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E-Pao! EI - A Materialistic Manipur - only a recent development?

A Materialistic Manipur - only a recent development?

By: T Deepa Manjuri *



Are you a girl belonging to the age group of 18 - 30, single, independent and moderately good looking? Then try driving a luna in the streets of Imphal! Not only will you attract curious glances of the onlookers but you will also receive such comments as ranging from - "Eh, driving a LUNA!!!" (Shocked - surprise), "Oh Poor girl! You are SPOILING your own IMAGE by driving A LUNA!" (Sympathy) to suggestive catcalls like " Come with me babe! I will buy you a maruti?

When I took my eleven years old luna to the various destinations of my PhD fieldwork in Imphal, I wasn't prepared to receive so much attentions! (I was driving only a luna and not a bullock-cart for God's sake!)

After a few days, when I was at my granny's, a relative came to meet me. We talked about this and that, and then he said he is no longer going to his workplace. Surprised, I asked, "Why?" Listen to his answer, " Why can't you see that I don't have a vehicle to drive there? My younger is using the bike and I don't want to go there by luna or cycle - that will be too degrading you know! All my friends have either a bike or a four wheeler and if I drive a luna, I will be the laughing stock among them!" I was dumbfounded. While this was the last thing that I had expected as an answer from this 33yrs old father of two, I also realized that he was laughing at me indirectly! I narrated these episodes to granny, but she just laughed them away, " Don't take them seriously! Ignore such small things!"

My 83 years old granny can take these things lightly, but the Sociologist in me refuses to leave the mind in peace. Are they as light as granny thinks? Next day, I coaxed her to tell me more about this relative and I found that his wife is selling fruits in the local bazaar (sometimes, she helps her mother run a hotel) in order to support the husband and the two little children. Recently his elder brother brought a wife who also brought a lot of things in dowry - freeze, inverter, gold, a kinetic Honda, and a pari of paddy field, which supplies them with 10 sacks of paddy every year. The parents are staying with this son with the rich wife, and whenever there is a family feud, they always take the side of this couple and always blamed the other daughter-in-law for starting the fights.

The two incidents, I just narrated were more than enough to put me into a reflexive mood - wasn't it yesterday only that I was driving the luna without attracting so much attentions on it? How about dowry? Since when has it started determining the status and position of woman in her new home?

I made a BIG mistake though! There has been a gap of more than six years between the 'yesterday' when I left home for Delhi and the 'today' when I came to stay here for one year to conduct the fieldwork. I could not see the changes since I took it for granted that everything will be the same when I come back.

Manipur society has changed a lot in the last six years - it has become a 'materialistic society' (Here the term 'materialistic' has nothing to do with Marx and Engel's philosophy of Historical Materialism. I am using it here strictly to mean the 'superficial', luxury-centric, living-just-for-the-moment attitude of the people, which hardly leaves space for the inner worth of a thing or a person since the surface is all that counts for them.) In Manipur, two wheelers are no longer a means to reach the work destinations - they have become a status symbol. No longer in vogue are sunny and luna, while Kinetic and Activa are bikes that everyone is desperate to possess (I am talking about the general middle class people of Manipur and hence this may not apply to the few 'high families' in the area). Dowry is definitely IN. One may not notice any incidents of 'dowry-deaths'or 'bahu-burning' as one often comes across in North India, but it has certainly become a strong factor in recent years for determining a woman's status and power in her new home. In beauty products, Aviance has replaced the once popular Avon and products like Ponds, Lakme, Spring song are no longer in the list of fashionable make-up items.

Here I want to clear up one thing - I am not in an intention to pass a moral judgement on the issue. These changes may be good or bad - I am not in the capacity to judge them. What bothers me though is the question how these youngsters could afford all these luxuries keeping in mind the underdevelopment and bankruptcy of the state?

Curiosity took the better of me and I started doing a little 'research' of my own on it. I began from a childhood friend of mine whose parents do not have a fix regular income and who, at the age of 30 and after passing the graduation is on the look out for a 'decent government job' and a 'rich husband'! She said she has two sources of income - one, she invested some amount in a private bank and she is getting regular interest from there, and two, she lends out money to a woman who sells fishes in the local market. She goes there everyday to collect the money (at the rate of Rs. 10 everyday for thirteen days if one lends out a sum of Rs. 100/- as principal, hence at 30% interest rate!)

