Imphal: Standing by the victims of the ongoing ethnic conflict, Meitei womenfolk on Wednesday forwent ‘Ningol Chakkouba’ their biggest festival even as groups of them staged hunger strike at various places in the valley districts as a mark of respect to those killed in the strife.
This came a couple of days after people in the valley districts, in the same line of discontentment, switched off lights for ten minutes on the occasion of Diwali.
On Ningol Chakkouba day, Meitei women, particularly the married ones, put in their best traditional clothes, visit their natal homes and enjoy an array of mouth-watering dishes with their siblings and parents.
But this year’s Ningol Chakkouba wore a gloomy look with business establishments at Kwairamband Keithel in Imphal city, the key commercial hub of the state, came to a grinding halt and a few people were seen in the streets.
“Owing to the current crisis which has remained unresolved for the last six months, with more than 50 thousand people displaced from their homes, and many getting killed how can we celebrate Ningol Chakkouba this year?”, lamented women activist, Thounaojam Ashakiran (47) of Kongba in Imphal East district.
She along with a few womenfolk took to the street this morning at Kongba Bazar to express their solidarity of not celebrating the festival.
Ashakiran continued that this year’s Ningol Chakkouba will go down in the history of Manipur as one of the darkest days, as the age-old tradition has been sidelined in order to show solidarity with the victims of violence on the day.
She appealed to both the Centre and the state government to sincerely work towards bringing about a lasting peace so that the displaced people can safely return to their respective homes without any fear.
Notably, today’s show of solidarity was joined by women victims of the international border town Moreh, who have taken shelter at the Government Dance College, Palace Compound relief camp, Imphal East district, ever since violence broke out in May.
Hundreds of displaced women attired in black outfits, with placards in their hands which read “We bow in respect to our heroes who sacrificed their lives for the motherland,” gathered on the roadside as a mark of sit-in solidarity at the Palace Compound area.
“Meitei women keep counting the days for a day like Ningol Chakkouba. We joined our parents and siblings in the best of our attire for a family reunion over a multi-cuisine lunch on this day. But today, we have decided to wear black clothes as a mark of respect to our brothers and sisters who have laid down their lives to protect the territorial integrity of Manipur”, said Kshetrimayum Chaobi (45), a displaced woman from Moreh.
The festival of Diwali and Ningol Chakkouba is the time of the year when there is an increase in commercial activities. But, due to the ongoing conflict, this year saw a sharp decline in sales margin.
Khaidem Somen (52), who runs a departmental store in the heart of Imphal city, Keishampat, said usually during these festivals, a day’s sales margin reached up to Rs 3 lakh. “ But today, the sales margin hardly reach rupees 10,000. It’s hard time for business”, he rued.
Echoing the same sentiment, Leitanthem Subita, (60) who has been selling fruits for more than a decade at the Ima Keithel (Women’s Market) of Khwairamband Keithel, Imphal, said sales margin reached up to Rs 1 lakh every year during Diwali and Chakkouba festivals, adding that this time she had to content herself with just Rs 20, 000 sales.
Today’s show of solidarity was also marked by floral tributes paid to those who lost their lives in the enduring violent conflict between the Meitei and the Kuki-Zo communities. A large number of young women converged at the Western Gate of Kangla, the site of the ancient capital of Manipur, lit candles, incensed sticks and offered flowers to the portraits of those who were killed in the conflict.
Hordes of civil bodies, including the “Co-Ordination Committee Against the Action of Chin Kuki Narco Terrorist & Illegal Immigrants,” had appealed to the people not to celebrate this year’s Diwali and Ningol Chakkouba.