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E-Pao! Feature - Border Areas Of Manipur Still In A Time Wrap

Border Areas Of Manipur Still In A Time Wrap

By: Bachaspatimayum Sunzu *



Despite the ongoing aggressive campaign to develop the interior border areas of the country, it is a pity that people living in the frontier villages of south east Manipur still have yet to see the trickling-effect of the ambitious Border Area Development Program being implemented by the Union Government of India.

Tales of neglect and total lack of administration are abound along Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur as discovered during a rural area reporting initiatives conducted in the border areas of South east Manipur. What is even more disturbing is the wide spread practice of opium cultivation which the marginalized farmers of the area have taken to, compelled by trying circumstances.

There is no doubt that the landscape of Manipur is enchanting, especially when one proceeds deeper in the interiors. However the picture post-card image betrays the real stories of the people living in these highlands, far away from the cities. Maybe that's why their concerns are never addressed. The dictum, 'out of sight, out of mind' could be the official justification.

The first stop after leaving Imphal is the sleepy village of Joupi village in Chandel district of Manipur. The villagers disclose that there is an acute water scarcity in the village. Although the village kids are excited to see new faces with flashy equipments stepping into their village, a close look at them tells of their pitiable conditions.

Malnutrition, lack of health care programs is glaring. Luckily, thanks to Assam Rifles that literally controls the village, the road up to Hengshi is very good in comparison but the happy story ends at Holezang, a villages comprising of only 5 houses and said to be the last post under the control of Indian security forces, posted to contain the growing insurgency.

Beyond this village, the paramilitary forces have no presence and armed rebels are said to call the shots. Although there was neither electricity nor water supply, thanks to the solar energy technology, the youngsters of Holezang could enjoy a local video film on a TV set after the day's hard work in the fields.

In the morning, the rural reporting team had to proceed on foot as it is the only available mode of travel with roads abandoned and lying disused, scarred by the violent unrest of the times.

After hours of trekking in the hilly terrain, the next stop was the fairly large village of Sehlon, located in close proximity with Myanmar. With a population of 500, the village is most suited for coffee and ginger plantation. Unfortunately due to want of proper marketing and transportation facilities, these ventures have not become economically viable.

As warned by the security forces, in Sehlon village we countered underground cadres, who the villagers say were the only people who came to their aid in troubled times. During an interaction, the Chief of Sehlon said the shortcomings of his and adjourning villages are too many to enumerate but the most serious ones are in the field of education, health care and electricity.

'It is as if the government has completely forgotten us and the same story goes for every village in the surrounding areas. In the field of medical, food - we've to rely on Burma. No representative of the medical dept has ever set foot in the village. Even in the field of education, we've only one teacher assigned to our village but that too have not bothered to report for duty. Fearing for the future of our children, we've engaged some educated youths of the village and run a private school' said the village chief.

With the administration, literally turning a blind eye, armed cadres are seen performing unfamiliar roles with concerned parents approaching them for medicine and health-care. The underground cadres gladly comply when a worried mother, carrying her sick boy, sought for medical advice and medicine for her boy. The 3 years old is diagnosed of suffering from malaria. He has not eaten in days and has high fever.

The young cadres after carefully examining the boy, prescribed medicine and advice the mother how to nurse her son back to health. Most of the time, the armed rebels are their only hope for medicine. This kind of story is reported to be common as the area is malaria prone. Probably for those in military service, be it the state forces or the radicals, civic action program are an inevitable way to garner trust and public support.

As the team moved on after a night halt, little hamlets of few houses that dot the cloudscapes set the media wondering why these villagers prefer to lived in these treacherous terrain even when most places are unfit for rice cultivation. The reason was shocking.

With no one to turn to in times of their needs, villages in this remotest part, perched at high altitudes, almost hidden perpetually by mist, had no other option but to harvest opium to ensure their rice supply from Burma. The villagers disclosed that one kg of opium is exchanged for 6 bags of rice or for 8000 rupees. Sometimes a kg of opium gets as much as 20,000 rupees.

Large areas of forest are burned for poppy cultivation, oblivious to the invisible state authority. Ngankho Ngamkhomang, a village chief said, 'because our fields are not suited for rice cultivation, we've taken to opium trade as our only source of income.

Before, we used to grow mustard for its seeds and other cash crops but the earning was marginal due to lack marketing facilities. We had to start poppy cultivation because we need rice to eat. The Burmese from across the border offer to exchange their rice for opium and give us poppy seeds. With government ignoring us completely, this is our only means of procuring rice.'

Fortunately, all the poppy growing villages in this part of the State had a way to prevent opium-use amongst its folks. If a person is caught using opium, the family is instantly prohibited to cultivate opium anymore.

Lured by the lucrative opium trade, marginalized hill farmers from other districts have started abandoned their paddy fields and are migrating to this part just to grow poppy. A mate farmer who migrated for Saikhul village in Senapati district said he couldn't resist the temptation of growing opium and becoming rich quickly. 'Growing poppy is fairly easy and requires less labour but the income is truly amazing. It makes sense for a marginalized farmers like me to come to this part of the state and grow poppy to fulfill our family needs' says young Mate.

Although scenic beauty at every turns speaks of the tremendous tourism potential of the State, one cannot avoid noticing the deprivation of the people, especially of the children. To everybody's surprise, a spent-artillery-shell fired by the Indian forces during an encounter with the rebels is an improvised school-bell for a privately run school.

Alarming as it maybe, the sound of this artillery bell has the desired effect on the 20 odd kids that attend this private school run by a single teacher who is still in her teens. Even though Vienei Kim wanted to pursue higher studies after completing her matriculation, she couldn't afford due to economic constrains. Her contribution and her desire to kindle the light of education in this far flung area are truly admirable and put the government to shame who have failed miserably, especially of providing education to every child in the country.

'In our village the government has not set up any educational facilities. That's why I've to help teach these students' says Kim. Although she is supposed to be paid 70 rupees per student, she hardly complains when most parent fail to honour their words at the end of every month. Kim goes on teaching her 20 odd students undeterred for it is not for the money but the conviction that education is their only hope for a bright future that constantly drives her.

The story of these people who inhabit the periphery areas in the south east of Manipur, bordering Myanmar is surely a sorry tale of neglect and abandon.

Despite their helplessness and literally caught in the crossfire between the guns of the Indian security forces and the insurgents, every night these villagers pray that their government will come to their aid some day and take care of their.

But the impending question when will their prayers be answered.


* Bachaspatimayum Sunzu contributes for the first time to E-pao.net
The writer can be reached at effectivetelevision@rediffmail.com
This article was webcasted on May 29th, 2006



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