The Centre of Attention and the Masters of Puppets

The Centre of Attention and the Masters of Puppets

In Manipur, the fertile valley area is located right at the centre, which gives a distinctive topography, and geographically a ‘well-rounded’ terrain, with verdant landscapes, winding rivers — and is surrounded beautifully by nine ranges of hills. Again, situated at the heart of this valley is Imphal, the capital town set quietly amidst the natural landscapes as well as the cacophonies of political conflict and social unrest that the state has been facing for the last five decades. Incidentally, the erstwhile capital of Manipur, the Kangla is also set right at the centre of Imphal with a moat enveloping its outer circumference

With its rich heritage, the Kangla vividly offers glimpses into the history, archaeology, cosmology, sensibilities, royal generations, social mores of Manipur in particular, and of the region as a whole. The British used to called it the Manipur Fort. Once the citadel of power and truly the innermost core of the land, the Kangla has seemingly grown bigger now, connecting itself with several unique landmarks of the state, for better or worse — the reasons we will know in this discourse. Surprisingly, these landmarks blend quite seamlessly to accentuate the beauty of the Kangla, while retaining their individual flavours.

For a better picture, we can say, many of Manipur’s acclaimed images immaculately encircled the Kangla. The Imphal River flows on its eastern side. Just a stone’s throw away from this river, Kekrupat is set at its holy best. This is the place where the Brave 18 — those who sacrificed their lives for the integrity of Manipur — were cremated in the aftermath of the Great June Uprising in 2001. And set opposite to this sanctum sanctorum is the Imphal West commando complex. In recent times, the cops have earned themselves a reputation for being one of the most undisciplined government agency. They have been involved in numerous fake encounters and extrajudicial killings, especially after the partial lifting of the notorious Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from the four valley districts of the state.

In a stark contrast to the images related to Kekrupat and the commando complex, a handful of relatively luxurious hotels line outside the Kangla. The government-owned Hotel Ashoka has been existing for quite some time on one hand. On the other, in spite of the extortion ‘crisis’ and threats that the people face in the state, some private hotels, including the Tampha and the Classic, have thrived successfully, painting on the canvas of hospitality in the otherwise forbidden land. Perhaps, the state will become a tourist’s paradise one day. Manipur is a land of limitless natural beauty, however, the conflict situation coupled with the underdeveloped economic system has drove everything bonkers.
A policeman on a high in uniform at Namthilok, Awang BOC
Image courtesy: Jit Ningomba
There are more buildings and structures, which are laden with the things that give Manipur a unique image in this vicinity. At the opposite to the entrance of the Kangla, the tall GM Hall is the popular destination for social gatherings and entertainment. It stands firmly breathing the airs of nostalgia. The ceaseless clock on its façade, while observing the human follies in the town, provides us new insights into how we endure the bloodshed, mindless killings and the decadence of our society. Crossing a main road from this building takes us to the Government House, commonly known as the Raj Bhavan: the official building that houses the state governors. When you cross the road, you can find behind this building Mapal Kangjeibung, the original ground of polo, and BT Park, where the three patriots were executed in 1891 by the British. Finally, situated at a walking distance in the wide circumference of the Kangla is the Nupi Lal Memorial Complex, which is a tribute to the women, who fought against the injustice of the British. From the complex, it is only a two-minute walk to Babupura: the chief minister lives here, the headquarter of the police is located, the state secretariat is set and several other government offices are situated.

The above places, in one way or the other, showcase the historicity and the beauty of one corner of the town. But for the sake of continuity and the-good-things-first belief, we have intentionally jumped one location, set between the triangle of the deluxe hotels, the commando complex and Kekrupat. This might also answer the query why and how some of the landmarks surrounding the Kangla tarnish the overall image, though not completely.

