Monday, June 17, 2024

Lost lives, lingering pain: Kuki women share ordeal of surviving Manipur ethnic violence

Photo: Mohisna Malik/Maktoob

L*, a nurse at Kuki Christian Hospital (KCC) in Manipur’s Imphal, is still reeling from the shock of the ethnic killing of her husband and brother in the ongoing violence.

L shared with Maktoob the trauma of surviving the ethnic cleansing in her locality on May 4. The family lived in Khongsai Veng, a Kuki settlement in Imphal.

She had just given birth to her first child on April 30, less than a week before the violence broke out in the northeastern state.

She narrated the “bravery of the tribal men” who fought to defend Khongsai Veng since the violence on the evening of May 3, when Meitei groups attacked and set Kuki houses on fire in Imphal.

However, on May 4, the situation took a turn for the worse as a Meitei mob managed to breach the gates of Khongsai Veng. While many escaped, L’s husband, Jam, and brother, Ngam, suffered brutal beatings that claimed their lives. 

Jam, 32, was a construction worker from M. Songgel.

L and her mother were unable to retrieve their bodies due to the growing aggression of the mob, so they sought refuge at the 2nd Manipur Rifle camp, where they were also under attack.

The following day, both of them were taken to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp.

On May 8, with the assistance of Indian Armed personnel, they could return home to M. Songgel. L emphasises that she left a part of herself behind in Khongsai Veng, a place that will never truly belong to her again.

L is uncertain about the fate of the deceased bodies and whether they will ever be returned to her. Although some individuals mentioned that the bodies were taken to RIMS, all she knows is that her heart will never feel whole again, and her child will never have the chance to meet their father.

N, a 21-year-old resident of Sugnu in Chandel district, is a second-year nursing student, while C, 20, is in her first year of nursing practice at Imphal’s Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS). They both reside in a nearby hostel on JNIMS Road.

On May 4, a group of Meitei supremacists called out the nurses from their hostel, inquiring if anyone was of Kuki ethnicity. Failing to find any, they entered the premises and discovered two nurses who were hiding. The assailants dragged them outside and subjected them to a brutal assault near a Meitei pharmacy supplier. The nurses sustained severe injuries, appearing completely bruised, with one of them rendered unconscious.

Both nurses received treatment at the JNIMS ICU. The following day, N was transferred to AR Hospital for further treatment, while C remained in critical condition. On May 6, N was relocated to the 1st MR Dispensary. Due to the severity of her condition, C needed to be urgently shifted to a hospital in New Delhi.

Haokip revealed that the majority of Meitei nurses at the institute attempted to help them hide and safeguard them from harm. However, they were unable to prevent the nurses from being subjected to torture outside the hostel, as the mob grew increasingly violent.

Muslims “unsung heroes”

Hoihkim, a resident of Imphal residing near the airport area, expressed that no words can adequately convey their emotions. Following the eruption of violence on May 3, some Meitei men targeted the villages of various indigenous tribal communities at the foothill of Thangjing mountain. 

However, the Muslim community stood as the first line of defence, preventing the attackers from carrying out their intentions. The Muslims, whom she referred to as “unsung heroes,” courageously confronted the Meiteis attempting to set their villages on fire at the entry road. 

With roads blocked on both sides, leaving them with no escape route except the airport, they knew fleeing was the only option.

“My family and I hurried to the airport with only one backpack, uncertain of what lay ahead amidst the arson and violence. Through divine grace, we managed to reach the airport safely,” Hoihkim told Maktoob.

Even after arriving in Shillong, they received numerous phone calls from concerned relatives throughout the day. They assisted those who were still stranded in Imphal by booking flight tickets for them. 

“To date, we have arranged flights for twenty individuals and have provided guidance and support to anyone we could, in any way possible,” she said.

“I have a strong sense that God allowed us to escape so that we could extend help to others. Many people have endured far worse situations, and I cannot fathom the challenges they will face. It is a tragic situation that can be prevented when the state’s leader takes decisive action,” Hoihkim added.

*The names are changed to protect the identity of the victims.

Jon Suante is a Delhi-based freelance journalist. C. Zou, a researcher based in Shillong, contributed to this report.


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