“We are Indians; we are not terrorists or illegal migrants”, protested Brett Terrate, an elderly man who fled from violence-hit Manipur to take shelter in a relief camp in New Delhi.
“How dare Chief Minister call us by these labels when we are being killed daily. Numerous tribals have lost their lives and homes. They are making us feel like aliens in our homeland, and maybe someday he will say that we do not belong to this earth; we are from Mars,” Terrate said.
He is among thousands of tribals from Kuki, Zomi, Mizo, and Hmar ethnicity who staged a protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar against the “premeditated ethnic cleansing” of tribals in the northeastern state on May 31. The protest was organised by the Joint Unau Delhi Tribal Students’ Forum (JUDTSF).
The unrest began in Manipur on May 3 after a protest called by the All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) in all the hill areas to oppose the demand for Meiteis’ Scheduled Tribe (ST) status turned violent.
Many see the Meitei mobs burning down the Anglo-Kuki War Centenary (1917-1919) Memorial as the epicentre of the clashes. At least 98 people have been killed, the state government said.
“Our volunteers, who have been defending their areas from the Meitei mobs, were killed. Several dead bodies are lying in the mortuary unidentified and we are left traumatised. What if I am killed and what will happen to my family and my relatives are still living in the hills, struggling to manage their daily needs? We somehow managed to escape the violence with the help of a few generous, armed soldiers who rescued my family from our burned-down house”, Terrate added.
The protestors demanded the sacking of Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and the implementation of presidential rule in the state.
The protestors accused Singh of exacerbating ethnic fault lines, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of silence, and the police of inaction.
They said the state government, with the help of the Meitei sympathising armed forces are killing innocents, looting and burning houses as well as worship places and forcing the tribals to live in the hills or flee from their own homes to different states.
The tribal communities are continuously approaching the central government to help them find a solution to their cause. However, no signs of control of the situation are seen, and the curfew restrictions and internet ban are continuing, which has put the lives of the people on hold.
The tribal communities, due to the non-availability of food and other resources, are starving, protesters lamented.
The victims of the violence and the tribals who have been living in New Delhi said that they are being labelled as terrorists and illegal migrants by the CM and slurs are being passed towards them.
The tribals said that they are looking forward to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who has assured them that he will give them a solution in the upcoming 15 days and bring peace to their homeland, but many are sceptical about it.
One of the protesting women, Kim Corbate Ghate Kim advocated for a solution as soon as possible.
“Some of the tribals are looking forward to Amit Shah, but I do not think that he will take us out of this situation because if the central government had given attention to us and our miseries, then the violence would not have escalated over the past month,” the 45-year-old said.
“The ticket prices are three times the ordinary cost, which is not affordable to all. When my family and I fled, we had to pay nearly 3 lakhs in total to travel from Imphal to New Delhi. We could not have afforded it if our friends here had not helped us in our hard times,” Kim added.
“We fled our homes without taking anything, and we are wearing our friend’s clothes here because everything was burned in front of our eyes, and we had to live in a camp for days like homeless people who had nothing in their hands. We have no expenses left; our friends are donating money to us, and we are surviving.”
A member of JUDTSF from the Kuki community, Thaiop Haokip (name changed), said that many are not able to communicate with their family back home due to internet suspension.
“Many of my friends did not sit for their semester examination, and what should I say and how will I respond when I am left hopeless and blank? We are becoming numb. Also, many media organisations are spreading propaganda and fake news, giving a communal twist to the turmoil, which is not the case,” the Delhi University student said.
“One of my friends has been having panic attacks and has had horrific trauma instilled in her. She has stopped talking to anyone since she was rescued from a torched house, which was her home in Manipur, and one of her family members died in front of her. Most of the time, she murmurs and cries and recalls everything that she has encountered, which is haunting her now, and we are trying to console each other,” she added.