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The Imphal catastrophe: Where is the media?

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By Prerna Grewal

Imphal, the capital of Manipur, has turned into the epicenter of madness and violence, carried out in a fit of agitation. Protests that were initiated with the demand of implementation of Inner Line Permit Bill System (ILPS)  have gathered momentum after the death of Sapam Robinhood, a 16-year-old student who was killed by the police in their efforts to quell the protest. imphal 2

What is ILP?

Inner Line Permit is an official travel document issued by the central government to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected/restricted area for a limited period. It is obligatory for Indian citizens, not residents of those states, to obtain a permit for entering the restricted areas.

What exactly are the demands of the protesters?

Protesters have been demanding the withdrawal of the Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers Bill and implementation of a proper Bill which could safeguard the indigenous people of the State. The demand for the implementation of ILPS has emerged as a consequence of all this.

As reported by the Times of India, “Early this year, Manipur chief minister OkramIbobi Singh introduced the ‘Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers’ Bill 2015 in the assembly to safeguard the interests of the indigenous people of the state.

However, Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS) said the bill was protecting the interests of immigrants rather than the indigenous people of Manipur”.

How did the protest turn ugly?

The death of the 16-year-old gave an ugly turn to the protest with protestors resorting to extreme measures in a fit of anger.

Despite imposed curfews (July 9 onwards), protestors came out on streets and imposed road blocks. Apart from trying to storm the residence of local MLA NameirakpamLoken, which was thwarted by the police, the protestors continued to burn tyres, place tree branches, rock boulders and iron posts on the roads.Imphal Express also informed of Sit in protests being staged in different parts of the State including at Kongba crossing, KhongmanMangjil, SingjameiBheigyabatileikai.

The level of frustration is clearly evident in the following statements made by the Indigenous People’s Assocation of Kangleipak’s (IPAK) chairman SapamchaJadumani.

“He said the movement will continue until the demands are met as the ongoing agitation demanding implementation of the Inner Line Permit System in the State is not only for the joint committee but for the whole people of the State.

The Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers Bill 2015 which was passed by the government omitted the recommendations submitted by the All Political Parties Committee and the joint committee and was made not according to the interest and welfare for the people he asserted.

The situation would not have turned this bad if the government had shown some concern and understanding of the people’s sentiment, he continued.

“It would be best if the government withdraw the previous bill and fulfil the demand made by the people as this is the only means to safeguard the indigenous inhabitants of the people and to live peacefully in the state” he added.

(Reported by the Imphal Free Press)

The next few statements made by the protesters and published by the Imphal Free Press are reflective of their obstinate determination.

The protestors also shouted at the police that the demand was also for the police and their families and “Take our lives, but don’t destroy our Home, please, we are eager to sacrifice for the ILPS.”

A fog of frustration seems to have clouded people’s perception and judgement. This is true for people on both sides of the spectrum. If protestors are resorting to extreme measures like the ones already mentioned (burning tyres, blocking traffic etc.), the police too is resorting to violent measures to quench the protest. Some of these are often on the fringes of being inhumanimphal 1

Tear gas shell, fired by the police that exploded in the middle of a group of protesters left several injured. One of the injured has been identified as 17-year-old Roshan Haobijam. Rushed to RIMS hospital, a splinter of a tear gas shell was taken out from an injury on his stomach.Splinters had also hit his thigh and shoulders and he was also bleeding from his right ear.

The following account was published by the Imphal Free Press,

“According to the students who are both 15-year olds, they were talking inside their residential gate at Kakwa when police personnel who came from behind jump on them and put them inside their mini-van parked outside.

The two have been identified as class VIII student Alex Thokchom son of Rajan and S Thoibi son of Amuchao.

The two said they were taken to the Kakwa Police Station and accused of using catapults which they had not.

The police then assaulted them using the butts of their guns and stamped all over their bodies with their boots, they said.

They were only rescued by the local womenfolk who stormed the station after learning of their arrest.

The two boys who are now at the RIMS wore lucid boot marks on their necks, thighs, knees and other parts”.

Mainstream Media not providing enough coverage to the issue?

While the residents of Manipur are in a better position to justify their stand on implementation or non-implementation of ILP, it is worth considering why the media hasn’t been giving as much coverage to the entire issue as it deserves. Except for regional media platforms within Manipur, hardly anyone within mainstream media seems to be going into the details violence unleashed upon the group of protestors which did not even spare teenagers or minors.

Posts about commercial media not giving enough coverage to issues in Imphal have been trending all over social media. Many people were taken by surprise on getting to know about the situation in Imphal through social media platforms such as Twitter. Some even expressed doubts regarding the validity of the news as they hadn’t heard of it elsewhere.

The biting sarcasm embedded within the tweet is clearly targeted towards such omissions on behalf of commercial main stream media. Various people on twitter agreed with him in their responses.

In response to this, Vishal Dadlani said he found no news of the same.

 

Award-winning author Binalakshmi Nepram continues to tweet about the issue from her handle.

Once again, the issue of discrimination faced by North Eastern states, despite being a part of India has been brought into discussion. The entire situation also highlights the significance of social media and the power it enjoys in terms of influence and effects. It is indeed one of the most powerful tools easily accessible to common man that can often be employed towards the welfare of society.

