlung /
08 September 2012

‘Everybody Fears Being The Next To Be Killed By The Army’

By Monika Khangembam

WE, WHO
grew up here, have grown up in violence. We have grown up to the sound of gunfire, never knowing if it was the armed forces training or an ambush. Manipur’s youth is running away.

We are in search of a better life, but, more importantly, we are searching for some semblance of peace.

For us, a privileged life would be electricity, running water and freedom from the ringing of automatic weapons.

The majority of the people who leave Manipur are students looking for a better education.

The government needs to create enough institutes, in which it has failed miserably over the past few decades. It’s a very simple scenario; if you pour more water than the vessel can take, it overflows. College examinations aren’t conducted on time and the delay in results leads to students losing an academic year. We need dedicated institutes that offer professional courses that can compete with the rest of the country.
Leaving Manipur takes you away from all the lawlessness. However, we face other challenges of integration. People assume we have loose morals, and take our ethnicity as a licence for eve-teasing and molestation. We are accused of polluting their culture. The law now bans calling someone ‘chinki’, but I don’t think that will change anything.

They will come up with a different word. The intent behind that namecalling needs to be checked. It has a lot to do with a lack of awareness. We need to reach out further, to the common people in villages and small towns through school curricula, colleges, panchayats and NGOs. We do not expect people to be able to distinguish between Mizos and Meiteis, but at least they should accept that we are part of this country.
Manipur is plagued with many problems but the top three are corruption, insurgency and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Corruption is Manipur’s biggest problem. It is impossible to get a job without paying money. Even for the post of a sub-inspector, you have to pay 10-12 lakh and this perpetuates the cycle of corruption. Jobs are not created, and the few created are not recruited fairly. Unemployment results in a loss of faith in the system and some even join the underground, take up arms and begin extorting money.
Insurgency in Manipur is a complex issue. There are six groups (mostly Meitei-led) which have been declared unlawful organisations, 18 Kuki groups that are in a suspension of operation arrangement and two Naga groups in a ceasefire arrangement. Some underground groups have become extortionist but there are still some core groups adamant about exercising their right to self-determination through a plebiscite.

This demand has existed since India was created. Dozens of militant organisations came up trying to win the people’s confidence but the present scenario has more to do with money and power. Even if you want to start a private enterprise, you have to pay some of these groups. We cannot blame the Centre all the time, it is the state that has to initiate talks.
On the other side, the AFSPA looms large. It has been in force even before the violence in Manipur escalated. It is fed to us through the media that AFSPA is there to fight insurgency. But why do they get the power to shoot anyone they suspect of being an insurgent? AFSPA has become symbolic of terror. Extrajudicial execution, torture, rape, arbitrary detention have caused resentment and anger.

My parents tell me that in their time, Manipur was very peaceful. Why is the state so full of violence today? If it is really maintaining ‘law and order’, then how is that there is more gun violence than few years ago? It’s high time the government took a different approach. Everybody fears being the next to be killed by the army. Repealing AFSPA will have a huge psychological impact among the people.

The Centre should apologise for what they have done to us in the past, and look to our future together. I think many people are just waiting for that one initiative from the government that says they’re sorry for all the atrocities meted out in the past. The Centre has been very negligent. Their duty is not only to shower money. We want them to monitor the state and address our issues. At the same time, our state machinery has largely failed. What Manipur lacks today is honest young leaders who work collaboratively.
Khangembam is a Bengaluru-based human rights activist and communications professional

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