The gutting down of the heritage building housing the KJP Girls’ Higher Secondary School at Mission Compound is a matter of shame and regret for all of us. Not only that the fire could perhaps have been prevented, but the fact that the building could not be saved even when frantic calls were made to the Police hours before the building took down other heritage structures, before finally turning everything into ashes, calls for some serious introspection.
We have already lost too many heritage buildings and some precious lives to fire incidents in the past, and in most cases the police/fire-fighters are just helpless as it is impossible for their fire trucks to reach most of these areas due to the narrow roads and haphazard on-road parking that is a humungous problem for anyone to solve. We all dread to imagine as to what would happen if any major fire incident breaks out in congested localities of Shillong in localities with narrow roads and undisciplined residents and car owners/drivers. Perhaps the police department need to rethink on their strategy and to see if other unconventional measures can be undertaken to prevent or rather to be more prepared for any future eventualities.
Considering that the majority of areas and localities in and around Shillong are unreachable for their fire trucks, perhaps it is time that the department and the government considers engaging helicopters in fighting fire incidents in the city. I believe it is not such an illogical idea to use helicopters to spray water or other flame retardants on such buildings, considering that with the available technology this can be done strategically. Such fire extinguishers can be dropped with pinpoint accuracy. This will go a long way in saving precious lives and averting massive damage and loss to properties.
Another step that needs some serious pondering is the disaster management strategy. What we have learnt from this incident is that those young hostellers were calling their families during those wee hours narrating about the fire engulfing their school while some of them were crying for their parents to come and get them away from the scene. If things are allowed to go on like this, it might lead to panic reactions from family members, which again is another recipe for more disaster.
We all appreciate and acknowledge the quick and responsible responses and reactions from the residents of Mission Compound during this incident which is why the girls were in a much better state and situation than what it would have been without the intervention. Perhaps their actions in that very crucial hour have saved lives and prevented trauma whose impact we will never know, but I believe the State or District Disaster Management team need more coordination with the local Dorbars and to impart more training and disaster management skills. During such situations, it would have been much better if a team of callers is involved to speak to parents and families of the victims, where they would be professionally informed about the incident while assuring them of the safety of their wards. This will prevent panic reactions while at the same time assuring the victims that they have help and assistance in the situation. For this to happen, we need well-coordinated efforts from all ends, which can only be ensured if members of the localities are regularly trained and reminded of the do’s and don’ts during such incidents.
I believe these are not overstretched ideas or suggestions, even as I appreciate the efforts put in by the Police Department, the Disaster Management team and particularly the Dorbar Shnong Mission Compound in this case.
Wanshan B Khardewsaw
Final solution to the tribal question in Manipur
There was no Pulitzer Prize winning photographer to capture the moment, when three tribal daily wage labourers were left to die by their executioners on Imphal’s airport road on the May 4, last. One of them had his feet shackled to a stone boulder, giving him no room to fight for his life, offered to the mercy of incoming heavy vehicles and the dark crows of Imphal that feasted on that fateful day.
Similar to the tribal cause in Manipur, after being sent off for post-mortem, the light of Lazarus shone on him. However his other two companions who were crucified on the asphalt of National Highway No.2 met an end for having names that were an ‘outsider’ to the populace of the State’s capital.
Manipur, in a span of 8 years, from 2015 when the so- called government introduced three Anti-Tribal Bills, to the current debacle reflects the alacrity at which the state’s social fabric has been torn and torched and how it progressed from burning legislators homes to a full-fledged communal showdown.
Toxicity has filled the minds of men who can think and reason, that one community’s version of peace and harmony differs from that of another and in this vicious cycle, when the adhesive charm of illusive peace fades, another communal violence erupts. Will this cycle ever end?
There are lessons galore in the neighbouring states where the tribals enjoy constitutional provisions and statutory protection. In the case of Manipur, the Hills Areas Committee has unanimously passed “Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill, 2021,” to be tabled in the State legislature. It is a Bill to grant more financial and legislative autonomy to the District Councils (in the absence of the 6th Schedule) an aim to bring regional parity and accelerate development.
The reaction of the state government to the Bill was predictable. Moreover, elections to the district councils had lapsed since November 2020, predating the State’s Legislative Assembly election in 2022. Data and numbers are the only sane voices in these troubling times. One would wonder how the King of Manipur managed the tribals in the days of yore.
Ten members from Manipur’s State Legislature that represent constituency from the Chin-Kuki-Mizo-Zomi-Hmar areas has demanded a separate administration, which resonates well with the aspirations of the tribals. However, the Imphal based organizations have insisted upon ‘Territorial Integrity” of Manipur and so does the Chief Minister of the state.
India that is Bharat is made up of an indestructible union of destructible states and as such state boundaries are drawn for administrative convenience. In the bygone days of Manipur State Darbar, the hills were directly governed by colonial officers and hills house tax was paid to them. The mechanism of integration post-Independence has arbitrarily tried to include the hill areas by means of representation in the Parliament as “Outer Manipur” and a constitutional protection in the form of an insipid Article 371C.
The ludicrous wet dreams of majoritarian legislators’ claim to “territorial integrity” is geographically limited to the fiefdom of the past king of Manipur, as his suzerainty never extended to the hills of Manipur. This was how the King managed the tribals, in peaceful co-existence. Thus, peace had existed in two domains and now for peace to sustain, a separate administration may be the only answer for the Final Solution to the Tribal Question in Manipur.