The northeastern state of Manipur in India is facing a humanitarian crisis with the price of necessities soaring up as it has been subjected to a blockade of the National Highway 39 (NH-39) connecting Imphal (Manipur) with Kohima (Nagaland). Since April 12, 2010 the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) and the All Naga Students’ Association Manipur (ANSAM) had launched the blockade to protest holding of elections to six autonomous district councils in the tribal dominated hills. The blockade was intensified after the state refused entry to the NSCN (IM) leaders on May 3. The stocks of the necessary and life saving commodities have almost dried up.
The territorial disputes between the Meiteis (Meeteis), the primary ethnic group who live in the state's valley region, and the Nagas who live in the hills of the state are cited as the root of this problem. Namrata Goswami at the Institute For Defense Studies and Analysis provides the background of the conflict and highlights the consequences:
When the rest of India and the world are marching ahead in an interactive and inclusive way despite numerous odds, the people of Manipur and Nagaland are marching backward: towards nostalgia, territorial exclusivity, xenophobia and ‘ghetto like’ tendencies which are out of sync with the modern world. [..]
The consequences of this blockade are manifold.
First, it has rekindled ethnic hatred and divides between Nagas and Meiteis so much so that the President of the Naga civil society body, the Naga Hoho (Naga Apex Tribal Council), Keviletuo Kiewhuo stated on May 22, 2010 in Kohima that “we want the total separation of the people, that is the Nagas and the Meiteis. We have to live as different identities, we cannot co-exist anymore.”
Second, the divide has become intensely politicized.
Third, Manipur is facing a humanitarian tragedy of sorts. One kilogram of rice now costs Rs. 30; a litre of petrol is priced between Rs. 150 and Rs. 200. Diesel is not available in gas stations and a LPG cylinder is priced between Rs. 1000 and Rs. 1500. The Public Distribution System (PDS) is closed.
Teresa Rahman at The Hoot explains how the ethnic prejudice also crept into the local media and the mainstream media reports fuelled the divisions further.
Chitra Ahanthem writes from Manipur in a guest post in The Spaniard In The Works:
What makes Manipur particularly linked to Economic blockades, one may ask. The answer lies in the topography and manner of inhabitancy of a small land locked state that depends on its two National Highways through which essential commodities like food supplies, medicine, fuel products (petrol, diesel, LPG) come in. The majority, Meiteis live in the plains while various other minority tribal groups live along the hilly regions through which highways pass. Every time the Highways are blocked, life not only gets affected but the economics of it play into the picture since several people depend on the traffic on the roads: drivers, transporters, bus passengers doing inter state and inter district travel.
[..] The blockade became a subtle political play: one community against the other. Trucks carrying goods got attacked and burnt and vehicle drivers and transporters refused to drive on the highways.
So, not only are commodities being over priced and in short supply, but you would consider yourself lucky if you managed to get through to someone using a mobile connection: with no diesel to operate the mobile towers, network connections often go for a toss. Electricity? Well, that is what we get on a constantly irregular basis: at most, 5 hours out of a 24 hour cycle and we consider ourselves fortunate that blockades do not mean more power cuts. Just last night, my son’s school authorities sent a notification that the school would be closed since the vehicles would have to stay in line to get their fuel ration.
This is not the first time such blockade happened. Chitra informs:
There was a 52 day economic blockade on the highways in 2005, which was imposed by a Student Association that demanded for a separate Tribal University.
Kapil Arambam at My Manipur confirms that the situation is not uncommon to the Manipuris and they have shown much resilience. But there is a limit to all that and it is a matter of time public unrest will be spreading.
The ongoing situation and the crisis faced by the people of Manipur are all because of the step-motherly treatment meted out to Manipur by the Center. [..] Why can’t the Center lift the highway blockade imposed for more than 2 months by some students union when the people in the other state are dying and starving because of the blockade of their lifeline?
Can’t the Center provide security forces to ensure that the goods-laden trucks reach Manipur safely, or can’t they use paramilitary or state force to crush a tiny warring students union?
The government of India has the singular responsibility of allowing the issue to escalate to this proportion. The current situation is the predictable result of the government of India’s flawed policies of brokering with criminal elements operating in the region, like Muivah and Ibobi.
Perhaps a little too late, after 65 days of the blockade the state government had finally decided to send troops to remove the Manipur blockade. According to latest reports the tribal student group announced that they are temporarily suspending the economic blockade from 6 p.m. today (Tuesday) following personal requests by the prime minister and the home minister.
The group has asserted that they will resume their blockade if their primary demands are not met which includes better facilities for the nearly 500,000 Naga settlers in Manipur. And the question remains how long these kinds of blockades will continue to hamper the lives and livelihoods of more than a million people?