For James (named changed), who has been staying at one of the relief centres for displaced people in violence-hit Manipur, it’s been over two months since he last saw his wife and his toddler son, who are separated from him. Reason? Inter-community marriage–he belongs to the Meitei community while his wife belongs to the Kuki community.
Like many others, who are involved in inter-community marriage, James has been patiently waiting for the crisis to end so that he could meet his wife and his one-and-half year-old son, who is with the mother.
Since the eruption of the current crisis between the Kuki and Meitei communities in the state, over 70,000 people have been displaced from their homes. Thousands of houses and hundreds of villages have been burned, both in the hills and the valley districts, leaving many homeless. Thousands of homeless people have fled the state, while thousands others are taking shelter in relief camps set up across the state.
And while all these displaced people from both the communities narrate their tale of horror and how they barely managed to escape from the violence, one cannot deny that some people are politicizing the issue for some vested interest. Moreover, due to the untimely action from the government, the displaced people are still suffering at relief camps for over 75 days now. And no one knows for how long.
Meanwhile, to provide necessary assistance, the state government has announced the construction of prefabricated houses at suitable places in most of the affected districts. However, many of the displaced people are demanding that they return to their earlier houses that they left due to the crisis.
During an interaction with some displaced people at a relief camp, the Imphal Free Press found some displaced persons who had inter-community marriage between the two communities who are directly involved in the present crisis. But alas! They have been separated from their families due to the crisis.
James is, now, eagerly waiting for the crisis to end so that he could meet his wife and his one-and-half-year-old son who is staying with the mother.
The 31-year-old James told the Imphal Free Press that he had a love marriage with his wife. They had known each other since class XII. On October 24, 2019, they got married and were living in a rented house near his wife’s village.
James said, to meet the needs of the family, he started a small-scale business in the village with the help of his wife from 2017-18. After some years, his wife gave birth to a boy child, who is now one- and-half-year-old.
Recalling the beginning of the crisis, James said when the incident began around 4:30 pm-5 pm on May 3, he and his family thought it was one of those normal incidents.
However, the crisis started escalating day by day and he had to leave his wife and son at her maternal home, while he stayed at an Assam Rifles camp for security reasons, James told the Imphal Free Press. He sometimes met his family by going to his wife’s maternal house till May 8-9. However, violence escalated and he had to join other villagers in evacuation to some safer place in Imphal, he added.
With the fear of mob violence, he left the village and his wife at her maternal house along with his son, said James. “That was the last time I saw them,” he added.
"After I reached the relief camp, I could hardly talk with my family on the phone due to network problems. If there was internet services like before we could make video calls to console each other,” he added.
“When I could reach her on the phone, I frequently consoled her, telling her I would come immediately when the crisis ends,” said James.
James said he never thought such a crisis would happen, when he married his wife, belonging to the Kuki community, but that they dreamt of a beautiful life together and a happy family.
“Who should I blame as the crisis has separated my family and I have a strong desire to reunite with my family,” James asserted.
He appealed to both the Central and state governments and concerned authorities to bring an amicable solution at the earliest so that displaced families who had inter-community marriage between the two communities could reunite with each other.
The Imphal Free Press also spoke to another displaced family who had inter-community marriage and have been separated by the crisis.
Tomba (name changed) belongs to Meitei community, while his wife is a Kuki. They were staying in a Kuki-dominated area with their three beautiful children. He was running a small business to support the family.
Tomba said on May 3 evening he heard that a crisis broke out between Meitei and Kuki communities. Soon after some time, he closed his shop and returned to his house and shut the main gate. Some 30 minutes later, he heard some nearby houses were burned due to the crisis but they remained inside his house.
Later, some state police, including commandos, came and told him that they came for rescue as the violence had escalated. For the safety of the family members, they had to go along with the state forces to their respective police station, he added.
The next day, some Assam Rifles personnel came and asked all who were staying at the police station to stay at their camp as the situation was getting worse. Immediately, all the people who were staying at the police station were shifted to the Assam Rifles camp and they stayed there till May second week, Tomba narrated.
As the violence increased in the area, all the displaced people had to leave the village to safer places for the safety of their lives in Imphal, said Tomba.
After two-three days, his family reached a relief camp set up in Imphal. Some locals of the area where the relief camp was set up started pointing out that his wife belonged to the Kuki community and they will not allow her to stay in the relief camp.
Explaining to the locals of the area, including other displaced people who are staying in the same relief camp, Tomba said his family members came here in Imphal with the hope that the Meitei brothers and sisters would help protect his family.
He was questioned by the locals and others that his wife will pass information to Kuki communities about the Meiteis that could harm the community. At that time, he responded to the locals that they could have seized his wife’s mobile phone and confirmed that she was innocent and not an informer.
The locals and other people were convinced his family had been staying in the relief centre with care and support from the locals and others, he said, adding that the present violence is instigated by some outsiders. Although the present violence has reduced, it could resume after some few years. He asked the government to withdraw SoO agreement with the Kuki militants to bring a permanent solution. Until the SoO agreement is withdrawn, the bonding between Meitei and Kuki communities will be hard to reunite, Tomba added.
When the Imphal Free Press interacted with some other displaced persons staying at various other relief camps, they said that they do not want to stay at a prefabricated house which is being constructed at various districts both in hills and valleys. “We want to return to our village, at our house that we left behind with fond memories and want peace like before,” they said.