My Family and I Lost Our Home – and Our Sense of Belonging – in the Manipur Violence

A first-person account of the ethnic and communal violence in Manipur.

Kangpokpi (Manipur): On May 8, after four days of taking refuge at the campus of Manipur Rifles (MR-2) in Imphal, I have reached my home district, Kangpokpi. I am yet to go to my native village; I’m staying at a relative’s house in Kangpokpi town on completing the journey escorted by security forces yesterday.

Since May 3 afternoon, so much has hit us in quick succession that I am yet to come to terms with it. Right now, I am thankful that my husband, children and myself are safe, though the house we built from our savings at the Haokip Veng (colony) in Imphal has been brunt to ashes along with all our belongings. In fact, Haokip Veng was one of the worst affected areas in Imphal East district on May 3 evening, soon after the ethnic clashes spread across the state. Our entire colony, populated by people from my tribe, the Kukis, was burnt down along with the church.

I have been living in the capital city for the last 19 years, working as a nurse at a government hospital. On May 3 afternoon, a woman from Moreh town I have known lost her husband in the hospital I work in. Since she was also unwell, she requested me and my husband to come over to the hospital to get the body released from the morgue and organise an ambulance to take it home. As soon as we got the body, we received a frantic call from our children who said they had taken refuge at the residence of a former MP who is in our neighbourhood and also belongs to our community. They said a lot of residents of the colony had gathered there as the colony was no more safe from mob attack.

We rushed home and on the way saw people belonging to the tribal community being identified and beaten up. On reaching the colony, we saw the church and some houses already on fire. We turned towards the former MP’s house and found that the entire locality had gathered there. Panic was high.

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

On asking, we learnt that some people in Manipur state police commando fatigue wearing helmets had come to the locality and warned the people that our houses would most likely be attacked and therefore, they must all gather at the house of the politician who belongs to our tribe. The residents followed the instructions of the men whom they took to be genuine police commandos. Till then, we did not know that large mobs had apparently looted weapons and other police fatigue from several police stations. We now think that we were rounded up at one place so that there would be no resistance when our colony and the place of worship would be set on fire.

The next morning (May 4), Manipur Rifles commandoes reached the former MP’s house and escorted all of us to its campus.

Meanwhile, the woman who lost her husband managed to procure an ambulance with the help of a ruling party (BJP) MLA from a hill district. She, along with one other woman and two men from her town, bundled the body into the ambulance and began their journey. However, when they reached Singjamei locality within the capital city, a mob surrounded them and demanded to see their identity; when the passengers refused, the mob forcefully removed the body onto the footpath, pulled the passengers out and beat them up, even as the driver who belonged to the Meitei community fled the scene for safety. One of the men died on the spot while the three others managed to take shelter at a house. The ambulance was burnt down. The body remained on the footpath.

Somehow, they managed to place a call to the nearest Assam Rifles camp which dispatched a vehicle to pick them up along with the body.

Our family continued to stay inside the Manipur Rifles campus as people were slowly being taken to their homes in the hill districts with escorts. We had failed to find a place in those vehicles. We didn’t face any shortage of food and water in the camp, though. Since there is a church inside the campus, the church workers also made arrangement for food distribution.

On May 8, coming out of the safety of the campus after four days, we were gripped by fear and uncertain whether we would reach home safe. We did.

On the way, the leftovers of a capital city coming under the control of mob were strewn all over – rows and rows of burnt down vehicles, shops, houses. I thought of my house and felt a lump in my throat.

When peace returns, I may like to return to Imphal because I have a permanent job there. It is also the reason I am relating the ordeal I and my family went through during the ethnic clash under a pseudonym here. In these uncertain and communally volatile times, I don’t want to be identified.

If I ever return, I will have to start from scratch, only because those 19 years of working hard to settle down have gone up in smoke in one stroke.

(As told to Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty in a telephonic chat from Kangpokpi)           

(Hoinu Haokip is not the author’s real name)