GUWAHATI, May 11 (PTI): “Will they throw stones at us when we go to school?” eight-year-old Barbie’s question baffles her mother.
Barbie is optimistic about returning to school and friends, as is four-year-old Nancy who is in a kindergarten class and longs to get back to her books.
But Lara, in her early 20s, is aware of the uncertain future that stares at the younger kids as well as those who have stepped into adulthood.
She is concerned about whether scores like her in Manipur will be able to appear for the competitive examinations which will determine their career and future life.
Barbie, Nancy and Lara (names changed to protect their identities) are among those who fled Manipur as ethnic clashes raged in their state and are now taking shelter at relative’s places in Guwahati.
While Nancy’s house was torched after they had fled, Barbie’s was stoned when she was still inside with her family. Lara’s place was saved due to protection provided by neighbours as she and her family members took shelter in a relief camp.
“I can’t sleep anymore, I have flashbacks and nightmares. We were fortunate that we had good neighbours (belonging to another community), who gave us shelter on the night violence broke out and stood guard at the doorstep,” Lara said, recounting the horrors that unfolded on the night of May 3 and took them by surprise.
Violent clashes broke out in the north-eastern state after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the 10 hill districts on May 3 to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
“We managed to reach a CRPF camp safely the next morning, but three family members of a friend were not so lucky. A mob stopped their vehicle which was just behind ours. They pulled them out and thrashed them.
“My friend, who is away in Delhi, lost her mother and brother. Her sister-in-law is fighting for her life in a hospital now,” Lara added in between sobs and wiping her tears.
Barbie is chirpy on the exterior but any mention of her home back in Imphal puts her on the edge.
“Why are people throwing stones at our house? Will they throw stones at us when we go to school? What have we done wrong?” her questions leave her mother baffled.
Barbie was asking her parents what Meiteis and Kukis mean, as she was hearing these terms for the first time. The clashes are taking place mainly between Meiteis and Kukis.
“She doesn’t feel that she is any different from her friends (who come from another community),” Barbie’s mother, who escaped from Imphal with her two daughters, said.
Nancy’s father is also having a hard time explaining to his child what went wrong in their home state.
“She was just in a kindergarten class and loved her school. Now she constantly asks her mother and me when she will be going back again. We don’t even have our house in Imphal anymore to return. I don’t know what to tell her,” he said, staring into the distance.
“My younger daughter is two years old. She doesn’t understand much but now gets startled by any loud noise after being exposed to the sound of the mob back home,” he added.
While it was a ‘Meitei vs Kuki’ clash for the world, for Lara and her ilk, it was more of ‘miscreants and political leadership’ behind the violence, which has left over 60 dead by official estimates.
There is a lot of divisive politics going on in Manipur as the top leaders spew venom against other communities without thinking of the repercussions and others follow suit, Lara claimed.
“Meiteis or Kukis, in general, are not to be blamed. Our neighbours saved our lives and home. My friends called up and apologised on behalf of their community,” Lara, who wants to be a civil servant, said.
“Our only appeal to the authorities now: enable us all to pursue our studies and sit for the competitive examinations in a safe environment. After all, we are the future of the state and the nation,” she added.
The ethnic clashes were preceded by tension over the eviction of Kuki villagers from reserve forest land, which had led to a series of smaller agitations.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribals – Nagas and Kukis – constitute another 40 per cent of the population and reside in the hill districts.
Chief minister N Biren Singh had on May 8 said that 60 people were killed, 231 injured and 1,700 houses including religious places burnt in the ethnic violence that rocked the northeastern state for the past few days.