Last week, the militants chose a new target -- the brick kiln workers who barely eke out an existence. Militant groups have made extortion demands even from this lot. Patsoi area on the National Highway in Imphal is usually buzzing with activity, but last week it wore a deserted look. Workers and owners of the brick kilns staged a sit-in protest in front of their brick factories. "With demands made by various militant outfits both from the hills and the valley, it's getting very difficult to work. It has become a huge burden for us. So, we have reached a stage where we are not able to run the brick field and may even go to the extent of closing the field," said Neelachandra, proprietor, KBS Brick Field.
With banners "Withdraw monetary demands from brick farms", "Don't starve labourers", "Don't pressurize brick kilns", they asked the militants to give reasons for harassment. "We try and meet the demands of our family and children. But what will happen to us if they closedown the field due to such huge demands?" said K. Deven Singh, a labourer.
Sixty brick kiln fields have been affected by the shutdown. As a result, more than two hundred daily wage earners are stranded with no sources of income. "Extortion has reached a very disturbing level. There is nobody in the state who is not paying money to some group or the other. Even the government servants are being forces to pay " said Anil Bhatt, a Northeast expert.
Where can the common people go for help?
Some villagers have expressed the desire to take up arms to take on militants. Some have formed civil society groups to boycott nefarious elements.
Some have started programmes to make people aware that by giving shelter to such elements they are harming the larger and long-term interests of the state.