Sunday, August 8, 2010

In the Land of the Thieves

Victor Hugo, French poet, novelist and dramatist (leader of the romantic movement in 19th century France) would have loved to be in Manipur in this 21st century in order to celebrate nature rather than civilization. Hugo and other proponents of the Romantic Movement derided advancement of industrialization (one of the highest stage of human civilization) and resultant decadence of human nature in which almost everyone became a thief. Through literature, art and other medium of human expression they made pleas to value human imagination and emotion over rationality.
Murderers and thieves are central characters in the novels and short stories of Victor Hugo, with social injustice as the larger theme. “The Last Day of a Condemned Man” is a documentary short story about a real-life murderer who had been executed in France. Leading novels of Hugo such as Les Misérables, Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Man Who Laughs deal with murderers, convicts and thieves to portray decadence of the French society. Ninety-Three dealt with the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. Toilers of the Sea published in 1866 is the only exception. Dedicated to the channel island of Guernsey where he spent 15 years of exile, Hugo’s depiction of man’s battle with the sea and the horrible creatures lurking beneath its depths. Hugo’s works had a profound influence on later writers such as Albert Camus, Charles Dickens, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.
If we go by the familiar understanding of civilization, then Manipur can be described as a civilization, for example, a society in an advanced state of social development with complex legal, political and religious organizations evolved over the years. Nationalists take pride in believing that Manipur is an ancient civilization, one of the oldest in the whole of the South-East Asian region. British ethnographers ballooned the Manipuri ego by describing it as “an oasis of civilization” or “comparatively more civilized” surrounded by “savages”. However, markers of civilization such as the quality of excellence in thought and manners as well as taste are missing from the inhabitants. Manipur today can be described as a land of the thieves. The making of the thieves in this State, where industrialization had never taken place and manufacturing units are absent, would have posed a challenge to the imagination of Victor Hugo and other proponents of the Romantic Movement. Thus, Yenning assumes Victor Hugo would have loved to be in Manipur – not only to look at the missing components of civilization but also at the thieves and murderers mushrooming in every nooks and corners of the State.
Baptism with Fire
A blazing inferno broke out from a room storing petrol for black marketing inside 2nd Bn MR Campus on August 2, 2010. The inferno reduced more than 30 family quarters to cinders. Soon after, after enquiring how the devastating fire broke out, the Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Minister Yumkham Erabot, on receiving information that petrol and diesel are being stocked in some family quarters just beyond the 2nd MR campus for sale in black market, raided some quarters together with his officials. During the raid, several quantities of petrol and diesel were seized from quarters belonging to employees/personnel of Manipur Police Wireless and MR. Many other articles like barrels were also recovered. Vessels and barrels containing diesel and petrol were found concealed behind latrines and bushy spots.
After seizing fuel which was found concealed at some quarters of the state security personnel, the Minister charged police and state security personnel including officers of indulging in the black market of petrol and diesel in the state taking advantage of the uncertainty on NH 39 and NH 53. Moreover, he accused that the devastating fire which broke out from petrol kept for sale in black market inside the security zone of 2nd MR campus was a clear indication of the abject failure of Home Department under the charge of the Chief Minister, Srijukta Okram Ibobi Singh.
In the aftermath of the prolonged economic blockade, the State has been facing an alarming situation due to acute shortage of petroleum products and other essential commodities. It was at this crucial period that security personnel meant for maintenance of law and order were found involved in black marketing as exposed by the devastating fire mishap. However, Mr. Erabot waited for the inferno, although he could have witnessed sale of petroleum products in front of shut down petrol pumps. Before he asked, “what 2nd MR officials did all these days before the raging fire destroyed 30 family quarters completely”, what Yenning wants to assert is, it was his moral responsibility to check pilferage as well as black marketeering of essential commodities including petrol and diesel. Moreover, Mr. Erabot and other concerned parties do not dare to question the erratic rationing of fuel. For example, as accused by the United Committee of Manipur, regular provision to some fuel outlets out of a total of 55 reflects corruption in the system with similar mismanagement also creating LPG shortage not impossible. Scarcity of essential commodities, particularly fuel and LPGs is on account of the inefficiency of the State Government for an effective public distribution system.
Baptism is an act of sacrament signifying spiritual cleansing and rebirth. Yenning doubts if the thief-culture could have been baptized by the raging inferno that reduced 30 quarters to cinders.
Salsa on the Highway
If one thinks there is a strong nexus between the ministers, administrators and police personnel involved in racketeering and black market, there is also another form of thief operating on the soil of Manipur.
Extortion on both the highways by NSCN-IM and other insurgent outfits is a reality. Rationale given especially by NSCN-IM is the “repeat of history” viz. an act of retribution by the Nagas against the Meiteis for the wrong committed against the Nagas. Those at the helms of power (Centre and State) are not only aware but also familiar about this reality. Yet again, it took, more than two months of economic blockade for Mr. Chidambaram to “understand” the situation. Whether, the Central Government had adopted a pro-NSCN-IM policy, is all to see. And moreover, the Central Government pressurizing the State Government to use NH-39 is to facilitate the rebel group collect illegal taxes as the outfit had been facing financial problems after vehicles ceased plying on NH-39.
Reports say that more than Rs 10 crore is collected every month by the NSCN-IM. Transporters have openly come out with the extortion challans issued by NSCN-IM. And recently, such were put up for public exhibition. Inspite of the prevailing situation, none have come up with a strategy to combat the illegal taxation and reduce suffering of the people or at least put an end to the dances in the name of liberation on the highways.
Doom of the Temple of Learning
If we say thieves are found only in police camps and the highways, then think again, the Manipur University is run by thieves. We are ready to accept anything except the corruption of the intellectuals. Instead of producing intellectuals and scholars, the sole university of Manipur continues to churn out decadent students and teachers. The very fact the University catching media-limelight is on account of wrong reasons. Scandal after scandal hits Manipur University (MU).
Recently, MU was in the news for not filing income tax returns of its employees and entrance test for admission to various courses. Scandal in admission process is not new. Such incidents have the potential of discrediting the entire examination and evaluation mechanism of the university that must have by now churned out lakhs and lakhs of degree holders of higher learning.
In year 2009, Sangai Express reported of an application for admission to a computer course under the university, which was rejected by the computer department on the ground that the applicant did not have the requisite marks in the qualifying degree certificate for the course. Most audaciously, the applicant returned with another certificate of the same examination, conducted by the university, showing the requisite marks. In the current year various newspapers have indicted how the university is run amuck by contractors and possibility of linkages between administrators and thieves. Such state of affairs only indicates poverty of mind as well as thriving thief-culture in the Temple of Learning thereby resulting in its doom.
Lost of Integrity in the land of the Thieves
In year 2005, the All India Radio, Imphal conducted an opinion poll on the topic “Which of the two is the bigger issue — HIV/AIDS or Corruption”. More people said that they are more worried about corruption than HIV/AIDS. Tragedy about the poll was that it remained an opinion poll. Although persons in positions of power participated in the poll none of them took recourse to change the state of affairs in Manipur.

Yenning had in earlier editions talked about the resultant loss of the national character of Manipur after its forceful annexation. We have become so much used to the culture of thief and corruption as way of life. In almost all the works by Victor Hugo, thieves ultimately changed their ways and celebrated the triumph of human spirit. The question, would the various thieves in Manipur ever change?

This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, August 8, 2010

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