A family’s first-hand experience, as narrated to and written down by a family member who reside outside Manipur.
The night of Wednesday, May 3, 2023
News spread wide and fast about violent mob attacks on tribals, burning their churches, houses, vehicles. My older sister who lived near Manipur University (MU) campus was asked by her neighbors and friends (Meiteis) to escape somewhere, since, they would not be able to save them if some mobs come to attack them. So, my sister, her husband, their son, our cousin sister (an MU student) staying with them and my sister’s co-worker (another tribal woman), all drove to my parents’ place at Langol. Not long after they reached home and feeling comforted that at least all are together, they heard screams of mob. The mob was burning the church near our house, Langol Christian Church. So, my elderly parents and all my family ran out of the house and hid behind the wall and slowly walked to a nearby house where a neighbor couple let them in. Altogether they were fourteen hiding: mom, dad, brother and his wife, four sons and a Meitei friend of my nephew, and sister’s group.
After they sensed that the mob had left, they tried to go back but then they heard another loud Bang! outside. They rushed back inside the neighbor’s house. This time it was my brother-in-law’s vehicle that they burnt. Finally, early morning (must be around 3am) they were able to get back home. Everyone was shaking, nobody could sleep. My 10-year-old nephew only said, “Pipi (grandma), I had thought we would die and our house would be burned.”
May 4, 2023. Morning came and they were innocently thinking things would be normal, so they made tea and began cooking morning meal. But, it was never like before. Torching of churches, burning and vandalizing of houses and vehicles happened all night and even in the morning in different places in Imphal where tribals lived. My mom saw fellow tribal neighbors leaving and got so worried. “Our neighbors are fleeing somewhere, how about us, where are we to flee, we don’t even have a vehicle now!?,” she texted me. They also quickly gathered a change of clothes or whatever their hands could grab first and followed those neighbors. There was a security/army vehicle picking people up, so they joined them. But as they just drove past the next colony (National Games Village) Meitei mobs blocked the street and threatened to kill them if they go. So, the armies told the people to go back to their homes on foot. [Around 30minutes walk for a young healthy person.] So, they all walked back, hopeless and frightened. No one felt safe to go back to their homes. My family somehow managed to get hold of an acquaintance and he picked them up and drove them to Lamphel to an MLA’s house. Since people still felt not safe in a tribal MLA’s house, my family’s group (13 people) went on to a CRPF camp in Lamphel, Imphal. At least they got a “shelter” in the CRPF camp and not in the middle of nowhere or the street to be a prey for the mobs. We thanked God.
The CRPF were not prepared for this sudden influx of so many people (my dad said they would surely be over a 1000), so no drinking water or food except watery dal soup. My family didn’t even have a bowl or cup to get the food/soup, so they cut some plastic bottles and used them. Night came, everyone had to find a place to lie down, some on the grass, some lucky ones on verandahs—my family got the verandah floor of the camp’s mandir. Cold at night because it was close to a pukhri (pond) but no blankets and nobody brought warm clothes. Grateful to the CRPF personnel who provided with some sheets so people can spread and lie down.
May 5. Shocked, terrified, confused, heavy heart, turmoil. Exhausted. Still surviving on dal soup and not enough water to drink. Thankfully, my sister’s friends (Meiteis) were able to send them some bottled water, electrolytes, biscuits. My younger sister’s friends (also Meiteis) also sent some toothbrushes, cups/bowls, and juice [even though she was not in the camp].
My cousin sister’s period came, unprepared, so they had to tear a T-shirt someone managed to bring and used it as a sanitary pad. At nights, they were afraid of mobs attacking the camp, especially since the fencing is not concrete. Ting-ting-ting-ting, the familiar sounds of electric posts outside the camp calling people together, raised fear of being attacked. My mom has a very weak heart and panics easily; my dad is also undergoing medical treatment for a heart case. We just pray that God will sustain them with supernatural strength.
They heard that their camp was to be attacked tonight. Everyone was scared and shivering, confused, worried trying to find ways to hide. Gratefully, the CRPF guards were able to stop and chase away the mob. The people had another night of their lives. But they already experience such traumatic moments that will haunt them the rest of their lives—babies, children, sick and disabled, pregnant women, weak elderly parents like my parents who themselves are heart patients.
May 6. Heard that our Langol house has been vandalized and ransacked. Their two-wheeler, car, everything inside the house looted or destroyed. The home where all of our siblings grew up, the home where we bid farewell to my younger brother who died in 1993.
No more home to return to. No words about when they could be escorted to Lamka. But how long can one survive in this relief camp? Started thinking about getting flight tickets to get out of Imphal. My husband and I started calling up acquaintances outside Manipur here and there asking who can help us lend some money and book air tickets for us (the government shut off internet). Ticket prices skyrocketed, and even when finding one, the tickets would be gone while filling out the details. But they (we) worry the reality of life: even if they were able to get to another place, what will they eat, where will they lodge, how long can someone accommodate them? How would the children continue their schools and colleges? How will they restart their lives? [Their income (Manipur government) might be cut off. My dad is retired, but my brother and sister were still working. Now they have no hope of being able to return to their jobs in Imphal.] It is not safe to stay, too hard to live every moment in fear and wondering if we will make it through the night, make it through the day. Finally, trying to save lives and that the future will take care of itself, we managed to secure some flight tickets, though couldn’t get early dates (had to divide them into three flights).
May 8. Suddenly we hear that those from another camp were evacuated to Lamka. There is some hope that maybe their camp will also be escorted to Lamka, so we quickly have to decide what to do, to cancel flight tickets and go to Lamka if there is a way? Or, will Lamka region also be safe, will the Meitei radicals come to attack there too, as there were a few attempts already?
Finally, on May 9 (Tuesday) they were escorted by the army safely to Lamka where all our relatives are. One of my nephews still chose to risk and flee to the capital city to explore opportunities because, he said, someone must support our family, so I may have to quit college and try to feed our family, hoping that things will not continue to get worse. They reached home, though they were chased away from our Langol home, leaving behind everything our family has, the home where my parents raised their children and grandchildren.
The challenges now and for future are enormous. But, for now, we are here.