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Manipur Students in Delhi: Navigating Unrest, Division, and Despair

From Burnt Homes to Broken Friendships, Manipur Students in Delhi Grapple with the Fallout of Manipur Violence

By Niharika Singh
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Manipur violence
Manipur violence | Photo courtesy: @MangteC

In the bustling corridors of Delhi University, Jenny (name changed), hailing from the Kuki community from Manipur is pursuing her studies. However, her life took an unexpected turn as her family's house was reduced to ashes, forcing them to seek refuge in a relief camp. 

"On the first day of the Manipur violence itself, on May 3rd," Jenny recalls, "my family's car was burnt, and our neighbourhood church was burnt." The rapid escalation of violence left her family with no choice but to seek safety in a relief camp the following morning.

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The shutdown that followed further isolated Jenny's family from the outside world. It was during this period that their house became a target, falling victim to the flames. The agony of witnessing her family's home burn while she was studying in Delhi is a painful memory etched in Jenny's heart.

"My family used to just survive on dal in the relief camp. There was no rice at all, only dal," Jenny reveals. “One of my friends in college also received news that her house was occupied by other community people, and they looted all the items in the house."

Jenny's house was burnt during the violence, and the incident was covered and telecast by a local news channel.

Manipur students in Delhi: College campus divided 

In the heart of Delhi at Hindu College, Jaison (name changed), another student from Manipur states that he suffered losses both at family front and in college. 

"There have been so many instances of violence around my family," he shares, describing the displacement of his relatives. The impact of the turmoil in Manipur reverberates far beyond its borders, reaching into the lives of Manipuri students in Delhi.

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What weighs heavily on Jaison's heart is the deep division that has ruptured his social circles. "This violence has taken a toll on everyone," he laments. The close bonds he once shared with Meitei friends have been destroyed. "Both communities have now become bloodthirsty even in college circles," Jaison reflects, his voice heavy with sorrow.

Months have passed without communication between the two communities. Distrust looms large, even within the college campus. "Whenever we look at each other, we avoid confrontation," Jaison explains. The once vibrant and inclusive college atmosphere has been replaced by an uneasy silence, marked by the absence of interaction.

The consequences of this divide have been far-reaching, with Jaison recounting a distressing incident on the college campus. "I was attacked on the college campus," he reveals. During a prayer meeting held to address the violence in Manipur, Jaison and his friends were ambushed by a mob of 30 to 40 people while escorting female friends back to safety. The attack resulted in brutal injuries to some of his friends.

Author and historian Dr Malem Ningthouja speaks to The Probe’s Niharika Singh

Yari Nayam, a PhD scholar at the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Co-convenor of the North East Students' Forum at JNU, sheds light on the far-reaching impacts of the violence in Manipur on students in Delhi. The disruption to the socio-economic lives of these students, the discrimination they face, and the growing tensions among communities paint a complex picture. 

"Many Manipur students who are in Delhi, studying in various colleges are facing problems for months. These students have sought education and better opportunities in the national capital, hoping to secure brighter futures. However, the violence has cast a long shadow over their lives. In the hilly regions of Manipur, opportunities are scarce, prompting many to seek education in Delhi. Yet, the violence has once again plunged their already socially and economically disadvantaged families into hardship,” says Yari. 

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Yari highlights the additional burden faced by students who may not support the violence but are still discriminated against based on their community identity. "Even if they are not supporting the violence unleashed by their community members, these students are discriminated against," Yari reveals. The division is not limited to Meitei and Kuki communities; it extends to campus dynamics, where tensions have escalated.

Yari describes the growing divide among students. "On campus, they are not coming together," she explains. The sense of unity and camaraderie that once existed has been fractured, creating an atmosphere of distrust and estrangement. Even friendly interactions have become strained.

My parents are government servants. Even our government house wasn’t spared. 

Nianghoihlun Guite, a student at Bharati College in Delhi, shares a stark and troubling account of the hardships faced by her family in Manipur amid the ongoing violence. The inability to stay in touch with loved ones for nearly two months and the looting of their government home is just one of the many distressing events that unfolded before her as she continued to pursue her studies in Delhi.

