Bullets and blood.. Leaders in dirt

Vicky Nameirakpam *

I was listening to the song titled "My Hometown" by Bruce Springsteen & Eddie Vedder the other day and I could so relate to the song for the obvious reason- the violence in my own hometown. Albeit, not based on the colour of skin but of bullets zipping by claiming lives in general.

What would I sing about if I could ever get past my croaking at any stage, if at all? Would I be able to pen a rhyme or two about the current state of affairs in my hometown? The so called "Jewel of the East". Whoever gave that sobriquet must be stirring in his grave looking at the sight of what the jewel has now turned into.

Honestly, I did delve deeper. Lord knows I did and this is what I came up with.

"Bullets and Blood,
Leaders in Dirt
And trust me, I laughed at it myself. Was that all I could think of? Nothing pleasant really came to my mind. I couldn't write about the glorious past because the life I lead in my generation has more to do with bribing for that elusive government job or learning what guns and grenades were found or maybe driving with the car interior lights switch on in the evening lest the cops who frisked the vehicle would take the chance and abuse us.

It's strange I thought, the very idea of living in our hometown is more like taking a chance with life itself and at the crossroads of my life, where I was trying to see if I could perhaps take the chance to really live here instead of a visit like in the yesteryears.

The very idea of living here in our once "Sana-leibak" is almost avoided by most people in my generation. All of us will know at least 5-10 people who live outside the state. Be it in the thriving ITES / retail/ medical field etc, we all know a handful who are willing to sweat it all to make a start there instead of living here.

The thought of being paid on time and some actually making it to the top of the ladder has been very motivating to most who hear the story. I know someone who is extremely successful because of sheer hard work and determination and when asked if he would like to come back to Imphal and start the same set up here refused point blank saying "You insane?" "Live there and pay my hard earned money to dodge bullets?"

This was no surprise to me. I had felt the same, still do and I'm finding it difficult to not feel that way. How can one normal person not echo the same sentiment looking at our current state of affairs?

My Hometown is unlike any other place. Here I wake up and find it very normal to find news splashed across the local dailies that "xyz" have been killed or that a man was found with grenades in his pockets. It's abnormal if you don't hear about bullets every day. Like I can't gulp my coffee if I don't hear of anybody dying.

Has our state become lawless where nothing gets resolved without a spray of bullets or are we intending to prove to the world that we have a very effective means of population control? Is there really a law governing body for us?

To bring to light the atrocities committed by the insurgency is not new. However, what is also not new and often ignored are the atrocities committed by the uniformed personnel, the group of people who were sent to help restore peace and order in the state. Leave alone maintaining peace and order, they are the ones who add insult over injury by outdoing the atrocities committed by the militants.

I have personally witnessed them frisking young boys who are often and always the soft target. And God forbid should they be not carrying the vehicle papers or smell of smoke. Taking the chance they happily take away the mobile phones, watches and other valuables.

A friend of mine was driving in the evening and was stopped by some IRB men. He stopped the car and before he could reach out for the identification and car papers to hand it to them he was asked to show his mobile phone. So much for law keeping! No brownie points for guessing if he ever got his phone back.

We might laugh at such incidents but let us not forget the fact that it is because of us that such things are happening, because we let it happen. And we let it happen because we think it's normal. The irony of it all is that we do not retaliate despite knowing its wrong.

After a little R&D and some thinking it doesn't take much to put two and two together. These men were "stealing" valuables from the public on the pretext of the endless excuses ranging from kids smoking to no vehicle papers only to sell it off and make up for the bribe they had paid to the "Biggies"- the bigger thieves.

It truly is a vicious cycle. The truth we all know is that for a person to get into an entry level job at the uniformed defence force (or any Government job for that matter) is nothing below ten lakhs. Strangely, we have conceded to buying government jobs to secure our future for the elusive and permanent government job. It is as if its illegally-legal to bribe our way.

