Ronald Meisnam, 37, loses his cool on seeing two contrasting photos – one, his house at Mandop Leikai, a Meitei locality in Manipur’s Churachandpur, and the other that disturbs him is a flattened plot of land after his house was completely demolished.
Kuki-majority Churachandpur, 65 km from the state capital Imphal, was where he was born and grew up. He lived among tribal neighbours and friends. He is fluent in the Kuki tribes’ languages.
His friend, Amarjit Maibam, 28, also from the Kuki-dominated district, has also lost everything.
“All Meitei houses at Khuga Tampak, about a thousand of them including ours, were set on fire, looted and destroyed by miscreants. Our village wears the look of a war devastated zone,” Mr Maibam said.
Mr Meisnam and Mr Maibam are among some 15,000 Meiteis whose houses in 11 villages in Churachandpur were destroyed in the unprecedented ethnic violence that began on May 3.
They have taken shelter at relief camps in the valley districts. The two men are upset over the demolition of houses belonging to the Meiteis by miscreants after they fled from the violence in Churachandpur.
“Our house and other Meitei homes have been flattened in a systematic way by using heavy machineries by miscreants as if they are the rightful owners of our plots,” Mr Meisnam, in tears, said. He holds a BE (Electronics and Communications) degree from the Manipur Institute of Technology.
“The police in Churachandpur, who are well aware of these unlawful acts, have not taken any action against the culprits,” he said.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh, who had been informed about these illegal activities, has assured action against the perpetrators. But there has been no reports of arrest of the culprits to date, adding to the angst to the Meiteis who lost everything in Churachandpur.
“Unlike in Churachandpur, none of the Kuki houses and the properties that were destroyed in the valley districts during the clash, have not been bulldozed and flattened, and the structures are heavily guarded by the police and the security forces round-the-clock. We strongly feel there are two separate laws against – one in the valley against our equanimity and the other in the hills,” Mr Meisnam said.
The Churachandpur Superintendent of Police has filed a case over the demolition of Meitei properties by miscreants in the Kuki-dominated district, a state government officer said, asking for anonymity.
Internally displaced people and victims of the ethnic conflict who have lost important documents or records like pattas (property papers) of landholdings, educational certificates, and financial records need not worry as these documents would be re-issued to them by district magistrates after verification wherever the displaced people are staying, the officer said.
Manipur has not returned to full normalcy yet. Mr Meisnam and Mr Maibam – like other internally displaced Meiteis – however, desperately want to return home in Churachandpur to ensure their family land is not lost.
“Churachandpur is the only tribal district in the state where the largest number of Meiteis are living. We don’t want to set a new history when all Meiteis leave the district and scatter in the valley areas or elsewhere,” Mr Meisnam said.
“My father, who was born at the same Mandop Leikai house, was reluctant to leave even when miscreants started attacking us on May 3. He asked why should we run away from our birthplace? Only after our hard insistence did he agree to come with us. We left carrying whatever we could,” Mr Meisnam said.
He alleged insurgent groups have a strong grip on Churachandpur. Soon after the Kuki-Paite clash in 1997, the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) was formed to protect the Zo people. Then other Kuki insurgent groups popped up and they held on to specific areas of Churachandpur as their area of dominance, Mr Meisnam said.
Due to the complete submission to Kuki insurgent groups, the Meiteis, who had strong socio-fabric bonding with all communities in the district, gradually began facing subtle hostilities in Churachandpur over a period of years, Mr Meisnam alleged.
He said the Meiteis were also denied basic fundamental rights in Churachandpur.
“Many Meiteis had a hard time getting domicile certificates and even patta or jamabandi for their own land from the office concerned in Kuki-majority Churachandpur. Among the Meiteis, those who had connections with influential people got such documents, and others were left in the lurch,” Mr Meisnam said.
“There was a time when Meiteis at Khumujmaba Leikai formed a group caled Khumujamba Pattadar Association, only to meet district officials to get their land pattas. But because of the hostile atmosphere, some Meiteis left their villages for valley districts,” Mr Meisnam said.
“Our rich neighbours offered a huge amount to buy our land, but my father rejected it for the love of his birthplace. We have lost everything after the ethnic clash,” the Churachandpur resident said.
Mr Meisnam is among thousands of displaced Meiteis who have been demanding the government to take legal action against the miscreants who destroyed their houses.
“We are in the middle of nowhere at present. We request the government to give exemplary punishment to those perpetrators who bulldozed and flattened our houses. The government should take measures to ensure we can return home,” Mr Meisnam said.