Christmas in Manipur: Torched Vehicles for Bonfires; Edgy Stones for Jaggeries
Well, not exactly Christmas since it’s six days away but you get the idea right?
A recap to my Non-Manipuri readers, Manipur, also proudly proclaimed as ‘The Land of Jewels’, is known for many reasons. In case your mind draws a blank, here are some pointers, i.e. the breeding ground for Active/Inactive/Defunct insurgent groups; the land of Mary Kom; the state that broke its own record of successfully holding 123 days of an economic blockade; home to the world’s only ‘Floating National Park- Keibul Lamjao‘. The latest feather in the cap being the successful addition of Seven New Districts overnight, humour being you were fighting for & against the creation of two districts and the state govt slaps seven on your face!!! In short, Manipur is a land of surprises, good and bad alike. (Psst… it’s one of the states that have taken ‘economic blockade’ very seriously and implements it for everything under the sun. )
Ever since the morning we woke up to the news of 7 new districts (9th December 2016), we have been braving storms summoned by the state Government. There were celebrations, debates and confusion because each one had their own pros and cons. We even anticipated some standoffs from rebel groups which did happen during the inauguration of Tengnoupal district, an ambush that claimed three lives. Some of us could feel in our skin the impending standoffs between the two rebel groups NSCN (IM) and the KNLF.
To be honest, to be utterly honest with you, we have actually gotten used to the chaos in the state that erupts months before Christmas for quite some years now. Some of the readers must also remember how our parents would warn us every time not to come home for Christmas as ‘troubles are boiling‘. Coming home for Christmas or for holidays would mean a huge gamble for us, because we may end up in some indefinite bandh or some conflict or the other. From ILP to Sadar Hills, UNC to ATSUM, the list is endless. My point is, we anticipated the unrest.
However, what we didn’t anticipate was the ethnic attack from the people in the valley (or to be precise, some empty headed Meiteis) towards Nagas in Manipur, Tangkhuls to be precise.
Ever since the ambush at Tengnoupal District (15-Dec-16), the NSCN IMs and Nagas have been in the hot-seat of hatred. With some hilariously written placards, supposedly a rooted hatred for UNC/NSCN IM/ Muivah and such, here is a look:
Some of the placards read “UNC is Ass Suckers of NSCN-IM“. Okay, so we thought it would end there. You know the usual; every party run a rally, shout slogans and go back to sleep peacefully. This time, however, was different.
The valley people, Meitei, decided to turn the hatred a notch up. The Imma vendors of four Ima markets of Khwairamband Keithel called 24 hours statewide bandh on 17-Dec-16 to protest the ambush. To teach us ‘Hao Macha’ (synonymous for the hill people) a lesson, and drive the so-called ‘Nagas’ out of Manipur, another set of mob vandalised churches in Imphal, Manipur Baptist Convention being one. Outside each church was a notice that read that no one should be allowed to attend the Church without prior permission from the area head (or something of that sort). Really? Of all places, it had to be the Church!
Meanwhile, at the Imphal airport, passengers were stranded inside due to the bandh (FYI, since it’s Christmas and wedding season, a whole lot of city dwellers save up their leaves to come home at this very time.). After some mobilisation, around 7:30 pm, some vehicles were sent with escorts to bring back the Tangkhuls stranded in it. They were safely led back to the care of generous care groups who looked into their food and accommodation.
Now, let’s fast forward it to 18-Dec-16, Sunday. Over 900 passengers were stuck outside the defunct bus terminal in the morning. Initially, 300+ passengers bound for Ukhrul, then 500+ then 700+ and then 900+!
People stranded here are a mix students coming home for Christmas, business persons trying to make ends meet, families visiting Imphal for the first time, coming home for brother/sister’s wedding, sick patients coming for check-ups, Gramps visiting their grandchildren, you just name it!
A little after the noon, around 8 buses were arranged and as many as 900+ passengers were huddled into them. With escorts provided for the same, there was a total of over hundred vehicles ready to make their trip home for a PEACEFUL Christmas. The queue of the vehicles stretched from Lamlong till Khuman Lampak, I am told!
Well, two hours into the move, bandh supporters started attacking the vehicles, pelting stones and their filthy abuses. Some vehicles made it back, some stranded, some detoured, and most got burned. There is no dearth of the videos showing the heinous act, just search it on Facebook “Buses Burnt Manipur” or Youtube it.
(For the readers from Ukhrul, I think Yaisana bus was one that got burned too or was it just overturned?) The protestors victoriously uploaded photos and I am spoilt for choices on which one to pick! I wish they had also uploaded the photos of the 100+ passengers that were injured and hurt. Sigh.
If you are wondering about the vehicles that took a detour back to the bus stop in Imphal, this is how it look. Every single glass shattered with a tin roof protection in front. This is pretty much the same story for every other vehicle that made it out of the mob attack ‘ALIVE’. Hah!
Well, apparently, these protestors were really really angry and thus decided that burning vehicles were not enough! They wanted to make sure nothing went out of their ‘sana leipak‘ so they snatched every luggage, some people rummaged for good phones and money, then burnt the rest! Can you imagine the perplexed 500+ passengers getting herded off the bus, watching their vehicles and other belongings go up in flame?
For some, they could’ve watched their gifts for their family go up in flames, a gift h/she bought after years of saving; for some, it could be the wedding dress for his/her brother/sister wedding; for some, it could be the only thing they could afford this winter. Can you imagine the paralysing fear and heartwrenching helplessness that gripped them?
Later in the evening, I found out that one of my young cousin brothers was one of the travellers. So I asked him to tell me what happened. You know what he said? “Sister, I was shit scared that I cannot recollect a single shit that happened except that I almost lost my mind when the window glass was broken and the women in my bus were crying!” He also told me that he had to use a ladies bag to shield himself and his seatmates from the stones. Two old women in his bus got injured too, and his friends who returned from the city got all their stuff burnt. He tells me he was lucky because his bus was towards the end and they were able to escape with a detour. Along with 300+ other passengers, he walked on foot to the nearest Tangkhul Village ‘New Canaan‘. As of the time I talked to him, half of the passengers were heading back and he was in the remaining group waiting for the two bus that was on its way. I am hoping that he and the rest are safely being escorted back to our home in the hills.
For the passengers stranded in Imphal, word is that they were also being provided with escorts and buses at around 1:00 am (19-Dec-16).
I guess, this year we are having burnt vehicles for bonfires and the edgy sharp stones for jaggeries. This is Manipur. I am a Manipur Naga. This is one of the many stories my people are subjected to, months, years, and decades.
Welcome to Manipur. We fake our chaos and call ourselves the land of jewels (scoffs).