BY AUGUSTO RODRIGUES
“Right now, I am not thinking about clothing or food but of when we are going to start living without the fear of being attacked,” says Jane, who has fled from the plains of Imphal to a place in the highland of Manipur, over the phone.
Manipur, according to Jane, from the Kuki tribe, is in a mess because they and the Meitei can no longer see eye-to-eye. The state is divided into two with no solution in sight.
“In the midst of ethnic conflict, there are religious issues subtly involved. It is best if we can meet one day, for me to explain,” said John Shilsi from Manipur, who decided to make Goa his home after retirement from Indian Police Service (IPS) years ago.
“The fight in Manipur is between people living in the plains, or Imphal, and the highlands. The Meitei tribe, who largely comprise Hindus, occupy the plains, and the Kuki, who comprise Christians, live in the highlands,” explains Bosco George, who recently retired from the Indian Police Service (IPS).
Manipur has eighty per cent of Meitei, twenty per cent of Kuki and twenty per cent of Naga.
“The war between the Meitei and Kuki is so intense that only President’s Rule will save the situation,” observes Bosco, returning after dropping aid for a Goan NGO called Street Providence.
“The division lines are clear, and there appears little chance of rapprochement between the two tribes. Both need to be given autonomy to administer themselves,” opines Bosco, while relating the painful sights and sounds he and his group of volunteers had to endure during their visit.
Bosco George, Rtd IPS
“It was ok to liaison with senior government officers, but I could not take in the pain and suffering of families at the rehabilitation camps visited by us. People were all cramped up with no privacy and hygiene was deplorable,” recounts Bosco as he tries to dissect the basis of the conflict.
Conflicts between the Meitei and Kuki tribes in Manipur are not new, but what has appalled many is the manner in which the conflict was given communal colour for the first time.
“I had many friends from the Meitei community in my class in college and was shocked to see them destroying the same places just because they are run by Christians. This is painful,” says Jane, who wonders whether she will ever be able to reconnect with her Meitei friends again.
“Our convoy was once stopped by a group of Meitei women who were barricading a road in a curfew area. We were allowed to pass through because we were driven by a priest and the blockade was to prevent aid from reaching the people on the plains,” explained Bosco, underlining the depths of the communal divide and the role of the government.
Jane, Kuki Tribe
“Aid to the people in the plains has to be routed through neighbouring states. Everyone from the Kuki tribe, even IAS and the Director General Police (DGP) of the state, who was a Kuki, had to flee for their safety,” confessed Bosco, opening up on the dismal polarisation between the two communities.
“Flare-ups took place between our two communities once in a while, but they were because of our ethnic differences, and things returned to normal. How Christians are targeted this time is surprising,” maintains Jane, who fled the plains leaving everything behind and not expecting to recover anything.
“Go back to live with Meitei’s? I must be mad to think of it,” shoots back Jane while Bosco thinks that after President’s Rule, the two tribes should be allowed to govern themselves.
That is if the government wants peace to reign again. Meanwhile, Street Providence is working towards getting people to donate for the education of children displaced in Manipur as, unlike Goa, education there is not free.