Imphal: Binasakhi is busy these days. No, it’s not with household chores, but this housewife in Manipur capital is occupied because of the economic blockade — she is selling petrol at a premium from her roadside stall.
“Every time there is a general strike or a blockade, I can earn about Rs 1,000 per day,” Binasakhi, 45, said as she sold petrol to a motorist.
Economic blockade is like a perennial curse for people in Manipur who reel under the crippling effects of such agitation. This time, it’s the joint committee of tribal groups that has called for the 10-day blockade. The result has been on the expected lines — prices of the commodities have skyrocketed as panic buying continued. Petrol and diesel have become a luxury, as the fuel stations remain closed.
So how could Binasakhi source petrol?
It’s an open secret here. Whenever there is a blockade or strike in Manipur, hundreds of women like Binasakhi team up with certain fuel station employees who provide petrol and diesel for an additional charge of Rs 10 to Rs 15 per litre. The fuel is collected in jerrycans and bottles by these women. And then the housewives use their entrepreneurial skills to sell petrol and diesel by jacking up the prices by another Rs 10 or Rs 15 depending on the demand.
“The police don’t trouble us even though we sit on the roadside under umbrellas to sell petrol and diesel,” said Nungshibi, 40, who is one among the many women who are the only options for motorists to source fuel at such times of crisis.
“We just run away in case the jerrycans catch fire due to some accident. Otherwise, it’s all fine here,” she said.
Locals here know that these enterprising women are in reality helping to keep the wheels turning. Or else, life would have been even more miserable in a state which often gets cut off from the rest of the country due to strikes and blockades.
But what happens if the blockade or the strike continues for months?
“In such a situation, the male members of the families source low grade fuel from Myanmar, about 110 kilometres from Imphal. They travel there with scores of jerrycans to collect petrol and diesel,” said a local.
And so this story of unofficial fuel supply chain continues even as people of Manipur brave yet another blockade that has been called to protest against three “anti-tribal” bills passed by the Assembly in 2015.