Saturday, July 13, 2024

OPINION: A Research Scholar’s fieldwork experience in Ukhrul


I write this piece without any intend to divert the very sensitive and extremely tensed situation i.e., the current unrest and violence in Manipur (which many have written on), I write my experience as a student researcher in the small district town of Ukhrul and to convey the practicalities of doing fieldwork-based research in Ukhrul and Manipur as a whole. Keeping in mind the ground realities of the place and considering the current situation we are in today; we always need to keep ample time/space for any ‘what ifs’ that may disrupt our well-intended schedule.

As a research scholar based abroad, it takes meticulous financial, time planning and budgeting to do fieldwork. Thus, when the internet ban extends for weeks on end, it does throw one’s whole schedule up in the air. We in Ukhrul spend a lot amount of time waiting, just waiting, waiting for water to fill one’s bucket, queuing for hours in the only two functioning ATM booths (for the entire district with 183,998 population as per 2011 census), waiting for the office in-charge to come to the office, waiting for the electricity to come back after the rough wind and rain. Waiting is so engrained in our everyday that we do not recognize it as a problem.

There are plenty of practical problems and legit ‘excuses’ as to why one is not able to execute one’s work within the intended time frame, be it poor state infrastructure and governance or unforeseen circumstances. At this day and age when almost everything is done online, it does take us a decade backward when we are disconnected from the online/outside world abruptly (not that internet connectivity and phone network were thriving prior to this full disconnect), this means we have suddenly disappeared from online curriculum, lectures, meetings and stopped responding to what could have been a very important email. We can no longer book flight tickets in advance to negotiate our ever-thinning student budget nor can we participate in online conferences or even apply online for in-person presentations.

As I mentally deliberate on the best plan of action for my own fieldwork to progress despite the current situation, I, like many others eagerly wait for our source of news i.e., word-of-mouth from vehicles that come from Imphal and phone calls from stranded relatives and friends. During this time of internet blackout, I however had a chance to really observe the space (away from my phone); in the evenings there are more noises of children in the playground, opinions about the unrest flying around in small tea stalls, a member of the tribe council fidgeting uncomfortably hoping the office meeting ends early to be on time for fishing for Sunday’s Mother’s Day meal. These everyday Ukhrul activities irrespective of politics and ideology, from a farmer’s wait for rainfall, to men in uniform like the Assam Rifles, government sector like the P.H.E.D and ADC water tanker trucks all waiting in a queue to fill water at Shirui Village. Ukhrul does have a way of stalling us all.

(Timmayo Thumra is a PhD student at Dublin City University, Ireland).


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