“Bypasses are devices that allow some people to dash from point A to point B very fast while other people dash from point B to point A very fast. People living at point C, being a point directly in between, are often given to wonder what’s so great about point A that so many people from point B are so keen to get there, and what’s so great about point B that so many people from point A are so keen to get there. They often wish that people would just once and for all work out where the hell they wanted to be.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I wonder what Adams would have written if he had lived in the Northeast. Would the lines above have been worded differently? Maybe. But even the genius that is Douglas Adams would have conceded that a bypass, a highway, is much more than just “devices”.

As I write this, Mizoram is once again facing the prospect of a shortage of essential supplies following protests as people who feel wronged block the National Highway. Which, on their part, is an extremely smart move. If Mizoram is a body, the National Highway is the artery that feeds blood to the heart, so it is only fair that people block the highway. Mizoram is crippled every time the highway is targeted: If you hit where it hurts most, people will pay attention. The issue? In short, landowners feel they have not been compensated, or compensated adequately, for the land they stand to lose when the National Highway is widened. To know more, read about it here. Had this protest remained at a village level, maybe we wouldn’t have even heard about it. But come to the Highway, and we are all ears. This is certainly not the first time the Highway blockade has hurt Mizoram, and it certainly will not be the last. In 2021, protesters in Assam blocked the highway to Mizoram following the deadly clash at the Assam-Mizoram border which left six Assam Police dead. The result? An entire state rationing petrol and diesel sale

Mind you, this is not just a Mizoram problem. Earlier this week, the All Manipur Tribals Development Grievances Forum (AMTDGF) threatened an economic blockade of the national highways, starting Thursday. Reason? The tribal forum accused the state government of misappropriation of Rs 756 crore of MGNREGS funds meant for hill districts and declared imposition of the indefinite economic blockade along National Highways 2 (Imphal-Dimapur) and 37 (Imphal-Jiribam). Why block a Highway when the demand is for the misappropriation of government funds? Because, within a day, the government paid heed. Sure, six members of the Forum were detained, but by Friday, the protests had been called off because the government promised to look into the issue and ensure the disbursal of MGNREGA funds to all 16 districts.

And oh, there is Tripura, too. Like Mizoram, one Highway can make or break Tripura’s day, week, or month. So, like those in Mizoram and Manipur, here too, if you want to be heard, you know what to do: block the Highway. In this case, it is the Deprived Returnees Movement Committee (DRMC), an umbrella body of surrendered militants in Tripura. DRMC has threatened to indefinitely blockade National Highway 8 from November 5 unless the government provided them with livelihood and sustenance assistance. By October end, two more groups of former militants had made a similar threat. 

We now live in a society where protests, bandhs and blockades are seen as inconveniences. Let us not forget, successive blockades and bandhs in the 2000s, mostly for absolutely valid reasons, had crippled the region, especially states like Manipur. But, what options do those protesters have? Are they supposed to keep mum, hoping that their problems simply vanish? A culture of protests is not absolute in itself: it seeks to learn from its mistakes, as much as it seeks to learn from others. We saw how Delhi had to suffer because of farmers’ protests, and the blocking of the Singhu border, and yet, today, the farm laws stand withdrawn because of the people who did not back out. In the Northeast, where the government can be absent at worst, and apathetic at best, those who feel aggrieved have every right to hit the spot which leaves those in power with no option but to pay attention. Do I wish people spare the National Highways, which is the (unfortunate) lifeline of all these states? Yes. My inconvenience should not mean someone else must pay too. But then, in a region where just one road can mean so much, protest 101 tells us: go for the kill. 

Also Read | Dear Meghalaya youths, a helpless worker is not blocking your road to employment

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