TODAY -

An open letter to Manipuris: Stop the bandh culture

Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan *

General Strike against the killing of Md Sana at Hatta, Minuthong area, Imphal :: 18th April 2013
General Strike against the killing of Md Sana at Hatta, Minuthong area, Imphal on 18th April 2013 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam



This explicit letter intends to bring immediate attention of the concerned authorities to uproot the cause of many social and economic problems of Manipur: bandh, general strike, blockade. It appears that one of the tenets of Indian democracy right to protest peacefully has opened up Pandora's box from which all sorrows of Manipuris have come out. In Greek mythology, only hope remains in Pandora's box after everything else got out of it. Let us build up a strategy based on hope and work towards banning the bandh, general strike and blockade.

About bandhs

Bandh, general strike and blockade need no description for any Manipuri to understand its nature because every person has had either directly or indirectly involved in a bandh/general strike/blockade. This also means that every Manipuri has been hit hard by the side effects of these forms of protest. In order for this write up to be emphatic it is necessary to briefly review what, how, why and after-effects of a bandh/general strike/blockade, in general. In Manipur, bandhs are called by militant (or unlawful underground organisations) and civil organisations.

Here, for obvious reasons, I review a civil organisation called-bandh. The said civil organisation issues bandh call through, mostly but not limited to, newspaper in protest against inaction/indifference of Govt authorities towards particular public (or a section of public) grievance. The bandh is supported by volunteers who, more often than not, are wayward adolescents. These supporters are given freedom to overpower any bandh opponents and this is achieved through any tangible means their rebellious minds could conceive.

This often leads to mindless violence, casualty and damage to public and private property. Ironically, these protests, which are meant to be peaceful as enshrined in Indian constitution, are often violent and have far reaching consequences in day to day life and in government's discharge of duty. For example, due to frequent bandh and ensuing violence, public and private property loot/damage and threats to life, Manipur government's road transport corporation's buses have stopped plying along the state and national highways.

I understand that during bandh buses are set ablaze causing irreparable loss to economically backward state Govt. During bandhs, vehicle traffic is sparse, commercial activities come to standstill, government and private offices are mandatorily closed. Every activity related to education such as attendance in schools, private tuition, coaching is automatically affected.

Not only this, food item dealers, water, electricity, medical stores, and hospitals are all inaccessible. Even after this systemic paralysis, many a times the demands put up by the bandh callers are not met by the Govt. Through their skilful political oeuvre, politicians either succeed in cornering the issues or treating the symptom while the cause is being neglected.

Quick fix solutions

The social and economic paralysis induced by bandhs/general strike/blockade in Manipur has been often overlooked by civilians. Whenever they get a chance to protest, it appears that they mostly fix a bandh, in some cases, indefinite bandh. It has become so widespread/popular method of protest that a boy killing his girlfriend sparks state wide bandh, a girl killing her boyfriend leads to bandh, inter-community murder for financial tangle results in calling a bandh, civilian abducted or killed by military or militants is also a cause for bandh. Because of bandh, which is a quick fix method of demanding justice, Govt is left with no option but to treat the symptom, not the actual cause.

In the above cited reasons for bandh in Manipur in recent times, it is very much clear that the law and order situation of Manipur is in grim mess. The reasons may be that 1) the law enforcing agencies are incompetent or kaamchor, or 2) the political masters are least bothered about the prevailing situation. As a result of wrong method of public pressure on Govt, the latter comes up with quick fix solutions to quell the protest. Thus, bandh callers tend to believe that such protests only can help get their demand in short period of time. By doing so, one bypasses the law of the land and hence, in some cases, the tangible evidences remain undiscovered.

Over the past many decades, the bandh culture has taken root in our society. Unfortunately, bandh has become civilians' forte for protest now.

Govt initiatives

A political will is vividly missing from the Govt's attempt to curb the bandh culture. When the will finally comes, a suitable legislation may be introduced to ban the bandh after a detail study on the bandh culture in Manipur. Following steps may be taken up by the Govt towards enhancing efficiency and effectiveness of law enforcing agencies so that possibilities of bandh do not arise hereon.

1. Appoint a district-in-charge minister for every district. The minister will look into the public grievances with the help of the MLAs of the concern constituency. Either the constituency minister or the district-in-charge minister should visit a problem spot within 24 hours (Manipur is very small that beacon-equipped vehicles can reach any corner of the state in less than 10 hours from any given location). In this way, problem/region-specific solutions could be delivered. This system of governance is already in practice in some states of India.

2. Open a centralised democratic and apolitical public grievance redressing cell (GRC). This should be quasi-judicial office. Let there be one retired judge, one rights activist, one social worker, student representative, women or meira paibi representative (irrespective of whether the other appointees are woman or not), one litterateur, one journalist, one doctor and one engineer. In fact, Manipur has seen n number of JACs till date. Every bandh actually is backed by a JAC. In future, any such JAC should first approach the GRC. The GRC should try to convene a meeting in next 24 hours. They should communicate the decision to Government for needful action.

3. Strengthen C.I.D. The role of C.I.D in Manipur's law and order is negligible. The department will become efficient only when qualified criminologists are recruited. It is high time the department is given mileage by assigning and thereby solving some high profile cases.

4. Introduce/implement Citizen's charter in law enforcing agencies. Police reform has been long due in the whole country, but a state like Manipur need it in no time. Citizen's charter will surely help the police department become public-friendly and more active.

5. Implement Citizen's charter in all Govt offices.

Appeal to public

In the light of the above description of bandh and its short-term solutions from Govt, I believe that a concrete support from public is required to gradually do away with Manipur's bandh culture, while we develop patience, understanding, respect for law, moral and peaceful society. I strongly believe that the bandh in its current form is actually a first-gear mindset impatient and illogical minds that depend mostly on first gear (in an automobile).

Let us shift slowly, dutifully and systematically to second, third, fourth and fifth gears. Although it takes a while to get onto fifth gear, we all know that smooth, fast, and economic long drives can be achieved only at fifth gear. Why don't we change our gear/mode of protest now, if at all we are confronted with a situation that absolutely demands protest?

In my mind, in line with the above Govt steps proposed, the following peaceful and effective modes of protest could be taken up.

1) Immediately alert the PS/SP/DC and constituency ministry and request them to pay a visit, if things do not disentangle in 24 hours then,
2) The JAC should approach GRC, if within 72 hours there is no action from the Govt then,
3) Gherao/house arrest/picket the minister/MLA of the constituency, if it does not work then,
4) Gherao all the ministers with high profiles, if it does not work then,
5) Gherao the CM.

During the gherao, do not allow the MLA/minister/CM to get out of their residence. No function, no duty, no political work, no visitors, complete full stop on their activities. And, non-stop slogan shouting by protesters in front of their residences.

"You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?'" by George Bernard Shaw.

(I declare that the views expressed in this write up are personal.)


* Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan ((Ph.D. (thesis submitted)) wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a Former Senior Research Fellow, Plant Cell Biotechnology, CSIR-CFTRI, Mysore and can be contacted at nohimbo(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on June 30, 2013.



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