It was a normal day just like every other day. The classes of our new semester started from that day. I attended all the classes and after it, I went to Guite Sir’s room to talk to him about the dissertation that we must submit by the end of the semester as a part of our syllabus. I told him that I am interested in writing about the “stateless” people.
Now talking about statelessness, don’t you think it’s an interesting topic? The Rohingya fled from Myanmar where majority of them took shelter in the refugee camps at Cox Bazar in Bangladesh.
Again, we are familiar with the Chakmas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts who were disowned by the then East Pakistani state which is now Bangladesh. Many of them who settled in Arunachal Pradesh have been given citizenship rights since 2004 and also the right to vote and elect their representatives, but they are still considered as outsiders even if they are very much a part of the workforce and contribute significantly to building up the economy of the state. It is because they don’t have the tag of “indigenousness”.
In the process of proving the indigenousness of some ethnic groups, we are inevitably making some stateless. Well, without going much into the dichotomy of indigenousness and statelessness, let me come straight to what I have been longing to tell you all.
It was in the evening of that day, May 3, that I received the message about the temporary ban of the internet. Unfortunately, that temporary ban has gone on for more than three months now.
Before the internet shutdown, I could recall people on WhatsApp uploading pictures and videos about the Tribal Solidarity March organised by the All Tribal Students Union Manipur, and later in the evening, I saw some of my friends sharing the videos of people running out of their burning houses, screaming, yelling, and even shouting out loud things like “Meitei gi yum mei thare etc…” (they are burning Meitei houses). It was quite disturbing. Then, I heard about how what was supposed to be a peaceful rally took a violent turn and a communal/ethnic colour was added on it that led to the spiralling mob violence in different parts of Manipur.
That same evening, a senior of mine called me up to enquire about the situation in our university, of which I had no idea at that time. Again, it was from a friend of mine that I learnt about the disturbances inside the university campus that was allegedly led by some local volunteers to drive out Kuki students.
Strangely enough, my hostel roommate happens to be a Kuki. She told me about her traumatising experience of that evening. But luckily for her, she could reach her home safely after staying a few days in the relief camp at Imphal. The reason why I call her lucky is because of the simple fact that so many innocent people, like me and you, never got the chance for a safe return to their homes. The hatred boiling out of this so-called ethnic conflict is so monstrous that it does not spare anybody. You are driven out of the comfort of your home, and not just this, so many houses, villages are burned down to ashes, and in the worst case, one could get killed for being born in a particular community. People are being shot dead for being a Meitei, and similarly we have no mercy in killing another human being for not being a Meitei.
Just a few days back, my roommate called me, and we talked about how the ethnic clash came as a surprise to both of us. Some said that it was pre-planned. But both my roommate and I belong to that category of innocent people who never even imagined that things like this could even take place. And I am sure many people from both sides fall into this category.
My roommate also told me about the hardships that they are facing right now. The shortage of necessities like food items, medicines and she even told me very frankly that they are really broke financially, with hardly any means to earn an income. It was a friend venting her worries to a friend. I am worried about her situation. It was a conversation between two roommates and not between a Meitei and a Kuki.
I have also heard about the difficulties faced by the people in the valley relief camps, and I am sure the condition is not less horrible than my roommate’s situation.
The narrow division based on ethnicity has caused unimaginable bloodshed. Perhaps it’s high time to look beyond this thin line of division and see people as people. What has a little child born to a Kuki father and a Meitei mother got to do with the violence that broke out at Churachandpur? What did 80-year-old Ibetombi, an aged Meitei woman, do to deserve that kind of end?
What came as a shock was the news of the viral video of two Kuki women being paraded naked by a mob. Well, that was the wildest and the most inhuman thing that we could imagine in today’s world where we claim ourselves to be civilised. There’s not a single thing that could justify that kind of act. Where have all the humane quality of us humans gone? What do we gain by taking the lives of innocent people in the name of vengeance? Those who perpetrated the crime should be held responsible and punished.
My big question to my fellow human beings is, is this internecine fight really worth? Have we not learnt about how ethnic and communal-based conflicts have ended in history? How long are we going to let innocents bleed for this futile issue?
Let us all keep aside the politics and statements of people in power for a while. Let us for a while, think of our fellow human beings as human.
The time demands us to remember the saying that an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.
This article was first published in The Frontier Manipur.