Guwahati: The ongoing conflict in Manipur has not just hurt those in the state. Those outside, if anything, are faring much worse. Whether it is a civilian who left the state to study or a sportsperson who is only supposed to focus on their profession, no one has been left unscarred. India centre-back Chinglensana Singh Konsham may be one of the best footballers in India, but even he is feeling almost helpless in the aftermath of the violence that has rocked Manipur since May 3. And he has strong reasons to feel so: his house was burned down, forcing his family to lead a nomadic life amid a cloud of uncertainty of whether they will ever be able to return again.
Born and brought up in the Churachandpur district, Chinglensana’s life turned upside down in a matter of a few hours that fateful Wednesday (May 3). Even as the situation back in the hilly town refuses to return to normalcy anytime soon, the seasoned defender describes the ordeal in an exclusive chat with EastMojo, confirming his absence from the national squad that is preparing for the Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar from June 9.
“I thought it was the last time I was speaking to my mother. I was in Kerala, playing the AFC play-off against Mohun Bagan, and that followed a sleepless night on the phone for hours as things turned scary once the violence started,” he said at the start of the conversation.
Elaborating on the ordeal, the 26-year-old explained, “On May 3 night, I didn’t sleep, and neither did my family, as our house was burned down at around 12:30 am, and they were scared. My mom was on the phone with me, explaining the crisis, and she was whispering as she was afraid that someone would hear our conversation, and it was all dark in the house.”
“It was at that moment I thought it might be the last time I was speaking to my mother, so I told her, ‘Please do not cut the call, I want to be with you.’ It was scary because I could hear gunfire in the background, and people screaming for help. My family somehow survived the night, and around 4:30 am, there were around 10 army vehicles that came to the rescue. On May 4 morning, my parents were evacuated from our house, and I returned to Manipur on May 5.”
Chinglensana, who made his debut for the senior India team in August 2017, went on to describe the magnitude of the violence that not only left him homeless but also without the ground that he had prepared for training during his off-season days.
“Whatever we once had, especially my parents, who worked hard to save for us, we lost everything, including our house, the family restaurant, our savings, and even the ground where we used to practice. All that our community owned in Churachandpur was burned down,” he said.
“My family was in a relief camp for a few days before shifting to a relative’s place in Moirang, and after that, my friend asked me to shift to his vacant house, some 40kms from Churachandpur, till the situation gets back to normal. It’s already been a month, but the situation is still very vulnerable,” he added.
The former Shillong Lajong centre-back said that the violence has left him and his family rethink about their future and if they will ever be able to return and live peacefully in a place they once fondly called “home”.
“Money can’t buy emotions, and today we are broke emotionally. The worst part is we don’t know where to go back, and where to practice again. The house and the ground are destroyed completely and there is no certainty whether we can ever go back. At the moment, the picture looks really blurry and we don’t know what’s in store,” he said with a heavy voice.
“I couldn’t even see my home again. Even till today, I haven’t been to Churchandpur, where I had a house, and a ground, where I grew up training,” he adds.
No home to return
Born and raised in a territory where his community is a minority, it’s natural that the footballer has befriended many from other communities over the years. While he acknowledges that not everyone is guilty, the violence has instilled such a fear in Chinglensana’s mind that he can’t even risk contacting his friends.
“I still have many friends (from the other community), they are sorry about what we are going through. It’s a very sad thing that has happened. Not everyone is guilty outside but whatever happened is really scary. Some of them have been reaching out but the reality is they can’t do anything at the moment,” he said.
“And I can’t ask them anything at the moment because everything is out of control. There’s already so much chaos and even if we reach out to each other, I’m afraid it could bring in more trouble. I’m thankful to God that my family is still alive and safe,” he added.
Supportive team management
Chinglensana understands the importance of the Intercontinental Cup in the build-up to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, but given the current circumstances, he preferred to be with his family and received support from the Indian football team management.
“After the match against Mohun Bagan, I had to return to Manipur on May 5 and later had a word with the national coach (Igor Stimac) expressing my inability to take part in the Intercontinental Cup, as I’m still stuck here. I wanted to go to Bhubaneswar but the situation here is really tense and I can’t plan anything at the moment,” he said.
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“I explained to him how hurt and emotional it was for me to see my family going through the ordeal. I spoke to the coach apprising him of my family’s situation, about our house and the ground, and that my family needs me at this moment. I have to be there for them now. The team management understood my decision, and allowed me to be with my family,” he added.
For now, the ace footballer has only one hope and a prayer: that he and his family can someday return to his native place. To live as locals again.
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