Laymen view on nationwide lockdown and airlifting betel leaves

Mamta Lukram *

 Huge consignment of betel leaves seized at  Bir Tikendrajit International Airport, Imphal :: April 04 2020
Huge consignment of betel leaves seized at Imphal International Airport on April 04 2020 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

Airlifting huge amount of betel leaves (kwa mana), for the state of Manipur during a period of nationwide lockdown due to global crisis of COVID 19, has a tale to tell. The inherent lifting up of betel leaf’s importance above essential commodities is in common parlance, a trade monopoly, which could be termed as imperialistic in nature.

The coherent explanation behind the trade is systematic exploitation through slow self-gratifying means like intoxication and addiction. These have been proven disastrous and effective, which are strategies as employed for invasion and expansion of imperialism.

The story of opium war in history of China could be cited as an instance. Apprehension of parallel similar threat could be smelt out from the very act of airlifting betel leaf in special flight during the fight against pandemic COVID 19.

In a small state of Northeast India like Manipur, which is frequented as socio-economically backward in the policy framework of the country, panic stricken was the whole community when the first case of COVID 19 was confirmed.

Panicky response made the situation more chaotic where communities did even barricade themselves by fencing at the entrance of the localities. They didn’t stress much on how such acts could jeopardize essential/emergency services.

Several civic bodies sets honest request to the people, the need for opening the locality gates and fencing and clearing up ways for speedy movement of the emergency service.

As a follow up causal effect, sense of dejection and distrust filled the atmosphere. Some predicted about side effects of social distrust that would be left behind even after war against corona. Structural changes is expected in a state like Manipur, which is marked by strong community life,

Precautionary measures of 21 days nationwide lock down started from 25th April 2020 is strictly followed in the state too, later extended upto 3rd May 2020. The sudden lock down have left many unprepared and striving for the access to essential basic commodities.

The psychological insecurity in moving out to seek for livelihood, worsen by the legal implementation of restricted public movements, transformed the lives of many thousands into nightmare. Artificial scarcity highlights as the social trend during the difficult times.

Panic buying by rich with higher purchasing power incapacitated the mass poor. The rich and the poor become more streamlined in the society based on purchasing power parity (PPP).

Social distancing got approved as the most effective preventive measure to safeguard the collective welfare. People are to stay back at home for each one’s safety in the community. Violators of the restrictions are imposed of penalties. Inaccessibility of essential commodities due to systemic failure hit hard everywhere.

Distress due to possible running out of stock many essential items including pharmaceuticals lately become common concerns. Critiques of loopholes in the emergency lockdown for lack of some appropriate regulatory or preparatory mechanisms were also pointed out as major threshold.

Nevertheless, everyone appreciate the move as the immediate response to the pandemic. Following and supporting lockdown guidelines evolved as gestures of responsible citizen.

Prohibiting vehicular movements along the two National Highways which is better termed as ‘lifeline’ bear correlations with public grievances. These are routes through which major movements of goods and tariffs for supply chain takes place.

The dependent economy of the state sustained through the support system of import activities. Closure of these routes heightened the sense of assured shortage which will eventually lead to scarcity of basic commodities.

The global pandemic on one hand, and the question of state’s preparedness to combat it on the other hand poised as the challenge in the public ethos. Government authorities took up alternative arrangement of airlifting cargo to tackle the urgency situation. Special flights are arranged for procuring items of basic needs. Flights later become the only reliable source for sustenance.

Despite the authorities appeal to stay calm and refrain from panic buying, hoarding by rich people persisted. Assurances from government to provide essential items were paid no heed. Contestation over scarce resources continues, where well-off families enjoying all privileges.

Karl Marx’s prism of economic analysis stating poverty not due to scarcity of resources but due to unequal distribution of wealth was doubtless proven during the lockdown in the state. Social setting crumbled and people strived to sustain in as simplified ways as they can. If socio-economic theories could ever be contextualizing in contemporary situations, days of social emergency like today will be suitable example.

Meanwhile, when the whole world is fighting against the spread of dreadful disease, a bizarre incident happened in Manipur. On 4th April 2020, it is reported that Imphal Airport received huge consignment of betel leaf weighing around 6500 kg, through special flight service amidst lockdown. The import was criticize of being senselessness in response to the situation.

Profit seeking is business ethics and looking for venture that could maximize profits sometimes overruled all odds. Whatever may be the legal bindings behind the business to support it as an act of personal business liberty, however the underpinning logic is the level of demand that instigate a business to muster courage of hiring private flights to ferry betel leaf during catastrophic stand.

The socio-economic or legal explanations being added for this act may provide multi-layered meaning, however hardly satisfactory could be the people with this way of business. Nevertheless, before pointing fingers on others we do need to self-introspect our real stand.

How deep has the imperialistic trade monopoly of tobacco pan-eating culture rooted in our society?

Isn’t consideration of betel leaf as one most profitable item of trade, an indication of social intoxication? When price of rice shoots up Rs 50 p/kg, the whole society raises voice, when Zarda (tobacco) pan being sold Rs 40 p/piece is considered normalcy as part of the struggle.

* Mamta Lukram wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on April 26 2020.

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