Is it the Golden Triangle? The place is not exactly like the notorious areas in Burma, Thailand and Laos but surely is the destination of the finest heroin in the world. Right across the Kangla, it has been fixing every problems of drug addicts and sex workers; while pimps, cheap yet high-quality drugs, loyal customers and girls in garish attires make certain the show always goes on in this shoddy neighbourhood.
The Centre of Attention and the Masters of Puppets

Like a particular drug having different street names, this place aptly has more than a couple of names: popularly known as Awang BOC or Namthilok or the Headquarter. It is the address of a marginalised group, so small in size yet its influence is beyond a layman’s comprehension.

In Manipur, there have been several social campaigns against substance abuse but the people are becoming more cynical than ever before. To take one instance, one can find in this notorious area, several sex workers who have submitted themselves to their fate: they have been helpless, they had left their homes because of ethnic conflicts or some reason or the other. Now they sell their body to make a living and get their daily doses.

In another instance, medical experts say psychiatric problems are on the rise in the state because of the prolong conflict situation, which means the number of people resorting to any available psychotropic substances are also increasing. More than two decades ago, the Manipur police also set up a separate department called the Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB) to deal with the influx of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances but their effort has been, unfortunately, of little help to contain the rampant substance abuse. It is ironic that in spite of the prevailing stigma and discrimination, many people have made this place a popular hangout. One cannot ask for more. For a morally decadent society, it provides the best offer with the finest drugs and flesh. It is even more drier that the commando complex is located just behind this ill-famed street.

We have a history in the Kangla, the glorification of heroes at Kekrupat, the frustration of lawlessness in the commandos, their complex and the minuscule number of rising elites in the surrounding hotels. Note that the BOC is also a major interstate bus terminal passing through National Highway-39, the only all-weather highway and the shorter of the two highways that connect the state to other parts of India.

Old and young folks come here for a fix, mortgaging their parents’ or spouses’ belongings, and if not fortunate, after stealing a shot’s worth of security from their neighbours; while young women tease passers-by, so if reciprocated they can feed their family or again, can have their first fix of the day to forget the little ironies of life and its wretchedness.

At the same time, the AIDS issue remains as grim as ever without ever having a cure but the mere prevention with condoms and unshared syringes. Nowadays, there are many NGOs working on this issue, some of them even setting up their branches in this forlorn street but time can only tell when the people will see light on the road once again. Otherwise, it will ever remain a blot on the Kangla and others, and a happy hunting ground for the commandos and the NAB officials, who arrest small-timers and the junkies roaming around searching for a ‘contact’ to get the stuffs. Perhaps, Awang BOC represents the milieu the Manipuris are living in the 21st century.

The Golden Triangle. If you think this devil zone is the reason behind all the messy world of addiction and smuggling in the state, then think again. Reports indicate Manipur, with several plantation sites in Ukhrul and Churachandpur, is one of the producers of raw opium from which heroin and other derivatives are manufactured. The productive soil and socio-economic factors of the state offer the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of businessmen, who would go any extra length for personal gains. Though it is suggested that any plan to reduce the huge incentives in this industry is to minimize its profitability, the situation remains as grim as when the first chemical intrusion made its way into the state in the late 70 and early 80s.

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Fertile soil, vast economic disparity and availability of cheap labor in the remote hilly areas of Manipur are being cited as some important factors for wealthy but unscrupulous elements exploiting the conditions to reap poppy harvest for producing heroin for the notorious Golden Triangle.

Unholy nexus between the politicians and drug mafias came to light as the Central Bureau of Narcotics, Guwahati, and Guwahati Customs arrested former Manipur deputy speaker Henam Lokhon Singh along with two others recently. 1.04 kg heroin worth Rs 1 crore in the international market was seized from their possession.

Manipur with a population of 2 million (hardly 0.2% of India's total population) is contributing more than 7% of India's total HIV positive cases and it is third in rank in India after Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu which contribute about 52% and 12% respectively of India's total HIV positive cases.

The states of Manipur and Mizoram in northeast India are increasingly being known as safe havens for drug smugglers, while insurgent groups operating in the area amass funds from drug deals.

