MAPC feels that a high-level committee comprising of state and central government officials must be constituted to study why villagers are engaged with poppy cultivation in the first place.
Statement issued by Manipur Against Poppy Cultivation (MAPC)
Manipur Against Poppy Cultivation (MAPC) is a movement initiated by scholars, social and political thinkers, change agents, youths, and legal luminaries who unceasingly apply their knowledge and intellect for a better Manipur.
The menace of drugs and poppy cultivation has besieged the state of Manipur for a long time, and we as a community of intellectuals feel this is a very important issue that needs a multi-pronged approach. In addition to the CSOs and NGOs working on the same issue even before the incumbent government led by N Biren Singh was in power in the state, the state government had also declared war on drugs. The fight to eliminate the menace of drugs and poppy cultivation is going on in full force.
As a group that understands the problem from the perspective of the downtrodden and marginalized cultivators, we intend to wean them away from the menace of poppy and would be exploring ways to provide alternatives either with the help of the state government or central government or with the NGOs working closely with these people. We consider this fight to eradicate poppy as a peoples’ fight and therefore, the question we posed to ourselves is: Why should the Chief Minister of Manipur fight the war against social ills that have the potential to destroy the society in Manipur, particularly the hill people. However, there are a few critical issues that we would like to bring to people’s kind attention.
Current rhetoric on social media
- The current rhetoric on social media and a few official communications on the issue of poppy cultivation has been perceived as communal by many from within the Kuki community. This is one crucial element, the state government must rectify on their own or they may be directed by the central higher authority to refrain from divisive and community-blaming tactics. The one thing that cannot be tolerated is someone lecturing a community and blaming a community as a whole. Not all tribal population including Kukis and Nagas are poppy cultivators. In fact, many intellectuals in the tribal community have always been against poppy cultivation for years because they cannot provide an alternative livelihood to the poor villagers. They could only put moral pressure and create awareness. The tribal intellectuals had used the case study of the Konyak tribe and the ill effects poppy cultivation has on the whole tribe to drive home the point. The Konyak community in Nagaland was once the most advanced community in Northeast India and Indo-Burma region in the middle of the 1800s. But their fall from greatness started with the advent of the British and poppy cultivation. It is said that poppy cultivation and consumption was introduced by the British since they could not take on the mighty Konyak Nagas in warfare. While working amongst the Kukis, we tried our utmost to make the common village folks understand that not everything, the Chief Minister N Biren Singh says about poppy has to be interpreted as communal. However, when he chastises the poppy growers, he might as well be conservative in his choice of words so that rumour mongers do not paint him or his words as communal. If there are instances of such rhetoric coloured in communal words and tones, tensions are bound to rise and it could hamper good governance.
Constitute a high-level committee
- We would like all concerned authorities to kindly constitute a high-level committee comprising of state and central government officials to study why villagers started poppy cultivation in the first place. There were hardly any poppy fields 25 to 30 years back in the hills of Manipur. Our preliminary study points to the fact that neglect, bad governance or lack of governance in the hills could be the biggest reason driving ordinary cultivators to start planting poppies to generate revenue. The hill people are mostly Christians and poppy cultivation goes against their belief and value system. Instead of blaming the poor who sees poppy as a cash crop for sustenance and survival and using only threats, can we prepare a strategic plan to provide alternative livelihood avenues? We will be more than ready to assist in any way possible.
Cooperative community approach
- The War on Drugs led by the Chief Minister N Biren Singh aims to completely wipe out the scourge of poppy cultivation which is well-received by all sections of society. However, there seems to be confusion in attributing all manner of deforestation, siltation of rivers and Loktak Lake, dipping water tables, and drying up of natural springs in the hills to poppy cultivation. Jhoom cultivation is often overlooked and this problem also needs to be tackled in a very sensitive manner as it is a way of life for the hill tribes. The better approach would be a cooperative community approach. The law and law enforcement agencies should work for the people and their well-being and also tackle the problem in consultation with community leaders and the village chiefs rather than use the threat of collective punishment which seems to be the approach now. Rewarding chiefs who can ensure 100% free poppy village and assigning punishment and legal action against specific cultivators rather than using threats of arrest of Kuki Chiefs for the act of villagers should be a better strategy than the one adopted now. Collective punishments or blaming the chiefs for all poppy cultivation could backfire. When the Home Ministry has left no stone unturned to rehabilitate even extremists and insurgents through various means, we believe there must be a way to rehabilitate these cultivators as well. Had Prime Minister Narendra Modi adopted collective punishment for open defecation and Swaach Bharat, do you think it will garner that kind of support and goodwill? N Biren Singh must be given the support to provide alternative livelihood to poppy cultivators. All said and done, the action against poppy cultivation especially over new fields must be taken at the earliest but it should be as per the law of the land.
