Of the very few professions in Manipur which have gained a good measure of autonomy, the medical profession would probably be on top. This profession is prestigious as part of the government establishment, but it does not lose its shine even outside the government. So many doctors not attached to, and hence not drawing a salary from the government, have been able to establish lucrative private practices no less purposeful to the cause of a general uplift of health security of the society. Regardless of all the many controversies over government doctors allegedly neglecting their public duties, taking it for granted as in all other government services that they get nothing more for doing more, and equally, nothing less for doing less, and regardless of this and many other charges, including the general perception that many of them divert too much of their time and attention to their private practices at the cost of their official duties, this accolade must still remain with them. After all, these tendencies are in many ways a manifestation of weak government policies which have no appropriate incentives or deterrents strong enough to make employees of all classes stick to prescribed work cultures and norms. Moreover, there are now doctors who are confident enough to consider a service outside of the government as a real and independent career option, and many of them are doing exceedingly well doing just this. Whatever the size of the extra income those in this profession make, whatever the technical illegalities of the way they are doing it, it still remains that they have improved a very vital service immensely. From toothache to heartburn, you at least know there is help not too far away.
There is another profession which we wish would show a similar growth trajectory – engineering. In stark contrast to doctors, engineers do well as government employees, but have not been able to acquire the autonomy of the former. The nature of the skills as well as the services are of course very different, and perhaps it is because health needs are much more fundamental that the medical profession have a much higher market value in a rudimentary market that Manipur is at the moment. But even if meaningful engineering jobs are for the moment to be restricted within the government fold, we wish the wealth of skills these professionals command begin to manifest in their works too. Sadly, this has not been a reality. Is it because they are not being given the creative space, or is it because, as some have suggested, the job has been reduced to the status of “technical clerk”? But who will argue that no other than engineers will have to be the engine in the enterprise of pushing the frontiers of “development”? Which perhaps is why, many have pointed out, so much emphasis is given to this profession in say fast growing states like Tamil Nadu which has 256 engineering colleges, Andhra Pradesh which has 236, Maharashtra 115, Karnataka 118, West Bengal 54 among others. Manipur has none worth the name and Assam has only three. Growth in terms of productivity as well as prestige of the engineering profession would hence be an index of the confidence level of the larger society as such.
Perhaps it works in a hierarchy. Our society is still not able to take certain basic securities for granted hence the predominant place a basic professional service like the health sector occupies in the eyes of the public. Engineering, education etc, would form the next rung in this hierarchy, but this is not the end. Once these securities too have been taken care of, the sophistication of professions will climb to other levels, and at the apex perhaps would be professions such as fine artists, poets and creative writers etc. That will be the time paintings local artists and books by local writers will begin to be sought, making these professions self-sustainable, in the process enriching the arts and literature of the place. It is not for nothing that societies which have reached this level of professional sophistication, producing grand works of art and literature are considered as hallmark of civilization. It is unfortunately that modern Manipur, caught in its craze for the artificial security of government jobs, is still struggling get its basic professions productive and be the catalysts of newer and more abstract professional pursuits which would secure it its place as a unique modern civilization. If in a past era it has done well in this regard, in the modern epoch, it is unfortunate it still finds itself somewhat rootless.