"It's not safe back home": Dismayed Manipur students stay away from home to stay safe 

More than 180 people have been killed and several hundred injured since ethnic violence broke out in Manipur on May 3
This is what the students share | (Pic: EdexLive)
This is what the students share | (Pic: EdexLive)

The quest for safety has kept Manipuri youths Ngangbam Chinglemba and Laishram Sanathoi hundreds of kilometres away from home in Assam's Jorhat during the Durga Puja festival, stated a report in PTI.

It was also their first Durga Puja away from home as lack of financial resources and fear of safety back in their ethnic strife-affected state prevented them from spending the festival with their families.

They are among a group of about 13 students from Manipur who are studying at the North East Institute of Management Science (NEIMS) in Jorhat.

"It's not safe back home. Moreover, we don't have much money to travel," Sanathoi told PTI.

"My family is barely being able to make both ends meet. My father is a farmer and my mother runs a clothes store. But there is hardly any sale as the economy has been badly hit," she rued.

Eldest of five siblings, Sanathoi is pursuing a Master's degree in Tourism Management at NEIMS, while her younger sister is studying to be an engineer in Assam's Sivasagar and the rest are at home in Thoubal with their parents.

"I am lucky that our home and its vicinity have been untouched directly by the violence. But my aunt lost her all material property and has been staying with us for months now," she said.

Chinglemba's parents who live in Imphal West district have seen the worse.

They continue to take shelter in a market every night, even after nearly six months since ethnic strife first erupted in their state.

"My parents stay at home and attend the farm during the day, but it's not safe to spend the night in the village. So everyone stays together in a market at night," he said.

Chinglemba said his father had a shop but it has been closed since May, and the family is barely being able to earn enough to feed themselves. He has two younger sisters, with one studying nursing in Imphal while the other is in class 10.

Chinglemba, just like several others at NEIMS in the current batch, is studying under a special scholarship scheme.

"Our tuition fees are being taken care of for the time being. But we have to pay the hostel fees. Our personal expenses are also there. We are all now looking for part-time jobs," he said.

As they grapple to get out of the harsh situation back home, the Durga Puja festivities brought smiles to them due to the hospitality extended by a fellow Assamese student's family.

"We are so grateful to Mrinal Saikia uncle for opening up his home for us. We spent the Puja days there and though we remembered our families, he ensured that we were not left out of the festivities," Chinglemba said.

Saikia, a BJP MLA from neighbouring Khumtai, learnt of the Manipuri students being forced to spend the Puja alone in the hostel from his nephew, who is also a student in the same institute.

"These kids have already seen so much. The least I could do was invite them home, and that's what I did," Saikia said.

"Some of us have lost our own people and homes in the violence back home. We don't know what the future holds for us. But we still see hope when we meet such people as Saikia uncle and we will aspire to repair the damage done in our own small ways," Sanathoi said.

More than 180 people have been killed and several hundred injured since ethnic violence broke out in Manipur on May 3 when a 'Tribal Solidarity March' was organised in the hill districts to protest against the majority Meitei community's demand for Scheduled Tribe status.

Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur's population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley.

Tribals Nagas and Kukis constitute little over 40 per cent and reside in the hill districts.

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