15 cadres of ZRO/ZRA and their families engaged on rice cultivation in Manipur Credit: EastMojo image

Imphal: In the face of any natural crisis, agriculture remains the most important sector to revive the weakling economy of the state.

No wonder then, why Manipur-based outfit Zomi Re-Unification Organisation or Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRO/ZRA) cadres are engaging on farming for their sustenance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The inordinate delays in a political solution and irregular payments of stipend by the Center compelled the ZRA cadres in their designated camps to explore ways and means for their livings.

The ZRO/ZRA is the first armed organisation amongst the Zo people in Manipur to signed a Suspension of Operation (SoO) with the government of India in 2005. Subsequently, a tripartite SoO was signed in 2008 between the Centre and the Manipur government and the two umbrella groups of Kuki militants, Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and United People’s Front (UPF).

According to the camp commander, ZRA and director, ZRO Lt. Col. Nathan, as many as 15 cadres and their families living at Muvanlai-designated camp in Churachandpur district, the first designated camp of the outfit, harvested 8,000 kilos of rice this year.

ZRO/ZRA cadres harvesting rice

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Thanksgiving programme held at Muvanlai designated camp in Manipur on Sunday
ZRO/ZRA cadres and their families attending the thanksgiving programme on Sunday

On November 1, the families of the cadres held a thanksgiving programme for the bountiful harvest and hosted feast which was attended by Zomi leaders, chiefs and leaders from the neighbouring villages, it said.

As informed by Nathan, the irregularities of the yearly payment and monthly stipend of SoO cadres by the Center have severely affected their living conditions as well as maintaining strict discipline in the camp due to the pandemic.

The cadres claimed that they did not receive any ration as relief package during the pandemic from the state government nor the officials visited the camps except the police and Assam Rifles personnel for monthly inspection.

I wonder whether the concerned officials even know aware of the place or location of our camp, said one of the cadres.

Left with no other option, the cadres and their families took up paddy cultivation in the plot identified for them by Teikot village chief. This is the first such rice plantation activity by the cadres inside the camp. But the outfit has been growing spices like ginger and turmeric and agri-horticulture plant/crops like mango, banana, jack-fruits, etc and later sold the harvested fruits.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdown allowed them to work in the field with their children, Nathan added.

Apart from agriculture, cadres are also engaged on piggery, fishery and poultry farms while their womenfolks work on artistic skills like weaving, handloom and handicrafts.

Despite several attempts of connecting the district administration by EastMojo to confirm the designated camps and the cadres activities, the officials were not available for comments.

Meanwhile, despite several rounds of talks held with the Center, the Zomi leader expressed apprehensiveness of the governments’ sincerity in bringing political solution soon.

Muvanlai designated camp in Manipur

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