Once upon a time, Manipur was famous for frequent bandhs and blockades. Anyone or any group with a grievance or axe to grind with the authorities resorted to calling either a bandh or blockade. The Imphal-Dimapur road (NH 2) and Imphal-Jiribam road (NH 37) have always been a rallying point for politics by certain communities doting both sides of the national highways and a pressure point for raising all kinds of demands and grievances. The other two national highways seldom comes in the limelight.
Manipur being a land-locked state highly depend on the highways for ferrying in food and all other goods, including essential items, from outside the state, which is exactly why highway blockades have become a bargaining chip for groups who have a grievance against the state authorities or holding it to ransom for realisation of their demands, howsoever petty it be sometimes.
It is not only in the hills, but bandhs are indeed frequent in the valley. There was a joke doing the rounds in those days that calling a bandh is the easiest way out of lodging a protest or airing a grievance instead of resorting to other democratic forms of protests.
A protest rally or street demonstration requires a number of volunteers or large number of people and difficult to manage in terms of logistics and expenses, while on the other hand the organisation only a few individuals is involved in calling the bandh.
Sometimes, announcing the bandh or blockade through the newspapers through a press-note is enough and there is even no need to enforce the bandh on the streets by volunteers as the bandh enforces itself.
In most of the bandhs, the main market and the shops in the outlying areas are closed and traffic is almost nil as who knows what might happen in the future.
In the process, people got fed up of bandhs and blockades howsoever reasonable the demands or grievances be. Thus, was born the name ‘public curfew’ instead of bandhs.
The latest is ‘Shintha Leppa’ or cessation of work and it has become frequent in recent times during the present unrest. During such a protest, the main market in Imphal and shops in the peripheral areas of the market are closed while the road traffic is little less than normal.
‘Shintha Leppa’ could also be broadly translated as ‘Cease work’ but it is a form of protest generally resorted to by government employees while airing their charter of demands.
The name ‘Pen-down strike’ is also used while for the transport workers or drivers the term ‘Steering Down’ is used.
Now, it is mostly the market women, who are resorting to this new form of protest called ‘Shintha Leppa’ but the multitude of new-born CSOs has begun using it sometimes leading to misunderstandings. Emotions are high and whenever death or grievous injury occurs in the clashes in the peripheral areas of the valley, emotionally charged groups resort to such protests.
However, the time has come to look beyond the realm of protests while also pondering upon the question what or who suffers most during such protests.
While there is every reason to protest, one has to eat and feed the family also. During the pandemic with its frequent lockdown, the general public had suffered enough. Then came the present unrest and unending curfew restrictions. Add to that, the protest of cessation of work.
One of the worst sufferers is the daily wagers who live hand to mouth. Every day, scores of such daily wagers throng near the Khwairamband Bazar in the hope of finding work, any work which involves manual labour. But, not everyone find work and they have to return with empty pockets and dejection.
No one seems to be bothered about helping the poor and needy especially the daily wagers, street vendors and workers in the unorganised sector.
Read More: IFP Editorial