Manipur is slowly limping back to normalcy as the COVID-19 pandemic seems to subsides. But a huge number of people, especially the youth who returned to their native villages during the pandemic lockdown, are still at a loss not knowing where to go and what to pursue. With limited work opportunities in rural areas, thousands of returnees in the state have been rendered unemployed and struggling to find a job.
Chingjaroi in Ukhrul district too witnessed massive exodus of returnees from different cities. The foothill village has a population numbering approximately 2000 with youths constituting a sizeable share.
When the Imphal Free Press interacted with some of the young returnees with special focus on employment and post pandemic scenario, many of them responded that they do not know what their future holds. Some of them replied they might go back if the prevailing situation improves as there is limited avenues in the villages. While another group of returnees said they would start their own business adjusting with local trends.
One Lungrei, who returned home from Delhi during the pandemic lockdown, told the Imphal Free Press that like him there are many youths who work in unorganised sectors and are out of jobs.
"Our options are limited as there is not much that we could bargain. Financial aid can at least bail us out in this difficult time so that we could engage our time doing economically productive works," he said.
Another youth returnee, Ramhor, who is currently working as an HR executive in an IT firm, said, “There are many youth returnees like me working in different MNCs. We came back believing that we could work at home but we are facing regular interruptions in internet service and electricity supply.
"Our hope has become a nightmare,” Ramhor added and urged the department concerned to address the situations at the earliest before people like him run out of job and burdened their parents.
"Frequent power cuts coupled with poor internet facility has made work at home more difficult and threatened my job. How can we work where there is frequent net connectivity issue? Our work depends on internet," lamented a visibly worried female returnee from the town.
With their hard-earned money gone after months of isolations and given the absence of suitable job avenues, the fate of majority of youths looks bleak. In view of this pressing backdrop, some heart hitting questions arises that the state government, district administrations and the so-called leading NGOs of the state and districts must visualise for better solutions.
The problem is more severe in villages because the only avenues where they could fit in is confined to agriculture and small farms. Financial constraint is one of the major bottlenecks.
The power house of youths finds no meaning if majority are left unattended, lamented one of the returnees from Ukhrul town while urging the authorities concerned to take the issues head-on so that people in Manipur truly enjoy the status it deserved.
One of the returnees said, “This pandemic has hit at the hearts of every returnee, but its impact though borne by all is more in the case of people whose skills are not compatible with rural lives."
As many youths are in dire straits as they struggle to find work in the villages, RA-OK in partnership with Volunteer for Village Development has started a self-reliant project in Chingjaroi CV to reach out to the unemployed pandemic-hit returnees.
The project aims to generate employment to the young returnees by offering them slew of viable local based sustainable activities while encouraging them to support themselves with their own start-up business.
Commenting on the ongoing projects, RA-OK integrated livestock farming chairman Jamp said the group is taking up the project in partnership with VVD. Currently 30 local youths are undertaking the projects and it covers farming of pigs, poultry, ducks and fish. In addition to these, the youths are also proactively engaged in organic based farm works to supplement their income, he added.
He said the locals instead of going for pond farming have put up nets on both ends of rivers stretching around 1 km for fish rearing purposes. This main river course is joined by many tributaries and flows down to Laney Bridge in between Manipur's Jessami block and Nagaland's Phek town.
Currently, they are farming around 30,000 thousand varied fishes within the stretch. This farming will continue before monsoon hit the district while the rest of the projects will continue, Jamp said.
The project, initiated by entrepreneur Khanot Khamasu, a native of Chingjaroi CV, began in November 2020.