Approved licensed legal farms
- In our study, we have come across a few government approved licensed legal farms in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. If that is so, can the central government in consultation with the state authorities explore such approach as one of the many options? The pertinent point being raised here is whether or not we can allow a few cultivators to legally grow the same in a few designated places for medicinal/anaesthetic purposes. This is left to the wisdom of the government authorities and the people to see the feasibility of the proposed idea.
Powers to agencies to act against drug dealers
- Grant appropriate powers to agencies to act against drug dealers and middlemen who are the critical component in the supply chain. The tribal population and the Kukis in particular would support the legitimate fight against drugs and illegal poppy cultivation provided they are not made to stomach insults and community disparaging comments for illegal acts committed by a few of their own tribesmen. It is not only one community that is engaging in this cultivation. The government must stop the buyers first, when the market for poppies no longer remains viable. Why would these poor villagers grow poppies that they do not consume? Policy related to poppy plantation should factor in the fact that as long as demand exists, gullible and destitute hill-people will fall victims to this easier form of cultivation and be preyed upon by the buyers from anywhere.
Public discourse, not cyber-bullying online
- The government of the day must also raise the level of public discourse to a higher level and fight cyber-bullying online. Even on social media platforms, the conversations and response even from government social media accounts and handles seem to begin with a blame game. We would like the level of response made on the Chief Minister’s Facebook page to be more statesman-like. The tribals and the Kuki community do not endorse poppy cultivation or consumption and support the government in its effort to do away with poppy and other illegal drugs detrimental to the growth of Manipuri society at large. We were elated with the Chief Minister’s New Year wishes and were very hopeful for a fresh start to the year 2023. However, the mood is dampened once you go through the responses on Facebook account of the Chief Minister or the CM’s official handler’s page. The person in question uses very blunt language which is crude and unpolished, every Kuki who raises an issue is called a poppy grower! Please direct the official social media handlers to raise their arguments and responses away from blame game and agree on fighting the menace together. And threats must immediately cease, it does not affect us nor scare the public because we unfortunately are in the same team as the Chief Minister on this. Most intellectuals and bureaucrats amongst the tribal population and especially Kukis are against poppy plantation more than the Chief Minister himself because we know it will have a negative generational impact. The cultivators are not drug peddlers and they are not the typical Colombian drug lords, they are desperate-poor-illiterate farmers more than ready to stop the cultivation of poppies with a little help from the government. This does not mean we support their actions but we understand their plight and empathise with them. If anyone breaks the law, we are a society based on the law. Take appropriate legal action and use the legitimate police force, but stop this threat from the state government. Take action. We are very supportive of the chief minister’s initiative on health, education and prohibition of drugs but cannot stomach the rhetoric. Corruption, nepotism and lack of opportunity are equally responsible for the desperate state of affairs in the hills of Manipur. We need to tackle our problems together. The CM in his address talks of unity and appreciates the initiative taken by the hill people to wean away the cultivators from poppy cultivation while the Facebook or social media handle engages with the citizens a bit differently. This is not desirable. Can the Chief Minister’s media team be directed to look into this?
Encourage humane approach
- The Chief Minister’s recent meeting with authorities on this issue where he proposed to tackle the problem in a more humane manner is a very encouraging and well-thought-out strategy. We are with him if the approach to our problems is driven by concern for the people and sustainability. The carrot and stick policy is the government’s prerogative but of late we were approaching the poppy problem with more stick. May the meeting bear good results! However, care must be taken to stop loose-talks from diverting us from the real issues. Poppy is cultivated in almost all hill areas irrespective of tribes and therefore, it should be given the integrated approach that the government talks about and should not let armchair social media warriors sow seeds of enmity and discord when the topic of poppy is discussed. The supply chain must be disrupted. Kindly make plans to arrest the wholesale buyers who are based in the foothills or valleys. We are for a better Manipuri society and drugs cannot be condoned, not only is it illegal but it is also poisoning our society – be it the hill people or the valley. The state government’s proposal to provide alternative and sustainable farming to poppy cultivators and introduce high-value plantations and horticulture in the hills are a welcome step. All these plans will require additional financial support from the central government, we urge the central government to provide necessary assistance. The issue of poppy cultivation if not handled well could spin out of control and split the hills and valley on the issue. The Centre should instruct the administration to tackle the issue with the sensitivity it requires.
(Issued in public interest by P Chongloui (Lenn), President (MAPC); Dr George T Haokip, General Secy. (MAPC) and Victor Chongtham (advisor-legal, (MAPC)