The State of Manipur and the Normalization of Bandhs | Milaap

The State of Manipur and the Normalization of Bandhs

While the state of Manipur is recognized mostly for its rich cultural diversity, different ethnicity, attractive terrains as well as for hosting some great sports person at national games, another factor which is also very common is the occurrence of unrest in different form of conflict leading to strikes, bandhs, and curfews. As a fellow of Milaap here in Manipur, I wanted to share my experiences on how bandh affects the people and the daily activities here.
Image: Children playing during Bandh in Imphal

A one-day bandh (or more) in any of the major cities of the country or any other state leads to havoc and panic amongst the people. These bandhs in the major cities also catches the attention of the mainstream media which calculates the loss incurred upon the state, its economy and the people per day. While it’s a fact that bandh has many implications, in Manipur it is very rare for a month to go by without at least a day or more (which might also extend to weeks) with some kind of strikes or bandhs for one reason or another. Most of the time bandhs in the state would mean that the city is in a total shutdown. Shops, schools, colleges, banks, and most offices are closed, the internet is banned for weeks; life becomes a standstill for the people. While it is a welcome holiday for the students as they can have a day off it affects the overall education system, life becomes cumbersome for the people. There have been instances in which the National Highways were blocked for weeks, and Manipur since its major connectivity has been roadways, there was a complete hold on the import of goods and items which fulfills the daily requirements of people. Such instances also led to hoarding of the existing goods during which the regular edible goods were sold three times more than the actual prices, fuel were sold at four time more than the current fuel prices in cities like Mumbai and Delhi and people especially who earn on a day to day basis such vegetable vendors, shop owners, auto drivers etc are not able to earn their income for the day and it also becomes extremely difficult for them to afford the daily requirements, hence they suffer the most.
Since the main source of their income is affected, the people (even the ones with fixed income for example govt. employees or people with private jobs, etc ) all join a “MARUP”, a type of chit fund system where they have collections (usually monthly) for a period of time and get the money altogether. It is one of the main and widely used systems of informal savings which help them to cope with the situation. The emergence of microfinance has also greatly helped the people who earn on a daily basis, it has helped them to invest in their business or start their own business without having to loan the amount from others or the banks. The women I have met through the fellowship have also told me about how the loans have made them self sufficient and independent.
Image: Market Shut Down during Bandhs

Comparing the bandhs of other cities with that of Manipur, there is a vast difference. However, my intention is not to compare the occurrence and gravity of such bandhs with that of other cities and states but to rather highlight the implications of such incidents on the well being of the people which have been normalized in their daily lives. My personal experience and also my current engagement with people on the field, I have seen that the people of my state have been accustomed to the ongoing bandhs. Due to the long history of conflict in the state and the regular occurrence of bandhs and strikes for the people of the state such incidents have become part of their daily lives, implications such as hike in prices of commodities to complete shutdown of shops, schools and markets is a regular day for them, even sound of tear gas or some bomb blast creates a temporary fear in them. The people I have engaged with on field have narrated that they have no other choice but to only hope for a better day tomorrow and earn their livelihood without any hurdles. While conflict and bandhs have many implications on the mental health and the well being, such instances have been normalized by the people. It has hence become extremely important to talk about it, how people also have no other choice but to bear with the consequences and implications and move on with their daily lives for survival.