Manipuris in relief camps: Divided by violence, united by hope
S David, a constable with Manipur Police, and his family are among the 700-odd people staying in a relief camp set up at a college in Akampat near Imphal, hoping to return home safely once the situation is normal. They all went through the same trauma – explosions, rioting and mob violence before the Assam Rifles came to their rescue.
As many as 238 families are lodged in the Ideal Girls College at Akampat in Manipur after the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force under the operational command of the Indian Army, brought them from Moreh and Churachandpur.
Th Chanchal, who is staying in the chemistry classroom of the college that has tin roofing, keeps herself busy teaching her kids who have taken admission in a government school. Hailing from Moreh, a town located 107 km from the capital city of Imphal, Chanchal belongs to the majority community.
Displaced people recall horrifying tales
She recalled her experience of May 3 when the entire family was sitting for dinner. “We heard a mob ransacking everything. There were loud explosions and raining bullets,” she says. “We somehow managed to reach the neighbouring police station for shelter. We were taken to the Assam Rifles camp in Moreh town and the force managed our safe escape to Imphal city,” she said, adding that her entire family had left everything back at their home.
Running a small business in Moreh town, Chanchal hopes she would return to her home very soon. “Maybe not immediately, but I wish to be back there at my home in my area where I have been born and raised, provided we are assured that we will be secure,” she said.
Manipur has been witnessing ethnic clashes since May 3 between the majority Meitei community and Kukis. Meiteis have concentrated in Imphal city while Kukis have shifted to the hills. The violence has claimed over 160 lives.
The camp, run by Agriculture Minister Thongam Biswajit Singh, has a common kitchen which is managed by three families among these displaced people.
David, the constable, flips through his smart phone to show his ransacked house. He says he had been staying in Churachandpur, 63 km from Imphal. “A mob came on May 4 and burnt our house. We stayed at a BSF camp for eight days and later we were shifted to Imphal by the army,” he said.
Decline offer to shift to prefabricated houses
The administration is paying the displaced Rs 500 each for a month. They are not ready to move to prefabricated houses being prepared by the state government at Kwata. “Churachandpur is our house and we will not stay anywhere else,” David said. His views were echoed by Santosh, a farmer. “A prefabricated home is not an answer to our miseries,” 30-year-old Santosh said.
Hawai Bam Choaba, who runs a grocery shop in Moreh, also recalled how Assam Rifles saved him and other families. “But the desire to return home is in our heart and I am sure we will return one day,” he said.
At another relief camp in Manipur College, which houses 172 people from six hill districts, things are much more organised. Run by Khemchand Singh, former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, a proper chart is being maintained at this camp.
S Gandhi, a resident of Serou village in Kakching district, recalled his horror story. “On May 27, our village was cordoned off by the other community who started firing indiscriminately, killing one of the residents besides torching 500 houses,” Gandhi said. “For the next three days, we along with other families stayed at the house of local Congress MLA RK Ranjit before Assam Rifles rescued us and moved us to Imphal,” said Gandhi, a farmer.
He was joined by other villagers at the relief camp who want to return but are scared that their village would be surrounded by Kukis. “We feel helpless,” was the common refrain among them.
Army, Assam Rifles rescue thousands
The army and Assam Rifles, which have been closely watching the situation, had kept 17 columns ready on May 3 to respond to any contingency on short notice. These personnel rescued nearly 24,000 at their regular units and makeshift camps.
In view of the magnitude of tragedy unfolding in Manipur, the army and Assam Rifles lifted more troops to Manipur and the number of columns was raised to 170 as on date.
On the first night, within Imphal, 2,300 civilians were evacuated from violence-hit areas of Langol, Lamphel and Mantripukhri, with another 1,700 in Tengnoupal district, officials said.
In Churachandpur, on the first night alone, 4,600 locals were safely rescued from Khumujamba, Hmar Veng, Saikot and Mantop Leikai, the officials said. “Pro-active deployment facilitated faster reaction in de-notified areas of Imphal as also in villages of Tengnoupal and Churachandpur districts where Assam Rifles does not have any company operating base in vicinity,” said a senior official.
(With agency inputs)