Indian traders and civil society organisations located at Moreh, the border town of Manipur, have started expressing their concerns over the protracted “sealing of the Manipur-Myanmar border,” thereby driving thousands of small time traders out of work. The sealing of the International Border was announced on March 9, 2021 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials feared that the free entry of the people from the other side of the International Border would aggravate the situation.
Indefinite ban on free movement of Myanmar nationals hits border trade; affects livelihood of thousands of villagers
In the past, there was an exodus and majority of the displaced persons had entered India through Manipur and Mizoram. In order to check the unrestricted influx, the Union government sealed the International Border along the Northeast on March 9. Officials said that the seal off in Manipur became effective from March 10, 2021.
Highly placed sources said the security forces felt that the pro-democratic groups and the armed militias in Myanmar may be pushed into India. During the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, several activists fled the country and many student leaders, professionals including a health officer entered Manipur through Moreh town. They were lodged in a tin roofed facility near the International Border. But Myanmar intelligence officials who entered Moreh in the masquerade of “traders” shouted at the inmates to return home failing which their family members will face the music. Officials in Manipur feared that there may be a commandos rescue bid or bloodshed. So all the refugees were shifted to another camp located inside the 8 Manipur Rifles battalion at Leikhun in Chandel district. In due course, most of the displaced persons deserted the camp.
L. Brojendro, a fomer correspondent of a news agency and now general secretary of Meitei Council Moreh, a CSO told The Hindu that initially a large number of traders and businessmen were left in the lurch as the international gates I and II were shut down. After the military crackdown, the international market at Namphalong just across the international gate No. 2 was closed down. Though the military rulers instructed some traders to reopen the market reports say that the activists of the People’s Democratic Front are against it.
On July 5 this year, two Tamil traders from Moreh who had gone to Myanmar to attend a birthday celebration of a friend were gunned down. So far, the killers are still at large and the bereaved families do not know the motive behind the crime. But the incident had sent a warning and Indian traders are not venturing into Myanmar. Police and security forces are advising the Indian traders not to cross the border. Assam Rifles sources said that since there is a border seal-off even consumer items and other domestic uses should not be brought from across the International Border. There have been reports of huge seizures including anti-mosquito coils, canned fish, chicken and other items.
Mr. Brojendro said, “There is no ban on the Myanmar nationals from entering Moreh and doing the normal trade related works. Some of them have occupied the empty shops at Namphalong to sell their goods”. A woman trader from Manipur said, “Now, we have started getting all kinds of goods including consumer items at Moreh since over 500 Myanmar traders bring the same every morning without let or hindrance. The only hitch is that because of the changed scenario everything has become costlier.”
An elderly Indian businessman in Moreh said, “ The business is back to a square one. Before the 1995 legalisation of border trade between India and Myanmar the traders from across the border used to bring all items in baskets of different shapes and sizes to Moreh. They walked a long distance in the mountain bridle path”. The Indian traders, mostly south Indians, bought the items in the morning and sold the same a little costlier in the evening market to the small time women traders coming from Imphal.
Though there are trade restrictions and the International Border is sealed off, narcotics drugs, gold bars, electronic gadgets are brought towards Imphal. Police, Assam Rifles, Narcotics and Affairs of Border have been seizing huge quantities of drugs on daily basis. Police say that there is avoidable delay in prosecuting these drug offenders since in the absence of drug testing kits, the officials cannot establish that the seized items are drugs.
Manipur town bordering Myanmar emerges smuggling hotspot
Indications are that as long as there is turmoil and political instability in Myanmar the International Border may remain technically sealed off and India will lose hefty revenue from the legalised trade. And the Manipur government was recently allowed to set up 34 police stations along the border in addition to the existing police stations and camps of the security forces. This is intended to beef up security along the border to check infiltration of persons badgered by the Mynmar military.