By: Reval Leishangthem
I am a student studying Commerce in Mumbai. My home is in Moreh Bazaar, the heart of Moreh. My family has two businesses located in Moreh Bazaar.
There was a peace rally held by ATSUM (All Tribal Students Union Manipur) in Moreh on May 3rd which was over without any violence. Many of my Christian friends were there in the rally and they shared the photos and videos on their social media profiles. That evening I went to watch a cricket match in the IPL totally unaware of the coming violence. I was never interested in politics and had a limited knowledge of it.
The same pattern of violence was seen in Moreh, in the winter of 2015 during the Inner Line Permit (ILP) protests. The Meiteis were attacked in the Moreh Bazaar area by the Kukis and their shops and offices were burnt down. The office of the Meitei Council Moreh too was vandalised and burnt down to the ground. During that time there were very few sophisticated weapons like AK-47 involved so we Meiteis with our extremely limited licensed weapons could fight back.
Since then, a huge number of illegal Burmese Kuki immigrants have settled in and around Moreh. They have formed new villages like Haolenphai, Minou, Molcham and Joldam. Many of these illegal immigrants have prior combat experience while fighting the Military Junta in Myanmar and they have been supplied with sophisticated weapons by the foreign powers. By 2023, we Meiteis were outnumbered (only 25% of the population) and outgunned. We were in no position to fight back.
I came to know from a friend who informed me about Meitei shops being burnt down and gun shots in the open streets of Moreh Bazaar. In my experience most of the Kukis in Moreh are decent people but they are easily provoked and I suspect that Kukis from Churachandpur instigated them to start the violence.
My family said the Kuki youth in the evening of May 3rd started to burn tyres, benches and rolled gas cylinders along the roads in Moreh Bazaar. Then they formed groups and selectively did stone pelting on the Meitei shops. They started making Molotov cocktails and throwing them into the Meitei properties, setting them on Fire. All the time they were blank firing and firing weapons in the air creating a lot of panic and anxiety among the Meitei people. Loud screams to burn down everything and the drum roll like noise of beating lampposts added to the panic. They exploded gas cylinders both in the open and within the Meitei shops and hotels. The statue of the great Maharaja Churachand next to the Moreh Custom Police Station was burnt down. There was no support from the police or paramilitary while all this was happening. Even before in 2021 the Kukis had burnt down the Custom Police Station, Moreh. The security personnel rescued the Meitei people stranded in Moreh Bazaar hours after it all started. Kuki groups attacked the paramilitary, pelting them with stones and they had to use tear gas to control the situation. Over the evening all the Meitei shops and hotels in Moreh Bazaar were burnt down.
My father was at one of our shops and my mother was home when the violence started. When I called them, my mother assured me that everything was fine, but I could sense the fear in her voice. My father told me that there was trouble and he had to get home fast. Thankfully he managed to reach home safely but both of our shops were burned down to the ground. Our home is located away from the main road and many of our neighbours came and they all stayed there for the night on May 3rd. They could hear the shouting; the loud noise of gunfire and stones being pelted at the Moreh Custom Police station by a murderous Kuki mob for hours. The children were warned to keep quiet to avoid any attention from the mob. A dirty divide and rule policy was implemented where we Meiteis were selectively targeted in the cosmopolitan town of Moreh and many of my Kuki friends called me and suggested that my family take shelter in the homes of the Tamilians, Gorkhas of Marwadis. However a united and effective resistance to the Kuki attacks was not possible.
After a long and fearful night, the paramilitary forces came to rescue the Meitei people in the morning. My whole joint family (around 20 members) except my father, two of my uncles and my aunt moved to the Army Relief Moreh. My aunt had psychiatric issues and was suffering from Bone TB in her spine. She was in no condition to survive in the Army Relief Camp Moreh. Although my uncle stayed back home to take care of her proper care was impossible with the situation around Moreh at that time. Lack of care and stress caused her to have a heart attack on the 8th of May and she passed away. She was cremated with the help of the paramilitary forces on the night of 8th May.
Life was not at all easy at the Army Relief Camp Moreh. During their stay in the Moreh Army Relief Camp from 4th to 12th May, the displaced Meitei people were fed only daal and rice with Ficus Hispida leaves acting as plates. Water from the nearby river Khujairok was used for drinking purposes and the washroom facilities were highly unhygienic. It was impossible to change clothes.
My father and uncles stayed at home till 12th May protecting our house. After the 4th of May when our centuries-old Ima Kongdong Lairembi temples were burnt, coordinated mob attacks stopped. However, groups of 15 to 20 men continued to sporadically attack and burn Meitei properties.
Our family was moved from Army Relief Camp Morey to Imphal under cover of darkness on the 12th of May. The convoy had one Assam Rifles in front and another in rear with 10 passenger buses in the middle. During the journey at the Tengnoupal Army Check Post, the buses were fired upon and pelted with stones by a Kuki mob who were shouting slogans like “Meiteis you are scared… do not return”. As for now almost all the Meitei have left Moreh.
The writer is a resident of Moreh and is currently studying BA (Commerce) in a Mumbai college
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the NEA.