Who is a village volunteer and what does it take to be one? Literally, it means local villagers who volunteer for duty in defending the villagers from outsiders or attacks from militants. However, many young people from other localities also come and join the locals in the day and night vigil. Most of the villagers are simple farmers who work in the fields and tend to their families and they do not have prior knowledge or training in handling guns and repelling armed intruders who lay in wait for opportune moments to attack or taking pot-shots.
So naturally those who have had arms and combat training come and volunteer while also training the villagers to defend and fight. And these villagers do require some kind of uniform for identification among themselves so that they do not shoot at each other mistakenly. The choice uniform is olive green jackets and trousers topped by a cotton sun hat and cotton scarf in the style of Afghani patka. And, it has become common for people and groups to purchase these items in bulk besides other consumables and donate to the ‘real’ village volunteers, both local and non-local.
On January 24, Imphal city was flooded by such volunteers under the banner of Arambai Tenggol as the Kangla declaration was made by Meitei legislators, and the support from the people, particularly womenfolk of Imphal was overwhelming. The general population in the valley had come to trust these youths and men in olive green, as their confidence in the elected representatives continued to wane day by day.
Yet, there are some who take the trust for granted and pose themselves as defenders of the people by issuing inflammatory statements and holding press conferences flanked by youths donning such uniforms. They make outrageous claims that the ‘enemy’ could be wiped out in a matter of days and they were prepared for such a clash even before May 3. These people and groups need to be reminded that it is serious business and not a fashion parade. Also, we would like to appeal to groups donating eatables and essential items at the various relief camps and to those giving equipment like drones and local made bullet proof vests that it should not be made an occasion for photo opportunity.
Look at the recent rise of youths. They are not only angry with the powers that be, but also with the way the general public’s energy and response is being channelized by different forces. They have become extremely frustrated with the utter lack of resolve of the elected representatives and their meaningless political stunts.
As they say, action speaks louder than words. They might give countless numbers of pledges in the name of Manipur and its ‘sacrosanct’ territorial integrity or its people. But, they are always hesitant when the time of reckoning knocks at the door.
The word ‘political sacrifice’ does not exist in their vocabulary and their only prayer is of political survival at any cost. On the other hand, those in the field fighting the militants with the bare minimum of arms to protect their villages and property are fed up with the way Imphal headquartered CSOs and some new women groups are trying to dictate terms. The frustration is not only with the elected representatives, but also with the CSOs also who pursue different strategies and who all claim to be apex bodies. Most of the youths and people dying in the attacks are villagers and volunteers, not the so-called leaders sitting in Imphal.