"I could not be in touch with my family for almost two months after the violence engulfed Manipur," Nianghoihlun reveals. The violence in Manipur spared no one, including government homes. Nianghoihlun's parents, who are government servants, were compelled to flee to Guwahati out of fear for their safety. Tragically, their government residence back in Manipur fell victim to looters.

What compounds the family's struggles is the absence of assistance from the government. Despite their status as government servants, they found themselves without support in the face of adversity. 

Manipur students in Delhi recount horror

“A person whom I knew met a gruesome end. His eyes were gouged out. His throat was brutally cut,” says Avita Waikhom, another student pursuing her Masters in History in Delhi. She finds herself miles away from her family in Manipur.

“Most of the Manipur students living here in Delhi are living a double life now. This dual existence is a coping mechanism, an attempt to navigate the stark contrast between two worlds. The first life is marked by the psychological toll of the violence back in Manipur. In the second life, the students strive to detach themselves from the grim reality of Manipur. It's a survival strategy, an attempt to shield ourselves from the constant barrage of distressing news,” adds Avita. 

While Avita is busy studying in Delhi, back home her parents are tirelessly working in a relief camp in Imphal. Her father is a nodal officer in one of the camps. "Whenever I talk to my father, I only get bad news. I only hear harrowing accounts of children who have lost their parents. Women who have lost their husbands. People who have lost some of their family members while escaping the violence.” 

Avita paints a grim picture of the conditions in the relief camps, where basic necessities have become luxuries. "People don't have clothes. They don't have food. Many of them are always crying. Everyone is helpless out there, and everyone is asking for help from each other. It’s like helpless people asking helpless people for help. Two of my aunties came to our house in Manipur to take refuge because their house was under attack. At one point, there was no house in my locality in Imphal that had no refugees. In one house, around 20 people came to take refuge in one night because their houses were burned down,” recounts Avita.

A Manipur Student's Journey: From Delhi University to Manipur's Unrest

In the heart of Delhi, Themminao Zimik is pursuing a Bachelor of Management Studies (BMS) degree at Ram Lal Anand College in Delhi University. However, Themminao's life took an unexpected turn during the second month of the ongoing violence in Manipur, prompting a hasty return to her state.

Themminao vividly recalls the harrowing experiences she encountered during the nights in Manipur. "There was constant tear gas shelling from the police. We would wake up in the night with a sense of panic and horror. The police were resorting to shelling because people were protesting and the protests were met with a heavy-handed response. On one or the other pretext, there was a daily curfew,” she states.

Her heartfelt plea reflects the yearning of countless Manipuri residents who long for an end to the turmoil that has gripped their homeland. “I just want this violence to be over. I just want a peaceful Manipur where we all can live together in harmony, where we don't hate each other, where we stay together and be one." 

Guangliu Thaimei, a recent graduate of Gargi College, says that the impact of the internet blackout in Manipur has been far-reaching and devastating. Guangliu highlights one of the most pressing issues: the financial strain on students who are away from their families. "Students who are out of station were unable to get money from the family," she explains, "because there was no way the families back home in Manipur could send the money."

However, the anguish runs deeper than financial concerns. Guangliu shares a heart-wrenching reality that many students have faced during this tumultuous period. "The saddest part is that there was a point when the students could not even get to know what was the condition of their family members back in Manipur," she reveals.

Author and historian Dr Malem Ningthouja states that a series of events and external influences have created a volatile environment, where distrust and polarisation have taken root. “There was a spark that was just waiting to turn into fire," Dr Ningthouja asserts, alluding to the deep-seated tensions that have simmered beneath the surface. The manipulation of public perception has fueled this distrust, leading to divisions among communities and the polarisation of innocent people.

“There is a larger geopolitical situation. We fully suspect that big powers with territorial ambitions and geopolitical interests are directly or indirectly involved in the borderland ethnic politics which is also one of the reasons why this violence not ending,” he acknowledges.

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