The illicit trafficking in narcotics is often linked to arms smuggling, insurgency and organised crime. Illegal trade in narcotics and arms generate billion of dollars in the black market and is the major source of funding terrorism, insurgency and organised crime, which have international ramifications. It is inconceivable to fight them without fighting the menace of drug trafficking. (This implies the army as well has a lot to answer for how they are involved in terrorism, insurgency and organised crime.)

Masters of Puppets

Come crawling faster
Obey your Master
Your life burns faster
Obey your Master

(Master of Puppets, Mettalica)

Smugglers are having a hard time these days in some corners of Manipur. Perhaps, only a few of them are going through the tribulation. Yesterday, cops arrested a group of six scums, including a Defence PRO and a senior executive of an airline carrier. Today, the police arrested another person from the airport in the afternoon. The double bust from two different places has resulted in seizing substances worth crores of Indian rupees. More than anything else, there are two factors here: one, involvement of the army colonel plus a politician’s son; and two, a huge amount of moolah is in stake. Drugs are ubiquitous in this land, so are the catch and apprehension; but these kinds of huge haul are rare. The last time there was such a record haul was possibly in January last. I presume these are rare, but not!

Anti-drug campaigners along with activists/volunteers of different civil societies and student bodies today staged a sit-in-protest at Keishampat Junction community hall to demand public declaration of who actually own(s) the huge drug consignment seized from Imphal (Tulihal) Airport on January 11. 

Sangai Express, 30 January 2013

On the other hand, the luckier badasses — still in their safe havens — are possibly looking to exploit the market by increasing the rates on the street exponentially. How are the puppets going to afford this costly experience? Calling the cops names would hardly satiate their urges. Neither there would be any room for bargain — but to shell out what the dealers would charge them. If these kinds of arresting and nabbing continue, do not be surprise if some folks float an All-Manipur-Junkie-Association kind of pressure group and start imposing general strikes. Why, because that is the way of life.

The whole issue has taught us two lessons:

1. Drug addiction is a social malady in Manipur. It gels very well with armed conflict, high unemployment, narco-terrorism allegedly initiated by both the army and the rebels.

2. The big shots always have their way or it is the highway; while the army colonel cried he was cheated, civil organisations cried the culprit has not been booked, and nobody’s sure who’s who. Then the players include everybody: Armymen, ministers, rebel as well as common folks. So, why does the society keep fucking, bleeding all over the puppets? Why do the drug crusaders always have the topic of controlling the issue on the last list of their agenda?

No one has the right to stop drug use. The only thing we can stop is only ourselves. This holds more true in such a society as ours, where people follow the social mores of community living and the moral police would do anything, just like humiliating the drug users and even thrashing them at times, as if they do not belong to the same shit-hole where everyone belongs to. It is as if everyone would come sober and clean in a fortnight. (Last year, surveys done by local NGOs estimates there are nearly 40,000 injecting drug users, er... puppets in Manipur, which has a population of hardly 2.7 million)

Heard it through the grapevine

“In one of the biggest drug hauls in the state, the Imphal East police on Saturday seized 72,000 strips of Asmapax, Respifed and Coscold tablets which contained highly sedative Ephedrine and Pseudoephedrine Hydrochlorides worth around Rs 5 lakh.” (Kangla Online, May 2012)

“It is the most blatant form of narco-terrorism.” (The Times of India, 19 Feb 2012)

“In the biggest ever haul in the State, personnel of Narcotics Control Bureau seized a consignment of eight cartons containing 12,158,00 tablets of Ephedrine HCL (15 mg) worth Rs 120 crores in the international market on June 5 from the office of Blazeflash Courier Ltd, Khoyathong opposite ABC carriers, Imphal.” (Manipur Online, 10 June 2011)

Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol, and Addictive Behavior in four volumes

Check Heroin in Manipur  A photo essay by Adam Ferguson

Commercially marketed Heroin containers from the early 20th century. The box has a "Harrison Act" tax stamp, indicating a date of 1914 or shortly after. Photographed from display at the Old Mint Museum, New Orleans.
Image: Wikimedia Commons (a free licensed media file repository). Originally taken by Infrogmation of New Orleans



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