In the land of bandhs: Run beyond its reach

Mamta Lukram
Causal explanations backed every Bandh, thereby valid reasons supporting many of these acts. Keeping this fact in mind, it couldn’t be considered thoughtful to bluntly critique bandhs as pointless. Nevertheless, it may be less wise in encouraging this act, when frequency exceeds beyond limit. The ethos of the public in contemporary Manipur seems convinced in resorting to this act for any unfulfilled aspiration.
In our state, due to prolonged exposure to unstable social situations for years, dissent has become a way of life. In due course, society designed many ways to raise concerns, out of which Bandhs, settled silently as the mechanism of frequent and wide use. Reasons provided for this internalisation is the diminishing faith in legal interventions, whereby, ‘Act Now,’ disseminated as the idiom of life. Anecdotal accounts tainted with incidents of sudden bandhs and shutdowns become phenomenal life experiences, igniting our already wrapped-up minds ever analytical.
Living in a land of frequent bandhs, crux lies in comprehending the delicate knitted politics. Objectification of bandhs as tools of arousing community sentiments need be stressed upon. In common parlance, bandhs has masked itself into solidarity building equipment for community, evolving antagonistic attitude towards non-community. Definitions of minority community as group with strong sense of group solidarity, a feeling of belongingness and togetherness, acted more subtly during bandhs.  It glorifies the deadlock of social diversities, a notion that connotes difference, underscoring grounds of diversion. 
Manipur is a society, cut deep by narrow social divide despite the pledges of unity in diversity. This fact can be doted from the trends of bandh in the state. A close watch of the state-wide bandhs implications show that, except for few, these are never effective state-wide. Specified jurisdiction of effectiveness greatly depends upon socio-political and cultural affiliations of the group who call for it. Contestations drawn on community lines make bandhs concentrated to demographic structure. So, analysing its intensity lies in understanding the social group.
‘The sense of being foreign within my native’ runs apparently high during bandhs, ascribed by diverse ethnic backgrounds. If a valley based group calls for bandh, it will never be effective in the hill districts and vice-versa. This is the ruling logic. A keen observer could have written the history of divide in Manipur from personal encounters with bandh. The propositions of bandhs as an internalised way of life, yet avoiding it is;
“Bandh in the valley; run, cross it, to reach the hills. Bandhs in the hills; run, cross it, to reach the valley.”
How deep has the social divide percolated can better be explained from the life-situations of people working across two geographical regions within this tiny state. Best could be explained through the accounts of someone who has to shuttle between two frontlines –say, home at valley and workplace at a hill region. Geographical extension and its limitations during state-wide bandhs serve the breakthrough dynamics.
Politicisation of bandhs is another lacuna in the social construct. Bandhs, which are politically motivated, either proves fruitless or futile. Increase incidents of mob violence are an indication of ‘trust deficit’ in the justice delivery system, where people fail to believe that justice will be delivered. However, at times situations are being manipulated, that maximised the vulnerability of being fallen prey of politicised leaders. Under such circumstances people are being misguided. In a land where one can be put behind bars under sedition for defaming or misusing any statement, it may not be right to speak of something in vague.
A glimpse on the inerasable occurrence are, womenfolk coming out to join protest meet during the Manipur University impasse, whereby their motives of joining confronted with the objective of the protest became a matter of heated debate, hitting the news headlines and went viral in social media., the global platform for petition, started a petition, “Stop Mob Violence and Injustice in Manipur” asking relevant authorities to end mob justice in Manipur, after the so called ‘UtlouYaoshang Incident,’ which somehow reported in media of having politicisation motive behind. These are few instances.
Keeping in view the increasing frequency in the state, bandhs as political entity can never be denied. The testimonies are over inefficient legal intervention, claiming that arriving at negotiations before resort to violence are rare instances. During upsurge of issues, when concerned authority turned deaf ear to the voice of agonised people, frustration gloomed the society. Circumstantially, Bandhs shrill voice aloud to pierce into authority’s deaf ear. ‘Bandh toudrikhei tade’ (won’t listen unless bandh), is the ultimate reality.
Nothing less are our leaders, so nothing less are the commoners, including myself. Bandhs are approved as the sole measure to grasp the attention of the authority. Nevertheless, habituation of public to rely on bandhs as the easiest mechanism is more alarming. Collective justifications provided are very simple; those are steps for seeking ‘Justice,’ where fight for larger cause needs perseverance from all odds and whatever negative comes on the way must be tolerated. Unclaimed sacrifices are sought from people. However, support options rather should be voluntary, not imposition.   
Bandhs from all fronts are evidently high in the valley of this state, being the political capital of the state. For every matter, bandh is the ultimate resort; be it killings, planting bombs, open fire at someone’s residence, rapes, corruption laden cases, pre-ponding/post-ponding of recruitment result declarations, bad road conditions and many more. Bandhs for everything; bandhs on all accounts is the causal explanation of the hour. Disturbed normalcy marked by institutional shut downs and protest are common features.
Dysfunctional education system is one of its worst kind negative impacts. Working days are unprecedentedly affected by bandhs. Underpinning reality of bandhs is the deprivation of education rights, a violation of fundamental rights, in the name of democratic assertion. Particular set of demands are claimed much higher than other set of basic rights. Critiques and voices are being raised to make education a free zone from all directions. However, to the bandh organisers, dysfunctional education is considered as a hallmark of effectiveness.
Bringing out a comparative analysis on state-wide bandhs, educational institutes in the valley are apparently of more frequent disturbances whereas hill areas have specific reasons for paying no heed. Analysing the implications of state-wide bandhs is an assurance of providing a perfect picture. While the valley is all disturbed and shut down, larger geographic cover of the state remained normal. ‘State-wide’ hardly co-relate the terminology. A systematic study could testify it. Bandhs organisers must be encouraged for setting up special flying squads, enabling to sneak out of the concentrated valley, to have a look of the well-groomed, neatly dressed students walking in hurry along the roadsides to reach their institutes in hill districts, while the whole of valley wear a futile look. A review of the working number of educational institutes in the valley affected by the bandhs will serve a path-breaking revelation.
Lesser frequency of Bandh is a plus-point of hill district denizens of Manipur, for education in particular, where almost all the bandhs are ineffective. No wonder have/should filled the performance review of hill district excelling in all fields of education in the state. If there is any space for entertaining commoner’s opinion, request should be made to Bandh organisers, to look into two things, firstly, the deepened root of social divide, degenerating cohesion through frequent bandhs, stepping over the point of drumming community sentiment, and secondly, the blow to the education and lives of people. Bandhs for everything is not the solution. Utilising it as an easy means to ends, will damage ourselves irreparably, and therefore, must not be encouraged. A mindful participatory approach for social engagement in the need of the hour and need be adopted.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]