In North East India, National Holidays mean ‘Curfew’.
Effective from 6 p.m. today evening, Manipur and majority of India’s North East go into a state of curfew for more than 24 hours. On 25th January as the country is gearing up for the celebrations attending Republic Day, the 62ndanniversary of the nation adopting its own constitution, the North East descends into the gloom and oppression of a police state. “Ever since my childhood, I thought Independence Day and Republic day are holidays meant to be spent inside the house watching television,” says Mercy Kamei, a firebrand human rights activist and IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent from Imphal, Manipur.
Every year on the eve of the two national holidays, the insurgents declare a bandh and the government reacts with a curfew and by heavily militarizing even the civilian areas. According to Mercy, it is impossible for the people to venture outdoors without being frisked. The streets are deserted and only the casualty wings of the hospitals are allowed to remain open. Mercy remarks that more than fear the deathly silence of a town in curfew on the eve of joyous celebration confuses and disillusions the people.
“There is something offensive about the way the police regard you as a suspect on the very days that the country got its freedom and its constitution respectively,” says Mercy.
The National Holiday curfew has become an age old routine in the North East. Only VIPs and other dignitaries get to hoist the flag and attend the parade while the common people are anxiously holed up inside their homes.
A violent riot in Guwahati Assam in 1968 on the eve of Independence day set the precedent for this biannual ritual. There have been no major instance of violence since but the cycle has remained. The insurgents declare bandh and the security forces come in with their guns and barricades. The people are shuffled between the two and are increasingly growing dissatisfied with the banal tableaux.
“These days a few corner shops stay open,” says Mercy, “They need their daily income to support themselves. And it gives the people a chance to go outside and stretch their legs. It doesn’t exactly feel like being a citizen of a independent democratic republic but it is certainly better than sitting home and watching t.v.”