Finally, the following can be said about the situation in Manipur. Clearly chaos has established control over rationality and perhaps humanity. Difference of opinion has extended into something much more violent than a simple war of words. The government urgently needs to come up with a solution or arrive at some kind of negotiation.

Next Story

Manipuri Women Are Breaking Barriers, The Birthplace Of Modern Polo

"Their enthusiasm lit a desire in me to play polo. I've felt close to horses since my uncle brought them home. But before that, horses roamed about everywhere. My family was not very well off and my uncle couldn't afford to buy a horse,"

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"Here is one (polo) community whose welfare is so closely tied with the welfare of the animal on which the game is played. We felt that since India did not have any women's polo tournament, Manipur could be, and should be, the home of women's polo in India," Somi Roy says. Pixabay

Polo, often thought of as a game of the rich, has also been generally dominated by men. However, a quiet revolution is taking place at the very place where it all started – the northeast Indian state of Manipur, which is considered the birthplace of modern polo.

While men had been playing this game here for centuries, the spotlight has now shifted to women of the state who now field five professional polo teams to compete with the world’s best. These Manipuri women from humble backgrounds are not only shattering stereotypes that polo is a game for men, but also that it is the privilege of the rich.

L. Somi Roy, conservationist and partner at Huntre! Equine, has been one of the main crusaders for women’s polo in the state and sees it also as a campaign to save the iconic Manipuri pony, whose numbers have been declining over the years. He says while Manipuri women traditionally did not play polo as it was an equestrian game coming out of a martial tradition, in modern times, in the 1980s, they got inspired by their male relatives.

“The All Manipur Polo Association encouraged them. About 40-45 per cent of polo players in the world are women. So we are just catching up. It’s pretty gender free as a sport, so it puts them on the level of men when they play together,” Roy tells IANS.

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“Playing with the United States Polo Association (USPA) team was a great experience. Though their skills are very different from ours, we could learn a lot,” she says.
Pixabay

While Manipur produces one-third of male players and three-fourths of women players in the country, Roy says most of these players from an isolated, economically-underdeveloped state are not members of the Indian Polo Association.

Yet, the state has India’s longest polo season — November to March — with two international and four state tournaments, including the Manipur Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament, the only such tournament in India where teams from the US, UK, Canada, Kenya, Australia and Argentina have participated alongside Manipuri girls.

The matches are held in Imphal’s Mapal Kangjeibung Stadium, the oldest running polo ground in the world.

Filmmaker Roopa Barua, who started documenting the story of women’s polo in Manipur in 2016, says a young polo sisterhood is developing in the state that ploughs on despite adversity and political turmoil.

“Around 2014-15, there was an effort to bring in international women players to play in Manipur. Part of this effort was to create a campaign to save the Manipuri pony which is endangered. I saw a symbiotic relationship developing and I followed this story for four years,” she tells IANS.

This documentation culminated in a film which intends to take the story of these strong women players to the world. The documentary film, “Daughters of the Polo God” was showcased earlier this month at the IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival in New Delhi, and would also be screened at the Bombay Stock Exchange on March 26.

“Manipuri players are natural horsewomen and extremely athletic. As I stayed on throughout the tournament, I saw that women’s polo was becoming a growing story. The symbiotic relationship between women’s polo and the endangered Manipuri pony was a very unique concept,” Barua said.

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“Horses for centuries here are owned by people, they are trained, they are broken. And then they are let loose to graze freely in the open wetlands of Manipur.”
Pixabay

Nineteen-year-old Tanna Thoudam, one of the protagonists of the film, was inspired to play polo when she saw some women players playing in a match in 2010.

“Their enthusiasm lit a desire in me to play polo. I’ve felt close to horses since my uncle brought them home. But before that, horses roamed about everywhere. My family was not very well off and my uncle couldn’t afford to buy a horse,” she says.

Tanna joined the Assam Rifles Polo Club in 2011 and became the only junior to make it to the final Manipuri team for the 2017 Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament. “It was the happiest moment of my life.”

Thoinu Thoudum, founder of the Chingkhei Hunba Polo Club, says it is good to have a women’s tournament as it encourages girls to start playing polo while also showing solidarity and respect for women players.

Jetholia Thongbam started playing polo in 2016 and carried on even after her sister stopped playing following her marriage. She believes that Manipuri players are becoming better every year by playing with international players.

“Playing with the United States Polo Association (USPA) team was a great experience. Though their skills are very different from ours, we could learn a lot,” she says.

N. Ibungochoubi, Secretary of the Manipur Polo Society, says the relationship between Manipuris and horses is special.

“Horses for centuries here are owned by people, they are trained, they are broken. And then they are let loose to graze freely in the open wetlands of Manipur.”

But lately, the Manipuri ponies have lost their home to urban blight with their numbers declining from 1,893 in 2003 to just around 500 in 2014.

This is where this symbiotic relationship between humans and horses can potentially be a game-changer.

“Here is one (polo) community whose welfare is so closely tied with the welfare of the animal on which the game is played. We felt that since India did not have any women’s polo tournament, Manipur could be, and should be, the home of women’s polo in India,” Somi Roy says.

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He adds that going to play polo in Manipur is like going to Mecca.

“For people who know the history of polo, Manipur is a special place – that’s where it all came from. And then we say it’s going to be played on the original Manipuri pony, and then we tell them that it is on the world’s oldest living polo ground. It’s a fairly irresistible invitation,” Roy adds. (IANS)