TODAY -

Misrepresenting reality : The case of Moreh

Symon Sangma / Wirilungbo *

 Indo-Myanmar Friendship Gate at Moreh, a border town between India and Myanmar :: 23 August 2012
Indo-Myanmar Friendship Gate at Moreh, a border town between India and Myanmar in August 2012 :: Pix - CK Sharma



When we read about exotic places to travel and visit, we are often captivated by the pictures of the far-off land with exotic people, places, and food. This is especially true concerning towns like Moreh, hidden away in the international borders. What urged us to write this piece is the abyss of disconnect between what is being told (as represented) in articles, journals, and books and the actuality (or the ground reality) we saw and experienced during our field research.

Much is written in books, travel sections of various magazines, and academic journals about Moreh. We have encountered clichés from India’s reputable newspapers, such as (from Times of India) “Moreh serves as an important trade route, and is also a commercial hub for India. Located before the India-Myanmar border, it’s a place you should visit at least once.

One of the primary highlights of this place is that its streets are lined with bustling shops that sell almost everything, and will compel you to indulge in some shopping for sure.” Or (from Outlook India) “Get a taste of Myanmar’s vibrant culture and cuisine at the Indian border town of Moreh in Manipur.”

A quick glance at India’s foreign affairs policy will suggest such a commonplace disconnect between policy declarations (that proclaim these border towns and regions to benefit from such policy directives) and the desperate ground realities in these border towns, such as alcohol and substance abuse, unemployment, lack of proper infrastructure, illegal cross-border narcotics trade, informal taxes, lack of access to central and state government schemes, lack of quality health care, education, and skill development.

On March 2023, we went to Moreh for our field research, regarding our graduate thesis, on border trade towns. We were excited about our field research trip. And before embarking upon our adventurous journey to this exotic place called Moreh, we did our background study. We read numerous academic articles on border town trade, especially concerning India’s Act East Policy and Border Trade Agreement with Myanmar.

From our experience in Moreh, what struck us the most was the utter disconnect between what we had read and what we experienced. We found, interacting with the local respondents, that most (if not all) had neither heard about nor had any knowledge about the Act East Policy. This is a surprising revelation given how the Union Government promotes Act East Policy to promote India’s relations with South East Asia.

One appropriate example is the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, connecting Moreh with Mae Sot in Thailand via Mandalay in Myanmar. This trilateral highway is purported to bring innumerable socio-economic development and benefits to the border towns like Moreh.

Ironically, the people pointed out this about the depilated market road and lack of a proper drainage system near Gate-2 in the Indo-Myanmar friendship gate. Also, take the case of India’s Border Trade Agreement with Myanmar, signed in 1994, which allows for a specific number of tradable items (23 items in the original agreement but has now been expanded to 40 items) between the two sides. But the irony, just as with Act East Policy, is that most people, especially the traders and wholesalers, are unaware of the 40 items and the number of tradable items.

In addition to the state government’s neglect, there is the proverbial lack of job opportunities for the people in Moreh, especially the graduate students. About 50% of the students (those surveyed) work in the market and run small businesses to help their families. The lack of skill and training programs is something that the youths in the town were most interested in for the state government to do to uplift the plight of the youths.

It is thus not difficult to imagine why there is a drug and other substance abuse epidemic in Moreh. Regarding other aspects of development in Moreh, a lot needs to be done by the state and the union government, given how important Moreh is purported to be for India in its view toward the South East Asia countries.

The state government of Manipur should also take an active part in taking care of the township with proper roads, strong drainage systems and security. Proper functioning and governance are essential as these are necessary to construct and maintain access to the market with appropriate road conditions. Currently, it lacks all the requirements with its poor drainage systems regularly flooding the market roads, especially during rainy seasons.

What’s more, most politicians fail to fulfill their promises, and the people continue to face the same problem with a lack of support from the government. It includes a lack of investment in the village and market areas and no scheme or funds to look after the welfare of the people.

In other aspects, people, especially students attending government schools and college, in Moreh face acute problems regarding the lack of proper classes, teachers, and infrastructure. Though these problems acutely affect their lives, people living in Moreh cannot express their views and grievances to the government.

There are plethoras of issues that we can mention. Still, for the sake of space and clarity, our main aim is to direct people’s attention, especially the people and the state government of Manipur, to the plight of its people on the border towns. Moreh has gained much attention in academic literature in the past few years.

Yet, the representative picture or the description we find in those academic journals and magazines belie the ground reality of the struggles people of Moreh go through daily.

In articles and magazines, we see Moreh represented in policy declarations and statistics about international trade and its strategic location as a border town with immense possibilities; we also see in popular magazines depictions of people smiling in their vegetable and food stalls. But Alas! If only we could see the deplorable conditions of the exotic and alluring pictures and policy declarations.

One of the most valuable lessons from our field research to Moreh is that the representation of people and places (especially about Northeast India) in popular magazines and academic journals is not always accurate.

And the most concerning ramification of such representation is that most vital policies formulated for this region and places are based on such inaccurate models of representation written by travel magazines, even reputable journalists, and academics. The question is: are we not the victims of misrepresentation?


* Symon Sangma / Wirilungbo wrote this article for e-pao.net
The wrtiers are at International Relations Graduate Program, North East Christian University, Dimapur, Nagaland
and can be contacted at symonsangma-ma21(AT)necu(DOT)ac(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on April 03 2023 .



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