Imphal: As one travels
along the national highway in Manipur inhabited by two rival
tribal groups - the Kukis and the Nagas, one can see the chassis
of burnt trucks on the roadside with protestors enforcing an
economic blockade that entered its 99th day Monday.
A meek state government and an equally insensitive central
government -- ably aided by some sectarian leaders of the two
warring tribal groups -- have turned the northeastern state into a
lawless region, literally on the brink of complete breakdown, say
It's a near-anarchy-like situation with hospitals running out of
oxygen cylinders and life saving drugs, while stocks of all
essentials, baby food and petroleum products are almost drying up.
"The ongoing blockade has resulted in acute shortage of food,
medicine, petroleum products, and other essential commodities in
the state and very soon the entire life support system in the
state would collapse," T. Singh, a civil rights leader, told IANS.
During the blockade - which some say is the longest in Indian
history, four people have been killed and 10 government buildings
The Sadar Hills District Demand Committee (SHDDC) had launched the
economic blockade Aug 1 on two national highways --
Imphal-Dimapur-Guwahati (NH 39) and Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar (NH53)
-- to press their demand for conversion of the Kuki tribal
majority Sadar Hills area into a full-fledged district.
However, tribal Nagas inhabiting the area are opposed to the
creation of a Sadar Hills district. The Nagas have since Aug 21
launched a counter-blockade on the two highways. This protest is
spearheaded by the United Naga Council (UNC).
The turf war between the two warring tribal groups has literally
held the majority of Manipur's 2.7 million people to ransom with
the landlocked state depending on supplies from outside the region
-- trucks from the rest of India carry essentials to it.
"People are forced to buy a litre of petrol for Rs.200, while a
cooking gas cylinder is being sold at Rs.2,000, a kilogram of
potato at Rs.20 to 25," said Runu Devi, a teacher and mother of
There was a ray of hope when the SHDDC last week announced lifting
of the blockade following a written assurance from the state
government, agreeing to concede their demand for creating a new
But the Naga groups led by the UNC are adamant on their stand and
have continued with their agitation - so the blockade continues.
"I feel very sad when I see people queuing up in front of fuel
pumps for the whole day to purchase petrol or diesel, and that too
may be just one or two litres, as stocks are limited," said
Manipur government spokesperson and senior minister Biren Singh.
Common people are getting restive by the day.
"A time might come when people like us might be forced to take
guns into our hands to protest such blockades. What a shame to
find the state and the central governments surrendering before a
handful of agitators," an angry college student Nanda Singh said.
Nalini Singh, a woman activist, said: "Can you ever imagine such a
blockade continuing for the 99th day in mainland India? It may
sound cliched but it's true - who cares for the northeast? How
does it matter to New Delhi even if people die of starvation in
Not just food and petroleum products, even life saving drugs and
oxygen cylinders are becoming scarce.
"We are putting on hold several surgeries that could wait and only
dealing with emergency operations," said a senior surgeon at the
Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal requesting not to
Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram made a two-day visit to Manipur
last week - but his mission failed, with his assurance failing to
cut much ice among the Naga groups.
"It's the faulty policies of the government that lead to such
agitations at frequent intervals. Obviously if you agree to one
group secretly without consulting a rival group, there is bound to
be trouble," said A.R. Singh, a student leader.
Manipur has a long history of economic blockades - mostly between
the Nagas and the Kukis, and Nagas and the majority Meiteis.
Given the deep tribal, geographical and historical divisions in
Manipur, however, few expect it to end.
"We are like a football, tossed from one end to another, with
groups with no humanitarian concerns enforcing strikes and the
government literally impotent," said Sharat C. Singh, a community