Manipur: Displaced Meiteis from Churachandpur seek to return home
Internally displaced people of Manipur (file photo)

Imphal: Ronald Meisnam, a 37-year-old, loses his composure upon seeing two contrasting photos. One depicts his native home in Mandop Leikai, a Meitei locality in Churachandpur district, where he was born and raised, seamlessly blending into the tribal environment, allowing him to speak Kuki-Zo languages fluently. The other image that deeply disturbs him is of a flattened plot of land, the result of his house being completely demolished.

Meisnam’s friend, Amarjit Maibam (28), also hailing from the Kuki-Chin-Mizo dominated district, simply utters with a heavy heart, “All Meitei houses at Khuga Tampak, numbering nearly 1000, including ours, were set ablaze, looted, and destroyed by miscreants, and now our native village resembles a war-devastated zone.”

Ronald and Amarjit are among the approximately 15,000 Meiteis whose houses in 11 different Meitei villages in Churachandpur were destroyed in the unprecedented ethnic violence that unfolded in Manipur on May 3. They are currently seeking refuge in various relief camps in the valley districts. What adds to their anger is the demolition of numerous Meitei houses by miscreants in Churachandpur after the residents had left.

“After we left Churachandpur due to the violence, numerous Meitei houses, including ours, were systematically flattened by miscreants using heavy machinery, as if they were the rightful owners of the Meitei plots,” Ronald emotionally expressed. He said, “The police, who are well aware of these unlawful acts, have not taken any action against the culprits.”

Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, who was informed about these illegal activities, has assured action against the perpetrators. However, there have been no reports of arrests to date, intensifying the frustration of the affected homeowners.

“Unlike Churachandpur, none of the Kuki houses and properties destroyed in the valley districts during the clash have been bulldozed and flattened. These structures are heavily guarded by the police and security forces round the clock. This makes us strongly feel that there are two separate sets of laws – one in the valley and another in the hills,” he lamented.

Meanwhile, according to a reliable state official, Churachandpur SP has initiated a suo moto case concerning the levelling of Meitei localities in Churachandpur by miscreants. The official asserted that those found guilty during the investigation would be punished according to the law. He further assured that internally displaced persons and other victims of the conflict who have lost important documents or records such as landholdings, educational certificates, and financial records need not worry. These legal documents will be re-issued to them by the respective District Magistrates in their current places of refuge. All District Magistrates have been instructed to facilitate this process, the top bureaucrat stated.

Although the state sees no immediate prospects of restoring normalcy, Ronald and Amarjit, like other displaced Meiteis, are determined to return to their native homes to preserve their lineage’s legacy.

“Churachandpur is the only tribal district in the state where the largest number of Meiteis reside. We do not want to witness a history where all Meiteis leave the district and scatter in the valley areas or elsewhere,” Ronald said. He added, “My father, born in the same Mandop Leikai residence, was reluctant to leave home even during the peak of the Kuki miscreants’ attack on May 3. He asked why he should flee from his birthplace. Only after our persistent insistence did we all leave home, filled with despondency.”

Recalling the socio-political changes and militant dominance in Churachandpur, Ronald explained that after the Kuki-Paite clash erupted in 1997, the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) was formed to protect the Zo people. Following this, other Kuki militant groups in the district also increased their control, establishing strongholds in their respective areas in Churachandpur.

As a result, the Meiteis, who had strong social ties with all communities in the district, gradually distanced themselves and began experiencing discomfort in society. They also encountered difficulties in obtaining their basic fundamental rights in Churachandpur.

“Due to various factors, including the indifferent attitude towards them, many Meitei people struggled to obtain domicile certificates and even land ownership documents (Patta/Jamabandi) from the relevant offices in Churachandpur. Among the Meiteis, only those with connections to influential individuals received such documents, leaving others in limbo,” Ronald lamented.

At one point, a large number of Meiteis living in Khumujmaba Leikai had formed an organisation called the “Khumujamba Pattadar Association” to petition district officials for their land ownership documents. Due to the unfavorable atmosphere, some Meiteis had left their native villages and moved to other valley districts.

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“In the midst of this troubling situation, our wealthy neighbours offered substantial sums to buy our land, but my father firmly declined, driven by his love for his birthplace. Now everything is lost after the ethnic clash,” said Ronald, who holds a BE (Electronics and Communications) degree from Manipur Institute of Technology (MIT). Ronald is one of the displaced Meiteis who has called on the government to take strict legal action against the miscreants who demolished their houses.

“We are at a crossroads now. We strongly urge the government to provide exemplary punishment to those who bulldozed and flattened our native houses. The government should also take necessary measures to facilitate our return to our native homes and resettle there,” he concluded.

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