An unsuspecting village comes under attack. Line pencil sketch of unarmed villagers come out to thwart off the advancing armed miscreants approaching the village on armoured vehicles, each with mounted automatic weapons firing away, depicted by a series of dashes, signifying bullets flying towards the opponent side.
Village guards are seen putting up a fight, retaliating from the cover of a bunker. The violence is happening in the foothills of four sloping green mountains with a yellow sun shining bright in the sky.
This pencil sketch was made by an eight-year-old boy, Khamba (name changed), whose house in Manipur’s Churachandpur was completely set on fire on May 3.
Since then, Khamba and his widowed mother had been evacuated to Imphal and compelled to live in a relief camp. Khamba has made many such drawings, indicating the trauma he had experienced when his village came under attack and subsequently burnt down to ashes by armed miscreants in Churachandpur.
According to the Manipur Social Welfare Department data, over 12,600 displaced children are living in relief camps across the state, and out of them 100 are severely traumatised, needing professional counselling.
“A child may not be traumatised immediately. But that trauma can come up after a week or a month. What we have been doing is – initially our counsellors will visit the relief camps. Whenever they find such severely traumatized children, they will be identified, and taken to professional counsellors. We’ve done this for little more than 100 children. We hope that this number does not increase and these traumatised children can go back to normal very soon,” said Ngangom Uttam Singh, Director, Social Welfare Department.
To look after mental health of the displaced children, counsellors are deployed through District Children Protection Offices in every district. They visit children homes and relief camps to identify children who require professional help.
The department has a team of medical practitioners and child psychiatrists working as volunteers who aid in providing counselling to those who are severely traumatised.
Child Psychiatrist Dr Jina Heigrujam, who has visited several relief camps to identify children having PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder, explains why professional counselling is essential to avoid a mental health issues from developing. According to Dr Heigrujam, art and dance therapy are the best techniques that work well with children to get them out of their traumatic experience.
“If stress is prolonged and a child isn’t able to adjust to it, many mental health issues can happen. The most common is post-traumatic stress disorder or depression in childhood or anxiety. In order to help them, we’ve dived deep into the layers to understand how badly they are affected. To do this there are lots of techniques. One of them that works well with children is art therapy,” the child psychiatrist said.
The Social Welfare Department personnel went to relief camps in Wangjing at Thoubal district to identify stress affected children.
These personnel are trained to screen for severely traumatised children by a team from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru.
At the Lamding relief camp in Thoubal district, where internally displaced residents of Moreh and Serou are sheltered, the specialists identified three-year-old Yaiphaba (name changed) as a traumatised child.
Unlike other children of his age and locality, Yaiphaba refused to join in group activities. He is visibly frightened and clings to his aunt. Even luring him with toys and colour pencils do not work. He tightens his hold on his aunt as if sensing danger.
All this while, the other kids in the Lamding camp were dancing to a happy tune following the steps of the child specialists. Yaiphaba eases a little when his mother arrives and holds him. Gradually, he gets drawn to the general mood of fun and frolic.
According to Yaiphaba’s mother, there was a turmoil in their house on the night of May 3 at Moreh when 50-60 people from the locality rushed into their house to take shelter after violence broke out. Miscreants burnt selective shops and houses, she said. The attack affected young Yaiphaba.
“Before the incident, he wasn’t afraid of people, but after the incident whenever there are gatherings of people, especially strangers, he keeps saying he is afraid. He has also become reluctant to speak,” his worried mother said.
Another cause of concern that the Social Welfare Department is looking to address is the status of the relief camps for “child friendliness”. As the relief camps are unplanned and set up on a need basis, a UNICEF team, which visited the state, provided a blueprint for setting up children-friendly relief camps. The department is looking into this crucial need.
Manipur Chief Secretary Dr Vineet Joshi and officials have been visiting relief camps in both the hill and valley districts to check the conditions of children living there. He also flew to Churachandpur district and spent time with children.