‘Surviving Without Pay, Unable to Venture Out’: How Kuki Families Are Navigating Life in Imphal

While it is being said that no one from the Kuki community is living in the Imphal valley, and no one from the Meitei community is living in the hills, the ground reality seems different.

Imphal: In the strife-torn district of Imphal, a few Kuki families continue to endure an existence that resembles being trapped in a cage, and isolated from all sides, within the confines of the New Lambulane area.

Due to potential repercussions and safety concerns in the volatile valley, some of these families expressed fear of speaking on the situation.

While it is being said that no one from the Kuki community is living in the Imphal valley, and no one from the Meitei community is living in the hills, the ground reality seems different.

‘Struggling without pay for months, unable to venture out’

In New Lambulane, daily life came to a grinding halt for the tribal community on May 3, when the violence in Manipur erupted, which killed over 160 people and displaced around 70,000 individuals.

The chaos led to the closure of the Tribal Market in New Lambulane, putting the means of livelihood of several residents at risk.

Another shocking incident on July 25, where around 35-40 houses belonging to the Meitei community were set ablaze, further heightened fear and distress among the tribal residents.

The state-imposed curfew begins at 6 pm, however, the shops in New Lambulane remain shuttered throughout the day as people are scared to move out of their houses. This has been the case since the outbreak of violence. The families find themselves enclosed in their colonies with limited access, depending on police intervention for movement.

The residents are overwhelmed with feelings of isolation and despair. A member of the Kuki family expressed their plea for justice, saying, “Our only wish is for justice. We request both the Union and state governments to ensure impartial justice prevails in Manipur – justice that can distinguish between right and wrong.”

The Kuki families, particularly, have been surviving without pay for over three months, unable to venture out due to the hostile environment. A distressed Kuki individual, speaking on behalf of the community, said, “In a few days, our money will run out, then what will we do, you tell?”

The Kuki families declined to directly respond to questions on their views on the demand for a separate administration and a separate state. Instead, they said, “Every day, devout elders and our families gather and pray together at 1 pm, seeking God’s intervention.”

Also read: Manipur: After 80-Year-Old Meitei Woman Burnt Alive in Her Own Home, Family Says Police Yet to Act

A glimmer of unity

Approximately 30 Kuki families and five Naga families currently reside in New Lambulane. Interestingly, the New Lambulane Baptist Church remains untouched, contrary to the circulating news about all churches in the valley being burnt down.

The New Lambulane Baptist Church. Photo: Yaqut Ali

Despite the adversities, a glimmer of unity can be observed in the New Lambulane area, as Naga and Kuki families stand together. A Naga resident confidently said, “This is a fight between brothers of the same family, and once the parents [referring to the government] look into it, the fight will either cease or prolong indefinitely. We don’t know how long it will last.”

When questioned about safety concerns in the area, a resident remarked, “It’s a little different from the past days. Whenever any mob came, they would not see if I’m Naga or Kuki, and anything can happen to us.”

The Wire asked the resident quoted above if any of his Meitei friends called to check in on him amid the ongoing strife, to which the Naga individual said, “Yes, they called me. They asked if I need any help, and they are in constant touch with me, ready to provide any assistance.”

So it appears that despite ongoing tensions, there is a sense of solidarity and empathy between the Meitei and Kuki communities.

While calls for a separate administration persist, members of the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) emphasise their desire to coexist as neighbours.

However, a representative of ITLF Ginza told The Wire: “Physically, we are separated. The CM is only the CM of Meiteis. The Manipur Police only support the Meiteis. [We have received] no relief help from the Manipur government. So, we are separated.”

Also read: Their Children Missing and the Authorities Silent, Two Manipuri Families Don’t Know Where to Turn

Finding solace in prayers

Despite the tensions and uncertainties, the residents of New Lambulane find solace in their faith and prayers, hoping for unbiased justice from both the Union and state governments.

A member of the Kuki community said, “All we want is justice – our request to both the Union and state governments is to bring justice in Manipur – justice without being biased, justice that can determine who is right and who is wrong.”

The situation in Imphal’s New Lambulane area remains complex and sensitive, with lives hanging in the balance as the community awaits a resolution to their predicament.

The Wire also reached out to Imphal East superintendent of police Shivakanta about the security measures taken by the Manipur police for the safety of Naga-Kuki residents in Imphal. He said four companies of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), besides the state police, are deployed for guarding the New Checkon and New Lambulane areas.

He added, “The police provided round the clock security as soon as the [May 3] incident happened in Churachandpur.”

The CAPF was deployed from May 7 in the Checkon area of Imphal. Before that, police, mostly aided by the Assam Rifles, or the army, were present there.

“After the arrival of the central forces, more security was provided to the affected areas of the district, including New Checkon, New Lambulane area, and peripheral areas. When there’s any apprehension for the security of the people in the areas, the police are always there to assist them. Be it someone needing a drop at the airport or someone needing to take out their important documents or goods,” he said.

This article was edited to reflect that CAPF deployment began on May 7 in Checkon area of Imphal.