TODAY -

Stealing : Zero tolerance at Ima market

Vino Raman *

Ima Keithel relocated on nearby side walk due to Manipur Earthquake's damage :: January 13 2016
Ima Keithel relocated on nearby side walk due to Manipur Earthquake's damage on January 13 2016 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam



Ima market or Ima Keithel is an epitome of Manipuri’s distinctive tradition that has withstood the test of time. Ima Keithel presents varied choices of local made day to day essential products ranging from locally produced foodstuffs to traditional garments and from jewellery to household utensils etc.

Ima keithel is perhaps the best attraction of Imphal for many people including me. One fine day, while passing through the Ima Keithel, an unforgettable incident happened. The lasting impression the incident had on me prompted me to share this experience.

I had gone out that day with my friend, Kina, who had come to Imphal for appearing an examination. Everyone in the market seemed lively and busy carrying out one’s own business.

We were in the middle of the noisy market, when my friend suddenly sensed something had gone wrong, only to realise a moment later that her money had gone missing from her bag. She pointed hurriedly to a man who was walking quite steadily in front of us. We hastened our pace, chased after him and caught him.

I stood clutching his jacket from behind to stop him from running away while my friend started checking his wallet and pockets. Interestingly, those women vegetable vendors were very supportive of our actions and they were quick enough to convince the passerby to help us. Everyone came rushing to the spot and it became a huge crowd right away.

Having found nothing even after frisking his wallet, pockets and including his socks, my mind was troubled. ‘What if he is not the one’ thought bothered me much. Blaming and accusing him of some wrongs not committed by him would be utterly humiliating and unpardonable.

But then what I saw just after made me believe he indeed was the culprit. His legs were shivering hysterically. When finally the money notes were found hidden in the sleeves of his jacket, within no time men from every corner surrounded him and laid hands on him.

“Thieves deserve thorough thrashing! Hit him hard!” yelled one vendor. Almost all other vendors shouted the same. The thief felt helpless with blood oozing all over from his ears, nose and mouth. But what amazed me more was what followed. Despite all the painful blows he was receiving from different directions, he was daring enough to care for and pick up a 100-rupee note that had slipped off from his pocket saying “My money! My money!”. Could he be a drug addict?

Everything had happened so swiftly before I could realise what was happening. I stood there trembling and worried. No matter what he did was disgusting, it was such a terrible sight to see a human being beaten up so brutally.

Unable to bear watching the dreadful scene, Kina rushed back to the crowd shouting to stop beating him and that it was enough. But that became a futile attempt now that he was in the hands of a hungry mob. I looked around and there I saw a cop in full uniform with folded hands witnessing the whole episode as a mute spectator.

Beaten black and blue, the thief was dragged away under the full custody of the merciless mob, thus giving a free hand to yet another ugly mob justice. Well, that is Manipur where mob culture is a common happening. Thieves being beaten to death and residences of rape accused being vandalised are no strange events.

Moreover, mob justice sometimes has turned out quite in the wrong. We have heard the case of one husband who was driven out of his locality after dismantling and burning his house on the accusation of murdering his wife, who was later found living with a new partner. Such case questions the rationale of mob justice and it proves something which is hard to be tolerated.

A commonly accepted Economics of crime tells us that a criminal rationally considers the costs and benefits of a crime and commits the offence only if the benefits outweigh the costs (Becker 1968, 169-217). Yet, these costs, risks and consequences of a crime seem much higher for those criminals who belong to the lowest-rung category.

The particular thief at Ima market paid a high price for pick-pocketing a few hundred notes. He was given a fitting punishment for what we might think he deserved. But if that is the case, it makes one wonder about all those so-called politicians, social workers and officeholders who sit comfortably and rob people’s money in terms of crores.

I am reminded of the famous Aesop’s quote which goes “we hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office”. No doubt, there prevails a culture of absolute zero tolerance towards thieving at Ima market. If all forms of thieves are dealt with in the same measure of that culture, well, I guess, Manipur could be a no-thief zone.


* Vino Raman wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on June 15 , 2016.


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