Village, Waste and Life: A Visual Perspective of Rural Manipur?

Waste of all kinds is now a big menace in the village ecosystem of Manipur. The state of Manipur is considered one of the most underdeveloped states of India, but being a global periphery, it has become one of the dumping yards for the global market. As global consumerism invades the village world, there has been excessive production of non-biodegradable solid waste from village households. With the rupture of the traditional waste disposal mechanism and the lack of a proper management system, waste invades the natural environment. The wastes are carried down further through the rivers to dump into the Loktak lake. Instead of taking up proper plans to manage the wastes, the state-imposed restrictions on the activities in and around the lake; dispossess the livelihood of the small fishing community that thrives in the lake.


Looking back in history, the village in Manipur presents a unique sense of timelessness and continuity. It is believed that the idea itself is sacrosanct as village denotes the purest form of cultures and norms of society. But the rapid transformation of the village to towns and cities is happening at the cost of losing the already existing traditional norms of living symbiotically with nature. The highly eulogised idea of development is darkened when the ramifications of the development are perpetuated otherwise. The advancement of technology and the propagation of neo-liberalism also brought fundamental changes in the village ecosystem. The increasing spread of the consumer culture in the global periphery has larger implications in the ecology as well as the environment. The damage in the environmental system puts immense pressure on the social and political life of people directly as well as indirectly. The Swachh Bharat Mission launched by the Indian government that aims to keep the environment clean and safe is still far from meeting its expectation. This photo essay attempts to give a bitter treat to the development discourse of India by exploring one of the major issues of household solid waste management and its larger implications to the environment and village lifeworld in Manipur.


Solid waste deposit at the backyard of a house

The idea of depositing solid waste in the backyard of a house by making a small pit is an age-old practice in Manipur. The idea of dumping solid waste in the backyard promotes an environment-friendly output as the decomposed organic matter from the pit are extracted from time to time and utilised as organic fertiliser in the cultivation of crops. But the introduction of plastic and other non-degradable waste has destroyed the age-old practice as they are not easily assimilated in the soil. Non-decomposable waste continues to ravage the villages in Manipur as there has been a widespread proliferation of the same due to the lack of proper mechanism of the waste disposal system. The traditional practice of dumping in the backyard of the house is also increasingly become non-feasible for two main reasons. First, the limiting of space due to an increase in population and excessive waste production made it extremely difficult to harbour the waste in the backyard. Second, the presence of non-degradable waste like plastics, e-waste and so on create major trouble as this waste is not easily assimilated in the soil. The mounting evidence of environmental degradation stemming from the exponential growth of resource consumption and the human population was shown to pose a real threat to the ecosystem (Eckersley 1992: 12).

Moreover, the effluents from the household that are run off through the minor drainage system do also carry non-friendly environment loads. And these small drains coming out of individual homes run along to meet the larger drainage line in the village.



The problem with the traditional village drainage line is that it is connected directly to the major rivers flowing in Manipur. In the olden days, it did not have many environmental issues as there was significantly less amount of waste production. In the present situation, drainage and other waste deposition have become a major threat to the river ecosystem. The drainage lines in the individual household also signify the boundaries of one private property in the traditional village system of Manipur. 



Due to the excessive production of the waste materials and also due to the lack of a proper disposal mechanism, waste materials are now dumped in places like roadsides, playgrounds, foothills and so on. Public ponds (Leikai Pukhri Achouba) which were once the source of potable water in the locality also become a favourite spot for dumping the waste in places where these ponds are not properly maintained. 

Leikai Pukhri (public ponds) in the olden days were also the type of reservoir that supplies water during a water scarcity period as they are big in size and retain water for a longer period. Due to the development of the water supply system (private and public), the ponds are no longer given major emphasis in most of the town areas and some villages (for example, Pangei Lairam).

People who reside by the riverside find an extremely good spot for disposing waste. Even though there is government’s direction of not to throw waste, people openly throw waste into rivers regularly as they do not have a proper place to keep the waste. In Manipur, the Nambul river which runs through the heart of Imphal city is infamous for its level of pollution (Laithangbam 2020). The government and civil society organisations are running a campaign of “Save Nambul River” by spending a huge sum of money. The already-polluted Nambul river is again fed by tributaries like Waishel Marin whose pollution level has reached well beyond the danger mark.



As most of the rivers flowing in Manipur fall into Loktak lake; the ecosystem of the lake is drastically disturbed. Loktak lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes in North East India. The lake is also home to various varieties of fauna and flora. The floating national park “Keibul Lamjao,” which hosts the Rucervus eldii eldii deer (Sangai) is also situated in the lake. 

Loktak lake is the lifeline of the many people residing in and around it. 


In the remote village of Thanga situated in Bishnupur district, there lives the major fishing community of Manipur. The village is an island situated in the famous Loktak lake of Manipur. Its distance from Manipur’s capital Imphal is 55 kilometres and they have a population of around 13,000 (approximately) according to the 2001 population census. As mentioned above, the main occupation of the villagers is fishing and the entire village comes under the Scheduled Caste (SC) category. Although the island is situated far from other villages and towns of Manipur, they still feel so connected with the other village for one main reason. The reason is none other than the fact that the activities of people in the rest of Manipur indirectly affects their life. The reason why I am saying this is because most of the major rivers and tributaries of Manipur which are now the den of pollution fall into Loktak lake. 


The rapid pollution of the lake due to the inflows of waste from the rivers has, in turn, threatened the life of the fishing community whose are directly dependent on the lake ecosystem. The fishing community has been living by fishing and extracting the resources of Loktak lake since time immemorial. A sustainable way of extracting the resource has been in practice as the fishing community has been living in the environment for hundreds of years. Although ecological and political values are different, it is possible to identify some respects of them inhabiting the same philosophical space (Jayal 1992: 67).  Disturbing the lake’s ecosystem means marginalising the fishing community whose lives are dependent on the lake. Not only this, the freshwater lake provides the major chunk of the fish in the state. The dried fish that is widely available in the state is mainly produced from here. Paradoxically, the state envisaged the presence of the fishing community in the lake as a major threat to the Loktak ecosystem. Thereby, the state adopted the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006 limiting the access of people in the lake.  The act led to the dispossession of the source of living for the fishing community. Capitalist accumulation through dispossession is a common sight in the modern world order (Sanyal 2007: 105-120).

What is intriguing in the whole discourse is how the state sees the gravity of the issue. At one point, the lake ecosystem is in great danger due to the pollution, but the state failed to prioritise this and emphasised curbing the activities of people in the lake. Further, the impact of the state-sponsored developmental project such as the Ithai barrage resulted in the ruin of the lake’s ecosystem, loss of indigenous plants and faunal species and disruption of wetlands’ natural balance and its cleaning mechanism. The government, instead of coming up with a well-defined plan of waste management, attempted to marginalise the fishing community with the imposition of the act. 


The people living around the lake protest against the imposition of a ban on access to the lake and also appeal to the whole of Manipur to be more environmentally sensitive as their future is entirely dependent on the lake. Associations like the All Loktak Lake Fishermen’s Union, Manipur (ALLAFUM), Ngamee Lup (Fishermen Union) and so on also took the matter seriously and has also been pressurising the Government of Manipur to repeal the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006. On the 10th commemoration of the Loktak lake arson day, ALLAFUM secretary Oinam Rajen said, “the government should stop their effort of taking up ‘developmental project’ in the lake areas that had the potential of displacing the fishing community and affecting the ecosystem of the lake” (IFP Bureau 2021).


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