One June afternoon, about 2,000 people gathered outside Ravinder’s house and demanded the family leave, threatening to burn the house down. Reason: Ravinder’s wife is a cookie.
As Manipur’s ethnic fault lines deepen, pitting Meitis and Kukis against each other, ‘outsiders’ like Ravinder – many who married locals and settled in the state – now find themselves trapped and in some cases separated from their families.
Ravinder, 47, a barber from Motihari in Bihar, came to Manipur 30 years ago and eventually settled in the Langol area of the Imphal Valley, a larger Meitei area.
Recalling the recent attack on their home, Ravinder said, “I was not at home when the mob came. By the time I rushed there, the security forces had arrived. Somehow the army rescued us and brought us to a relief camp.”
He said he was not scared after the first reports of violence came in the state on May 3. “Since I am not (ethnically) from here, I thought we would be safe. Also, my landlord, a Meite, told me not to leave me because he would not protect me. But the crowd came in the end,” he says, adding that the house was spared after the crowd realized it was a Meitei.
Ravinder recently took his wife and three children to the Kuki-dominated area of Jiribam, where he has relatives, while he returned to Imphal to earn a living.
Peter’s father James Kuttan, a BSF soldier from Kerala, met his mother at Tipaimukh in Churachandpur district, fell in love and married in 1986. Peter’s mother, a Kuki, says, “We moved to Imphal and have been here ever since. All these years, we have never felt threatened, but now I am worried about my children.”
Kuttan died of natural causes in 2012, after which Peter, 30, an electrician, stepped in to support the family, which included his younger sister and brother.
Peter says that when the violence started, their home in Meitei Colony in Imphal no longer felt safe. “Initially, we did not face any problem. But once the violence started escalating, the local club held a meeting where it was decided that we should leave the colony as the mob might beat us to death,” he says.
Since then the family moved to Churachandpur. Her mother says she is not very optimistic about the situation improving. “We had to leave the valley, where we lived and had all those memories, and settle down in Churachandpur for good,” she says.
A professor of Manipur University, who did not wish to be identified, said people from across India have been settling in the state for at least half a century. It started with Marwaris and Punjabis coming to the region for trade, followed by people from Bihar either as laborers or as security and paramilitary personnel posted here. This migration to the region was accompanied by an influx of Bengali Muslims and Nepalis who settled in significant numbers in certain parts of Manipur, the professor said.
“Marwaris and Punjabis were heavily settled in the Thangal Bazar area of Imphal. Some rarely venture out of the region or mix with local people outside of business transactions. Still, there were many others who married local Meiti or Kuki women and became part of Manipur society,” the professor said.
40-year-old Thonggaiching was born into such a union. His Marwari father Murari Lal came to Manipur more than half a century ago and started business in Sugunu. According to Thonggaiching, Murari Lal fell in love with his mother Kuki and married her.
When trouble arose, Thonggaiching said, he was in Imphal, living in a Meitei house on Sanakithel Road while his mother was in cookie-dwelling Churachandpur.
“Our ancestral home in Sugunu has been burnt down. In Imphal, where I lived, some people wanted to know my details. They said I have to get aadhar card. I gave all the details including my mother. The next day, the landlord asked me to leave with all my belongings because violence was expected. Eventually the security forces rescued me,” he says from Churachandpur, where he has to start life afresh.
Deepak, 44, from Jharkhand has a similar story. An employee of an organization attached to a central ministry, he came to Manipur when he was 17 While working on a project in Tengnopal, he met his future wife and the two were married in 2001.
He has been living with his family in Lamphel area of Imphal for the past many years.
“On June 6 midnight, Meera Paibis came and started checking Aadhaar cards and found that some Kuki families were staying there. They said people are coming here and they can kill you and so you should run. We immediately left home and came to this relief camp,” said Deepak’s elder son
Deepak says he is making arrangements to send his family to Tengnupal and will continue working in Imphal.
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