CHENNAI Violence stemming from ethnic clashes has engulfed Manipur, leading to a grim state of affairs. The demand for including the Meitei group, constituting 53 per cent of the state’s population and primarily residing in the Manipur Valley, in the ST list seems to be the root cause of this conflict.
The violence stemmed from the Manipur High Court’s order, which mandated the state government to recommend the inclusion of Meiteis in the ST group to the Centre.
Churachandpur has a history of conflict. In 2015, nine protestors were killed during anti-government protests. The families refused to bury the bodies, resulting in a 360-day standoff that ended with a government-families agreement.
Mangkholen Gangte, who operates a showroom, a service centre, and a café in Manipur’s Churachandpur district, established a Honda Motors dealership in December last year. However, his business has now come to a standstill.
“We are not talking about less demand, there is no service,” said Henry Thangboi, who deals with Royal Enfield motorcycles in the Churachandpur district of Manipur.
Bibeka Chingshumba, who has a retail outlet for clothing and electronics in Imphal East, said that the demand for his business had been drastically hit. People are only focusing on buying necessary items now, he said.
“Since May 3rd, 2023, our Churachandpur showroom has been shut, and there is no glimpse of resuming our operations as of now as situation in Manipur remains tense,” said Glady Vaiphei Hunjan, the proprietor of Sincere Bridal, which has showrooms in Manipur and Delhi.
Curfew: A long pause
“Businesses are mostly closed, and that will incur a heavy loss,” said Atom Babusiwar, a teacher from the Thoubal district of Manipur.
The Manipur government has imposed restrictions in the state to control the violence. In each district, the curfew time is different. “Now the curfew is 5 to 11 in my district (East Imphal), with each district, the curfew timing varies,” said Chingshumba.
Mike Manga, who owns a medical shop in Churachandpur, said that during the curfew, if people need medicines, they try to contact the pharmacies that deliver them.
“We have been closed every day of the lockdown. So, it’s affected [us] in that way. It has been more than a month now. We have interest to pay, we have debt to repay,” said Thangboi.
No movement of goods
One of the biggest obstacles businesses have been facing is the need for more movement of goods from another state.
“We used to get products from Delhi, but since this happened, everything is closed,” said Chingshumba. Even if we can transport goods, it has become expensive. Initially, it used to cost ₹300 to ₹400 for goods to be transferred from Delhi, now it costs ₹1,200 to ₹1,500 when goods are transported in cargo, Chingshumba added.
Zike (name changed), from the Thoubal district of Manipur, is into the marble and granite business. “While the demand is there, we cannot supply as the movement of goods from Gujarat has stopped,” he added. Before the conflict, Zike used to get orders of around ₹22 lakh, which has now been reduced to around ₹ 4 lakh.
Lack of fuel has been a persistent problem. “We hardly get fuel to run our car,” said Babusiwar.
“I have a small vegetable seller complex as well, and the vegetable vendors are affected since they can’t transport goods from one place to another,” said Gangte. As per sources, petrol is available on the black market, but comes at a high cost.
Increase in the price of essential goods
The prices of essential items have increased rapidly. Potatoes’ prices used to be ₹12 or ₹13, now it is ₹50/kg, said Babusiwar. All essential goods, including fuel and milk, have seen a steep rise in price. Even the supply of medicines which are bought from Guwahati has taken a hit.
“This era runs on the internet. We do every deal on the internet. So, for the last month, we have been doing the business manually,” said Thomas (name changed), who is doing a business on marbles and granite located in Imphal.
Since the conflict, the internet has been banned in Manipur. It has been extended until June 10. Everyday life has become a problem without the Internet.
We used to showcase our products on WhatsApp and Facebook and get customers through that. That option no longer exists now, added Chingshumba.
Transactions have become a problem. Even receiving money has become problematic, as cash is only sometimes available. For a simple mobile recharge, we have to ask friends from outside Manipur to do so, Thomas added.
Demand for MGNREGA
There is no circulation of money in the economy, said Gangte. For the economy to function, it is important to open the national highways, said Zike.
“The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, or MGNREGA, is something that the government should focus on,” said Gangte. This will help lift the economy. MGNREGA is a scheme that provides “at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.”
Is there any hope?
“Students are not coming to study now. Since May 3, everything has been closed. I am surviving because of my farming,” said Chingshumba.
“Even online classes are not possible because of a lack of internet,” said Thomas, who got a call from his children’s class teacher on May 3 that schools would be closed for a month.
Children were not given any homework during the holidays, added Thomas. “We are very worried about the situation now. It’s not possible to teach them amid this,” added Thomas. Chingshumba’s son is in 10th grade. While he is supposed to prepare for his board exams, he cannot do that now. “My son takes lessons from a home tutor after the curfew is lifted. That’s the only way he prepares now,” Chingshumba added.
The situation is getting worse. There is no hope, says Gangte. However, Thangboi said, “We have faced a couple of civil wars before. It always fluctuates; it will go down. And after some time, it will come up again. I am always optimistic.”