The thousands of internally displaced people, who have lost their homes and almost everything they had, are struggling to cope with their loss and survive at shelter and relief camps in violence-hit Manipur. Today, they have nothing but to hope to hold on to for their survival, and worry about their livelihood after their life in relief camps. Amid the traumatic pain and despair, some of them are turning to music and skills development to heal and find economic sustainability.
During their two-month-long stay at relief centres, some internally women have learned how to make traditional incense sticks, called dhup, and now the incense sticks are being sold in the markets. The incense sticks are used in all ritual performances of the Meitei community in Manipur. The women and their traditional products are gaining support.
The making of incense sticks by the displaced women began when an Imphal-based non-government organisation, Octave Foundation took a significant step towards enhancing the economic sustainability and empowerment of the internally displaced women, who were fast losing hope as the unrest in the state prolonged with no immediate solution in sight.
Through a skill development workshop, the foundation has enabled the women to produce traditional incense sticks, which are now available for sale in the market.
According to the foundation, initiative began at the relief camps located at Shyamasakhi High School and Brajalal Institute of Sciences in Imphal West. The camps are managed by the Joint Committee Yaiskul.
Out of around 40 women in the two camps, 15 women eagerly enrolled in the workshop, which began on June 27.
The foundation collaborated with members of Meira Foods to provide production training, followed by comprehensive instruction on operations and marketing conducted by the Octave Foundation team.
After a week of dedicated efforts, the first sale of dhup was launched on July 3, right outside Shyamasakhi High School, where one of the relief camps was set up, the foundation said.
The sale is being held every day from 4 pm to 6 pm at the same venue. It may be mentioned that curfew is relaxed during the period of selling the incense sticks. Hence, several passersby could buy them.
The local community and passersby have shown tremendous support by purchasing the products and recognising their skill and endeavours, thereby bolstering the morale of the camp residents.
Apart from the efforts of empowering displaced women at relief camps, the Octave Foundation has been actively involved in relief efforts since the beginning of May when the communal riots broke out in the state. The foundation has been extending aid to various relief camps set up across the valley areas.
In addition to the production of traditional incense sticks, the foundation has also initiated therapeutic music sessions.
The music sessions include separate sessions for children. Therapeutic exercises for adults, along with the music, are being conducted in an effort towards ensuring mental health and care.
“These different engagements aim to provide emotional healing for the traumatised people whose houses and other property have been burned down, their loved ones killed or injured and pave the way for a hopeful future, the foundation said.
The Octave Foundation operates through crowd funding, relying on the generous contributions of individuals to sustain their initiatives, it said.
So far, over 60,000 people have been displaced in the Meite-Kuki communal violence that has been persisting for over two months since May 3.