TODAY -

Waking up at night

Sanjoo Thangjam *



Ever since the Meitei rebels started targeting the police nearly 40 years ago and later the Border Security Force, Assam Rifles, Central Reserved Police Force and the Army, there had been little activities after dusk in Manipur’s capital town of Imphal.

To be on the safe side, shopkeepers willy-nilly downed their shutters before 5 pm. Cinema halls advanced their last show schedule from 7.30 pm to 4pm. All that one could see after the nightfall were security force personnel patrolling the deserted streets and at times some intrepid rebel cadres playing hide and seek with them.

Manipur was declared “disturbed” at the end of 1979, following which the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, was enforced. It is still continuing. For whole of 1980, Imphal was put on night curfew from 5 pm to 5 am. After nearly 30 years, shopkeepers did business till 6 pm but never beyond that. Social activities and family outings were unthinkable.

Over the last few years, however, things had been showing up with the opening of some good hotels and restaurants. But there never was any official attempt to restore night life. One is not talking about public bars and discotheques (prohibition is in force) but one where members of a family and boys and girls could go out and peacefully enjoy themselves from 7 to 10 pm.

On 2 October, Gandhi Jayanti day, while people in the rest of the country were busy with the cleanliness drive, Imphal woke up to a new experience. BJP chief minister N Biren Singh declared open the Imphal Evenings Night Plaza situated along the Kangla Moat facing the Raj Bhavan. He said this was his government’s sincere effort to provide opportunities to families to spend their evenings/nights out together. He went on to say that Manipur was projected as a troubled-torn state as most of the people outside have the wrong impression that no one can venture out after nightfall.

In fact, the main objective of opening the plaza is to convey to the world that Manipur is safe for tourists. The plaza will also provide opportunities for unemployed youth. There are 102 stalls. Altogether 92 applied for and of them, only 56 parties turned up. There are 40 stalls reserved for indigenous food, 25 for fast food items, 15 branded restaurants and 30 for general stalls.

There is also a place where youth can display their talents free of cost. In the registered food stalls varieties of dishes are on offer. These stalls have been told to sell only fresh and healthy items approved by the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India and the State Food Safety Authority. The latter’s personnel will regularly supervise the quality of food items.

However, one was quite surprised to see the Kabui food stall menu showing “dog curry”. The stall also sells dog meat. The consumption of dog meat is not permitted in India. The cruel manner in which dogs are transported must be seen to be believed. It violates animal transportation provisions and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. That said dog meat is sold openly in Nagaland where some think it is healthy.

The chief minister perhaps thinks that the “disturbed area” syndrome will wither away if people are seen on the streets after dark. Admittedly, guns have fallen silent in the Naga-dominated areas of Manipur after the signing of the ceasefire accord in July 1997 between the Centre and the NSCN (IM).

And, in the Kuki-dominated areas of Manipur guns have also been silent following the Army signing the Suspension of Operations with 24 odd armed Kuki groups eight years ago. Their cadres are whiling away their time in several designated camps and awaiting the results of formal talks with the Centre. There has been no militant activity in almost 90 per cent of the state’s geographical area.

And the valley has, more or less, been peaceful with leading groups having migrated to neighbouring Myanmar. Thus, by all accounts, Manipur can be called a safe place to visit. But it is the “disturbed area” tag that is discouraging locals from venturing out at night.

What is of interest is Delhi’s recent announcement that the prerogative to remove the Disturbed Area tag now lies with the state government. Now the chief minister is providing security to the people to come out after nightfall. According to observers, being a neo-convert to the Hinduvta fold, Biren is actually busy Sankritising the state than looking into issues facing Manipur and its people.

A former journalist, he definitely knows how to play to the gallery and, like his chief patron in the Centre, is becoming a megalomaniac. It is worth noting that ever since the installation of the BJP-led coalition government after the March 2017 assembly election, or even before that, not a single BJP leader who visited the state are known to have commented on the continued use of the draconian AF(SP) Act.

Irom Sharmila, who went on an indefinite fast in November 2000 after witnessing the retaliatory killing by the Army of nine men, women and children at a bus stand, gave up her lone crusade last August, unsuccessfully contested in the last assembly, is married in Kerala and is now a non-entity in her own state.

The BJP government’s efforts to restore confidence in people’s minds is understandable but unless the AF(SP) Act is withdrawn there is little possibility of the state rebel groups ever suing for peace. Some years ago at least one group was quoted as saying that if the Army is withdrawn it might consider talking with the Centre. Now, it remains to seen whether or not one swallow (read plaza) will make a summer.

(Courtesy : The Statesman)



* Sanjoo Thangjam wrote this article for 'The Statesman' which was published at The Sangai Express
The writer is a freelance contributor based in Imphal
This article was posted on October 22, 2017.


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