'We Left Home on May 3 and Ran to the Hills': A Manipur Violence Survivor's First Person Account

A survivor of the brutal ethnic violence in Manipur, which has officially killed 60 people, recounts the horror and appreciates the ties that still bind people.

Churachandpur (Manipur): I am Jenny Vaipei. No, this isn’t my real name. After what I have seen unfold since May 3 evening, I am scared of revealing my identity here. There is so much fear and uncertainty around us that I am unsure as to who will take umbrage to what I say. Just like the relief camp where I am taking shelter, the cloak of anonymity will have to be my safety net for now.

Let me recall the afternoon of May 3.

I took part in the Tribal Solidarity March called by the All Tribal Students Union (ATSUM) against the demand of Scheduled Tribe status by the Meiteis. It was a peaceful rally but soon a misunderstanding between the Meitei community and my tribe, Kuki, unfolded in the Churachandpur town area, the sparks of which spread to Kangvai which was about seven kilometres from my village, Mualngat.

The nearest Meitei village, Tronglaobi, was just two kilometres from Mualngat, and this was the reason why we began getting many calls from our families who feared for our lives. They were receiving disturbing videos of inter-community anger and clashes unfolding elsewhere. The fear began to rise in us as we lived near a Meitei village. 

Soon after, all the residents of my village ran to a neighbouring tribal village, Maovom, which was in the hills. We did not even have time to eat anything after a long day of marching. People who did not have vehicles had to just run into the hills and take all that they could for the night. Those who had vehicles tried their best to save the elderly, the infirm and women and their young first. We had to run without looking back to reach the nearest village which was considered safe. 

Our hearts were filled with fear. That night was tough. Several elderly men, women and children took shelter in the houses of the forested hills. The rest had to spend the night in the forest because Maovom houses were already holding more than they could.

That night, the men folk and the chiefs from various tribal villages walked down to defend our villages. They also managed to negotiate with the neighbouring Meitei village leaders to maintain peace.

I can say with relief that till date, we have stuck to our promise and both sides have not attacked each other.

The pact between the tribal and non-tribal villagers assured us that the Meiteis villages (Tronglaobi Makhaleikai, Tronglaobi Awangleikai, Perakhong, Khudekpi, Leimaram and Moirang areas) would try their utmost to keep their residents from attacking the tribal villages nearby.

Those villages were Khousabung (Gangte majority); Bunglon (Gangte majority); Nadil (Thadou majority); Mualsang (Thadou majority); Khawnuam (Baite majority); Bijang Gangte (Thadou majority); Laika Mualsau (Vaiphei majority); Leisanbung (Baite majority); Mualpheipampak (Thadou majority); Maovom (Thadou majority); Mualngat (Vaiphei majority); P.Bualjang(Thadou majority); Throilok (Gangte majority); P.Geljang (Thadou majority); Phuaisanbung (Gangte majority); Pholjang (Thadou majority); and Gothol (Thadou majority). 

Accordingly, the tribals would assure the same protection to the Meitei villagers.

Also read: Seven Reasons Why the Violence in Manipur Cannot Be Considered a Sudden Occurrence

However, as a precaution and keeping in mind what was unfolding elsewhere in the state, all the women, the children, the infirm and the elderly from the above mentioned Kuki villages took refuge in army camps or in neighbouring village camps in Churachandpur district. I was one of them.

This arrangement holds till this morning. Remember, on the afternoon of May 3, we left our homes, leaving behind all our possessions, our foodgrains, and our livestock, and we are not sure when can we return home. Our men folk are still guarding our villages with all their bare might, without any weapons.

Meanwhile, the stock of essential goods in Churachandpur is depleting rapidly as supply from Imphal, the capital, has completely stopped. This scarcity is kicking up prices of all essentials, even medicines, and petrol, in most hill districts.

Even the ATMs have run out of cash. With the small amount of money which is rapidly running out, we are not sure what will be left in our hands. We can only hope peace will prevail again, and the government will soon find an amicable solution between the two communities.

Internet services have been cut since May 3. So there is no way to show the world what we are facing. The only thing keeping us calm is hope.

During these perilous times we must remember the words of Martin Lurther King Junior, ‘‘Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.’’

Greed for power and authority have blinded many in my state, so much that they have forgotten love. The issue could have been resolved had we all remembered that love and brotherhood are good for peace and development. We have forgotten the boundaries of humanity in the fight for the boundaries of land. 

A quote from The Bible, the book of my religion, says, “If you gain the whole world but lose your soul, what worth it is?”

We want peace and normalcy to return as soon as possible. We want to go home.

As told to Jon Suante, a Delhi-based freelance journalist, and C. Zou, a researcher based in Meghalaya.

Jenny Vaipei is not the author’s real name.