That the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has been extended to the hill areas for more time, while the valley and a part of the state which has border with Assam has been left out of this draconian law is very disturbing. There is a lot of divide already among the people of Manipur. The geographical and demographic divide is now almost complete with the Meitei living in the valley and the Kukis living in the hill areas. This divide is apparent while moving from one area to the other one can read on the hoardings that the people or any product from the other area is not allowed.
There are always problems and outstanding issues among the people from different groups in every society. Duty of the rulers and civil society organizations is to sort them through dialogue and confidence building measures so as to strengthen unity in the society. The five member team of Indian Doctors from Peace and Development (IDPD) including two women doctors that visited Manipur in first week of September was tasked essentially to study the health needs of the people in relief camps in both the areas. Despite several odds we were able to visit the relief camps in Imphal as well as in Kangpokpi District in the hills.
Problems in the relief camps on both sides were similar. No immunization for the children till the time of our visit. There was acute shortage of medicines and lack of enough medical staff to care for the people. People living in the relief camps who have lost their house and means of livelihood do not have any money to purchase medicines from the market. They have to manage without medicines for a long period. The people living in the hills are even worse affected because besides these issues they have the issue of transport to the higher health centers in case of health needs. They cannot come to Imphal because of fear of life. So they have to go to Dimapur or Kohima in Nagaland. For any serious tertiary care issues they have to go to Guwahati. The travel time to these places through the hills could be anywhere between 12 to 24 hours. No need to mention that during any health emergency every minute matters.
Despite tall claims by the government the situation is getting worse with every passing day. Prime Minister’s silence over the issue shows his apathetic attitude. He had time to attend BRICS and spend lot of time, money and energy in organizing the G20 summit, but has not uttered a word over violence in Manipur, not to s of speak of visiting the state! The electronic media, it seems, has been asked to black out any news from Manipur. This will have very dangerous connotations and increase the mistrust and alienation which ultimately ends up in hatred and senseless revenge! It is this lack of trust which led to killing of two students. Police did not act at that time. How and why the videos have been released now, is a serious question that needs answer. Teenage school students in Manipur were peacefully protesting demanding peace and justice after the reports of the killings surfaced. Instead of having a dialogue with them and reassuring them, the government resorted to repression. Now we learn that a mob tried to march to Chief Minister’s residence.
During our stay in Manipur it was in the air that the government is soon contemplating something big. Even though we were sceptical, but still thought that the government may facilitate some initiative for dialogue and confidence building, which could be a step towards restoration of lasting peace.
People of Manipur need healing touch. Government should involve civil society for this. Doctors’ organizations can play a big role in such situations, as people by and large have confidence on the doctors. Use of force will lead to worsening of situation particularly when it is apparent that the AFSPA is being used selectively. Any aggravation in violence will adversely impact the physical and mental health of the people particularly the children. Persistence of uncertainty will do serious harm to the education of students. It will stall the economic development; affect job perspectives and means of livelihood of the people. Such situation will be counterproductive.
Dr Arun Mitra is a Practicing ENT Surgeon in Ludhiana, Punjab. He is also the President of Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD) www.idpd.org