'Borders', Firing and Frequent Checks: A Reporter's Account of a Night in Imphal

Locals are quick to warn reporters to not venture to the "borders". What are these borders? These borders are territorial boundaries set by the two warring communities, Meiteis and Kukis.

Imphal: While the violence in Manipur makes headlines, readers must wonder what life is like in the state – wracked by curfews, relaxations, fear and uncertainty.

It has been three months since ethnic violence began in the state.

At present (July 28) curfew relaxes from 5 am to 6 pm in Imphal. But immediately after 6 pm, the situation becomes tense. Through the night, sounds of firing and bombs are heard.

Locals are quick to warn reporters to not venture to the “borders”. What are these borders? These borders are territorial boundaries set by the two warring communities, Meiteis and Kukis. Members of each are not allowed into the other’s areas anymore.

The Wire travelled to these “border” areas within the state of Manipur, after curfew hours, to witness what happens there.

By 9 pm, Imphal’s streets are entirely deserted except for Meira Paibis, who roam them as vigilants.

This reporter and a trusted driver begin a journey to the “border” of Bishnupur district. From Imphal to Bishnupur, our car is halted twice by Mera Paibis, and once by local men. The latter inspect the vehicle thoroughly, including its boot.

Close to Bishnupur, some locals who appeared intoxicated once again stopped our car. This group appeared to be diligently checking every vehicle passing through the Kuki-dominated area.

Treatment towards vehicles differ depending on whether you are traveling to or from the hills. Meiteis in the valley inspect cars coming from the hills while Kukis scrutinise vehicles headed towards the hills.

As we approached the area of Terakhongshangbi, our car was stopped by a few locals who urgently requested that we turn off our lights as firing was taking place in the vicinity.

Around 20 women were sitting in a small cottage. They told The Wire that they were Meira Paibis. One woman who identified her as Sanahanbi said, “After N. Biren Singh’s Bharatiya Janata Party government started ruling the state, we thought that all our miseries and grievances would be heard. But this didn’t happen.”

Sanahanbi said that she would still appeal to Biren to solve the present crisis.

As the sound of guns continued, the Meira Paibis in the cottage turned off the lights. Another woman, who identified herself as Sanatombi, questioned the government for still banning a significant portion of internet services. “If the Meitei people were given access to internet, more stories of suffering would come to be known. A month ago, police promised to provide protection to farmers and encouraged them to start farming. Those who went to reap rice were captured by Kuki militants and have been missing since then,” she alleged.

Sanatombi also expressed her disappointment in the governments at the state and Union, stating, “Amit Shah came to Manipur but failed to hear our grievances. Many times, we’ve expressed our woes to everyone, including the media, but we didn’t receive any help.”

In the Meitei speaking group, there was a woman who spoke in Hindi. “We don’t have weapons, but we are still ready to fight,” she said.

A bullet whizzed past. We trooped outside and the women sat down on the street quietly. Some hoped that a shop’s iron shutters could protect them. Some others lay down on the ground to avoid the bullets.

As we rode back, for the next two kilometres, we did not turn the lights of the car on due to the ongoing firing.

So uncertain is the violence and so capable of inducing fear that it is difficult to spend a full night outside in Imphal. We returned after four hours.

“Please ask the leaders to bring peace to Manipur,” a man told us on our way back.