Later I found out more about this 'private bank business'. Four years back, the number of private banks was not as high as it is at present. But nowadays, you can find them in hundreds in and outside the capital city. With few persons to employ and little space to invest, private banks, if managed wisely are very good sources of income in the state. Some such banks are also found to be running 'under cover' in many areas - meaning these banks are owned by some banned outfits and they employ people to run it on their behalf (This is an open secret in Manipur). With such 'back-ups' coming on the way, these banks hardly suffer from bankruptcy. For others, they will invite the 'Commandos' (if not some leaders of underground groups) to intervene in the borrowers fail to clear the money. The idea of complaining to the 'commandos' is completely a new development in the area. Earlier, it used to be the practice that you write the complaint in a daily paper and the 'relevant authorities' comes for your help. These commandos are usually under an S.I. of the area and the creditor has to write a formal complaint to the area S.I. and the rest will be taken care of by them. Creditors no longer shy away from using force (legal or illegal) in order to recover their money.

The second source of income my friend told me - lending out money to small business women and collecting a part of it everyday is not a new practice in the state. I have seen this many times when I accompanied granny when she was selling sarees in the khwairamband bazaar and also when she was running a dukan in konungmamang. When I told these women who were on the borrowing side that they were paying 50% interest (it was like you lend out Rs. 100 and you collect Rs. 10 everyday for 15 days then), they said it was easier since they didn't have to pay a large amount at one go . The creditor also suffers from any harm since they can take vegetables or fish instead of cash in case the borrower fail to pay.

We have heard of many deaths (suicides) in other parts of India due to debts in absence of institutionalized credit structures like banks and co-operative credit societies (From Debt to Death - Parvathi Menon in Frontline, Oct. 10, 2003). But in Manipur we haven't come across such cases in spite of the fact that informal credit system is softly 'killing' the people's capacity to return the money they had borrowed because of the high interest rates the creditors demand. The explanations that I got from the people is that even if they borrow from a co-operative bank they have to pay some percentage of the loan to the employees as commission for clearing the loans and also these are privileges enjoyed by a few of the government employees who have their own lands and other assets to declare. Even for such schemes as PMRY and Indira Awaaz Yojana, you can't get the assistance without having connections and giving commissions.

My friend, it seems, has already given some amount to a person who is very close to a minister in the hope getting a job. About the second 'hunt', her philosophy is that a rich man makes the best husband. When I reminded of some rich brats who indulge in all kinds of bad habits, she looked scared for a moment - but that did not moved her an inch from her previous belief that rich husbands are the best husbands! She even teased me for wasting time on waiting for a soul mate and declared, " You will die a spinster at that rate!" While it remains to be seen whether her word proves prophetic for my future or not, I couldn't but feel sad - because this is the typical wish of an average Manipuri girl and not just the wish of my friend alone.

Corruption, unemployment, strikes, curfews.....copying in the exam...how about that boy who was killed by some security men after taking him away from the exam hall and the other one who was enjoying a thabal holding the hand of his beloved minutes before he was killed on suspicion by the police? .....And then those security personnel's who were ambushed on the tamu-moreh junction....endless names and pictures came flaoting in front of the eye.

How the value of life has become so down...and how fast the people have been griped in the midst of temporary pleasures and luxuries...what price the future generations have to pay for all these...who will take the responsibility? I was lost in these and other thoughts when a knock interrupts me. A friend has just come to give some edibles (you can imagine what they were!) to pass on to her boyfriend who is doing PhD in Delhi. She was showing me the Honda Activa she had just bought with such pride. I was instantly under temptation - " Why shouldn't I buy a similar one from all the savings I have?"

She went away on her beautiful bike. Then I noticed something - those hunks who were sitting on the roadside were looking at the activa with so much envy and admiration.... completely ignoring my beautiful friend! Then I decided - when I go for fieldwork in June 1 will continue driving the old luna- better to have the attentions of all those handsome hunks on myself than waste them on a bike! And next time I wont be caught off-guard!




T Deepa Manjuri, is a PhD student in the prestigious Delhi School of Economics, Department of Sociology and she writes for the first time for e-pao.net
You can contact her at [email protected]

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