In the wedge of India between Bangladesh and Myanmar sits Manipur. This tucked away state of India is home to a seemingly unlikely baseball hotbed. The local community has had baseball on the brain thanks to the influence of an American air base there during World War II. While World War II and the Americans have left Manipur, unfortunately the violence and conflict have not. Baseball therefore is not providing an escape from the daily stresses of life. In Manipur, baseball is providing an escape from war. The people are caught between the government and the various rebel groups which operate in the region. This leaves the people vulnerable to extortion and worse. The ongoing conflict does not receive the same attention as the Indian and Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, but Manipur is in just a great of need of peace.
Sports have the power to bring out the best in people and society. It is no different in Manipur, as chronicled in the film, The Only Real Game. The smiles and laughter are abundant as the people escape the harsh realities for a few hours. The ongoing conflict has impacted the people in unimaginable ways. They never know if they will survive another day or be forced to pay a tax to one or several of the rebel groups which vie for control of the region. The Indian government has maintained martial law in Manipur since it became a union territory in the early 1960’s because of the conflict between the government and the rebels. The lack of real governance in the region has left the state underdeveloped with the economy and people struggling to survive. Despite all of these obstacles, baseball has remained one of the few constants throughout the last several decades. The pure joy of playing gives individuals a sense of self-worth and belonging as they are neither part of the rebellion, nor are they fully accepted by the Indian government. The people of Manipur are caught in between these warring groups with no viable options for escape. Developing baseball gives in Manipur This effort is being aided by Major League Baseball and First Pitch. Working to develop the skills of the players while bringing together people is giving peace a chance to grow in this much beleaguered region.
Baseball cannot bring peace alone, it needs help from all corners of society, and in Manipur there are more dark corners than people able to support peace. Living in the perpetual state of limbo, with few viable options for personal and societal development has created another major problem within Manipur. HIV/AIDS rates in Manipur are among the highest, if not the highest among all the states in India. The lack of health education, coupled with Manipur’s proximity to the Golden Triangle has made addiction to drugs like heroin increasingly prevalent. The demand internationally for these drugs is ever increasing, and thus the drug traffickers are ruthless against those who seek to disrupt their manufacturing or selling of their product. Some of the rebels are the drug traffickers and will not allow anyone to come between them and the illicit fortunes. The easy access and abundant supply of heroin has created a society in Manipur littered with addicts. These addicts are willing to take undo risks through the sharing of needles to get their fix. The use and sharing of intravenous needles to inject heroin is the single largest contributor to the spreading of HIV/AIDS in Manipur. The organized international drug trade combined with the political instability makes the people of Manipur vulnerable and has left the society to live on the edge of survival.
The Only Real Game sets the story of the people of Manipur against the backdrop of their love for baseball. Director Mirra Bank does an excellent job of drawing the audience in with their love of baseball and the idea that the game is being played in this remove region of the world. However, once the audience has become invested in the story, the focus shifts away from baseball and to the ongoing conflict which has consumed Manipur for decades. The personal stories and struggles of the people in the film break the conflict down from being between the government against rebels. It shows the people who are caught in the middle. They face the brunt of the repercussions of the conflict. Their lives have been interrupted and may never be made whole again. Baseball provides an escape from the danger and the stress of surviving from day to day, while surrounded by chaos and conflict. This has become a way of life for the people of Manipur.
Baseball is the game I love. I want to know more about the history, the players, the strategy, and the statistics every day. Ultimately though, baseball is just a game, and my life does not change whether my favorite team wins or loses. On the other hand, there is much suffering around the world, little of which ever makes the news or is never brought to the attention of those who have the ability to make a difference. Sadly, the struggles of Manipur is an example of such suffering. There people continue to struggle to get by every day. Warring parties fight for control and leave the people caught in the middle, nearly defenseless. Today there are at minimum 10 major conflicts occurring throughout the world, with at least 1,000 deaths per year. There are also more than 30 minor conflicts. While I use the word minor only to denote less than 1,000 deaths per year, the people who live through these conflicts would not suggest there is anything minor about these conflicts. Low death toll does not necessarily mean low violence rates. Baseball is a game. Everyone should be able to live in peace. The Only Real Game draws attention to the plight of the people who have for decades lived through the horrors of war in Manipur, as others have elsewhere in the world.
Conflict will continue to rage so long as people are able to dehumanize one another. If you can convince yourself that the other person is less than human, you become able to do inhuman things to them. Sports, including baseball, allow us to meet on the field and to compete while also humanizing the opponent. The fans of the Red Sox and the Yankees will often profess their hatred for the opposing team’s players, but it is only because they are trying to win a game, not because they believe they are superior to the individual. The gap between “hating” an opponent because they beat you and dehumanizing an opponent is huge. However, dehumanizing an individual occurs a little at a time. This reduction of people to something that is worthless and should be struck down has happened before and if we as humans are not vigilant. People are capable of some incredible achievements, but they are also capable of unspeakable horrors. The dehumanizing of another person or of a group of people has happened in part because no one was willing to believe it could happen. It can happen again and does still happen. We must all, as human, seek to prevent these horrifying acts from continuing, because to turn away from these tragedies is to in some way condone them.