The buying here also needs to be stressed that it is not bought until the "biggies" think they can't fork out better bidders (aspirants who can pay more) or until they are convinced they can't squeeze anything worthy off you in any other way. We, the desperate few beg and borrow to secure that elusive job.

Naturally, after having sold off everything the family owns and being in so much debt to bay the bribe, these men, once stationed at their jobs look at ways to repay. And what better way than to make the public pay for the bribe, after all, they are here to serve the public, right? To govern us and maintain peace and order, that's what they sure do!

Most of us recall the incident that happened some time last year to a person working for one of the local dailies being shot at. He was on a bike carrying some money for some work related purpose when he was "chased" and "gunned down" on suspicions of being a member of a banned militant outfit.

They apparently found a grenade on him. Good Job there Cops!! But where the hell is the money he was carrying? Now I know of so many possibilities that could have led to the disappearance of the money. Like he dropped it enroute or that he wasn't carrying any money at all. It is possible, don't you think?

Now coming to the grenade, my mind jumps at this thought and this is my favourite part. Wouldn't a militant trained to use grenades hurl it if he knew he was going to be frisked? Wouldn't frisking mean being caught? Either he was really slow and stupid or the obvious that the public echoed. That the Uniformed law with guns stole his money and left some grenades claiming they gunned him down on suspicions. There are so many versions to the story, each only bringing out more and more abhorrence towards them crazy law keepers.

I even hear of a powerful politician elected and chosen by us to lead us to better days of being the leader of this filthy corruption. We'd probably brush it off as common. However it is noteworthy to mention that when somebody who owned a gun license asked around at the ammunition shops of where he could find good pistols and guns, he was told to go to the same politician.

Why? Apparently that filthy lump of corruption that he was, he was known to seize ammo from the militants during raids (*now I guess these were real raids) and then bundle them up for his re-sale or benefits to the elite few in his circle.

Coming back to the men in uniform stealing mobiles, it's no surprise where they learn the tricks of the trade. Our corrupt leaders besides siphoning money also set an example on daylight robbery. "One small step for the public"? (*With apologies to Neil Armstrong).

Nothing new yet again. Most of us know it already but oddly we keep mum.

It is as if the state has been paralysed by the fear of being in the bad books which might prevent our future job prospects in the government service or for the fact of being showered by bullets itself.

Who do we blame? Them or us for having elected them to the position they are in now which leaves us vulnerable. I have lost count of how many politicians claimed to support the ongoing hunger fast during the campaigns before the elections or about how they are going to work towards peace keeping in the state. Sometimes I wonder why they embarrass themselves to this extent. Perhaps the greed to be next to God or beat God itself in being powerful has forced the self respect out of their minds.

I'd often wonder why the US with its brotherly attitude poked their nose in matters of different nations all the time. Now looking at the situation we have here in our state an intrusion is just what we need. Though not necessarily from a foreign body we could sure use some help. A certain journalist cited that the need of the hour is the NIA(National Investigation Agency). The intrusion is much needed and the more severe it is the better it would be for everyone.

We talk so much of dealing with the insurgency situation we face but we often forget the fact that the law that claims to govern us are the militants themselves. At least the militants don't lie!!

We cannot tackle the insurgency situation when the spinal cord of law themselves are the apex of corruption. Leave alone flushing out militants, it is high time they turn the nozzle at themselves before a "Manipuri" version of the Tehelka scam comes up. And knowing the guts of the public, it won't be long before such happens. I wonder if we are paying taxes to first get extorted and then shot at. Such is my Hometown…..

As I conclude more lyrics come to my mind to add to the lines mentioned in the beginning.
" Militant in jail
With no bail.
Yet,Happy in his cell.
Modus Operandi?
A Call from his cell.
** With apologies to those who do their jobs judiciously.

* Vicky Nameirakpam is a regular contributor to The writer can be contacted at vikinsn(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted on July 06th, 2009.

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