A Bandh or Blockade, Please

As the social stigma and discrimination along with harassment continue unabated, the drivers have resolved to take off their hands from the steering wheels now. For a moment let us try to imagine what must have been for our drivers who have had to navigate the rough terrain of highways.

Yes, we are all afraid of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is yet to find a vaccine. This pervasive fear seems to have eaten deep into our vitals, even fooling the brain we have in our heads.

It makes us fear the doctors and health professionals who are taking care of the sick and the drivers who are bringing in goods, including essential supplies daily facing immense hardships along the national and state highways. We seem to have forgotten that the truck drivers are the real frontline warriors who are working with a strong commitment and sense of duty, despite the risks involved in plying the highways to other states to bring essential supplies for the people and the state. Let us not forget that Manipur is a landlocked state and mostly dependent on supplies brought in from outside the state.

Instead of celebrating their selfless sacrifice and commitment, we are looking upon them as virus carriers. As the social stigma and discrimination along with harassment continue unabated, the drivers have resolved to take off their hands from the steering wheels now. For a moment let us try to imagine what must have been for our drivers who have had to navigate the rough terrain of highways filled with potholes and slush for hours together, braving the weather with nowhere to dock on the highways as they are not welcome anywhere. Add to that the sorry state of affairs at the Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT) in Imphal near Khuman Lampak Stadium, where they have to jostle again for parking spaces amid the potholes and slush, and lastly a hostile attitude from friends and in their respective localities. The ISBT is a transit destination for almost all trucks ferrying essential goods and the facility also serves as a resting place for drivers from their long journey.

If these drivers stop ferrying goods and essential supplies, including food and medicine on the highways, who suffers. Let us remember the days of indefinite bandhs and economic blockades on the highways of Manipur, when groups of all hue resort to such tactics even at the drop of a hat.

While the general population had to face immense hardships and suffer, prices of essential items spiral away to the sky as hoarders reap profit. Now, those days are gone, thanks to the efforts of the state government. What we must try to understand is that, if the drivers refuse to ply on the highways, we are certainly going to face a bandh or blockade like situation in the state, amidst the dangers of the pandemic. It would simply be a double jeopardy, this time brought upon us by ourselves. Do we have to spell it out? For lack of a nomenclature like bandh or economic blockade, we are not seeing what lies ahead if the drivers stop work. Or are we missing the days of bandhs and blockades, when children played cricket on the streets. For that matter, should we ask the All Manipur Road Transport Drivers and Motor Workers Union to change the nomenclature of their strike either as bandh or economic blockade instead of Steering Down strike?

First Published:Aug. 20, 2020, 7:48 a.m.