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My 4-year-old nephew’s last plea to arsonist: ‘Uncle, please give me my schoolbag’

Thousands of people are homeless, and thousands of indigenous people become refugees in their own land. I am restless and helpless.

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By: Huidrom Athouba Meetei

What had happened, what had been destroyed—everything is in front of you today. I am not going to argue who is right or who is wrong, but I would like to share some of my observations on what really might have happened. I should confess first that there should be a judicial inquiry into the whole incident, and immediate relief, and humanitarian assistance should be given to all the affected victims, irrespective of community and region. The people of Manipur are facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis now. Thousands of people are homeless, and thousands of indigenous people become refugees in their own land. I am restless and helpless.

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I am compelled to be a party to the ongoing violence in the state at this time. During my childhood and school days, we witnessed such clashes among different communities both in the hill and valley areas. At that time, we just heard or read through the newspapers and radio. There was no internet, which was indeed a boon for us. It could have been a completely different story if there had been the internet and mobile phones. I will tell you how I became a party member this time. 

On the evening of May 3rd, when I came to know about the incident, there were reports of burning houses and attacks on certain communities by certain groups of people. I immediately called up my family to confirm if everything was alright. Meanwhile, I realised that the violence’s epicentre was near my cousin’s sister’s house. I asked my family if they were able to contact her. The reply was no. Meanwhile, there was a widespread report of arson and attacks, with visuals of burning houses and groups of people holding sophisticated weapons like AK-47 rifles roaming among a large crowd. Then came visuals of an old woman running with children to save their own lives, and then came videos of stone pelting between two groups standing side by side. I also saw some security personnel around who remained helpless—who seemed to be directionless, who were not guided or ordered to handle the situation properly.

It was around 9 p.m. on May 3. I called up my family again to inquire about whether they were able to contact our sister. I was told yes; they had spoken with her. I let out a big sigh of relief and took a deep breath. The next moment, I was told that their houses had been set ablaze and gutted to ashes. Uh! I have no words to explain what exactly felt right to me at that moment. Because I know my sister’s family condition. There was no regular income in the family—her husband was a daily wager and sometimes she sold vegetables in the area. She has three children, the youngest of whom was only 4-years-old.

I thought of talking to her immediately but couldn’t get through. I just received further information about the situation and wellbeing of other close family members. I was so mean!

Then reports of violence across the state came in. Burning many houses or whatever is found in the areas. Continuous reports of heavily armed groups firing at people holding sticks and stones are also coming in. For a few hours, I was not behaving like a human being, and I felt ashamed of calling myself a human being. I was only asking about my family, my community, and my area. Apparently, these words “my, “our, and “yours” might be the only thing that could have attacked and imbalanced everyone’s mind, and so the scale of violence we have seen.

And today, I spoke with my sister again. The moment she picked up the call, I just heard her heavy voice, trying to console herself. I also consoled myself hard and asked her what happened and how it all happened. I was listening to the phone and also picturising myself of the situation—uncontrollable tears rolled down my cheeks. What hurt me most was when she said she could manage to bring only the school bags of her 4-year-old son. 

Around 30 people broke their door while they were hiding inside their house. Some people were warned to run away. Among the killers who were inside their house – most of them couldn’t understand Manipuri; they didn’t listen or show any kind of sympathy towards her and her children.

It was only at that moment that my sister’s 4-year-old son pleaded to one of the men in Meeteilon (Manipuri): “Uncle, please give me my school bag. I have some homework to complete. My ma’am (referring to his teacher) will scold me if I don’t complete my homework.” 

That man understood the language (Meteilon); he looked at the child and asked where his schoolbag was. The child pointed to his room, and that man ran inside, brought the school bag, and handed it over. 

Thank you so much, my dear unknown fellow, who gave back my nephew’s school bag. I would always pray for your well-being!

After they came out of the house, one man (from another community) who happened to know my sister showed her the way to a house and suggested they hide there for the moment to save their lives. The very next day, as the tension escalated, the family suggested leaving their house for a safer place. That family called some volunteers (from the other community  and they dropped her off at the Churachandpur mini secretariat, where thousands of other fellow citizens are taking shelter.

One thing that I am trying to compose myself and think about in light of the whole sequence of events is that those who understand Meeteilon at least saved my sister’s life. WHO ARE THOSE MERCILESS PEOPLE WHO DON’T UNDERSTAND MEETEILON AND BURNT DOWN MY SISTER’S HOUSE? To my understanding, they are illegal migrants from neighbouring countries and states. KUKI-CHIN-MIZO from Myanmar, Bangladesh. They must be groups of people who were flushed out of Myanmar, Bangladesh – now indulging in illegal poppy plantations, mass deforestation, and occupation of lands in the protected forest areas. And a few people who have been in the state for quite some time—I repeat, a few—who have vested political and financial interests in the mass poppy cultivation in the area motivated by a “dream of a Kuki homeland”—joined the gangs and started targeting innocent citizens in the Churachandpur area, the epicentre of the violence.

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