Manipur's Kuki–Zomi–Hmar refugees starved of food, water, healthcare
With relief camps dangerously short of supplies, the most vulnerable—babies, elderly, chronically ill—suffer first and worst. They still refuse help from the state govt, having lost all trust
There is no sign of the promised pre-fabricated houses for the homeless and the displaced in Manipur yet. Chief Minister N Biren Singh had announced that by mid-August 300–400 such houses would be ready. But with barely a fortnight left to the deadline, nobody seems to know where or whether these houses are being built. In Churachandpur, any construction is yet to start.
Almost three months after ethnic clashes began in May, there are even now 300 relief camps operating in the state, 105 of them said to be in Churachandpur alone. But in the absence of authenticated and authoritative data from the government, nobody is sure of the exact number of such camps.
Many of the displaced are dissatisfied with the proposed location of these houses, which they believe to be unsafe. The Kuki–Zomi–Hmar internally displaced people (IDPs) have also refused to accept any relief or support from the state government. Distrustful and resentful of the state government, they are ready to accept support only from the central government.
Also Read: The Führer fiddles while Manipur burns
Although Union home minister Amit Shah had announced a relief package of Rs 102 crore from the Centre towards the end of May, two months later, there is no clarity on how much of the relief amount was received and how it was spent.
While the relief camps in Imphal for the Meiteis who were displaced from the hills are being run by the state government, the relief camps in the hills and the districts of Kangpokpi, Tengnoupal and Churachandpur are supported by civil society and church organisations, charity and philanthropic individuals. An overwhelming majority of the displaced, as much as 80 per cent, are believed to be from the Kuki–Zomi–Hmar tribal communities.
Huddled in schools and community centres, people living in the relief camps in the hill districts are in dire need of basic facilities. The secretary of the Rural Women Upliftment Society (RWUS), Marybeth Sanate points out, “It is not just the scarcity of ration and clothings; these camps lack sanitation, water and medical care too. There are just two toilets for 100 people in a camp. We turn to the army and the Assam Rifles camps for drinking water.”
Kennedy Haokip, a member of the Kuki Khanglai Lompi (KKL), which manages 63 relief camps, says that medicine and firewood for cooking are huge problems. There are cancer patients, diabetics, pregnant women and children, including newborn babies. It is a challenge to treat them and feed them nutritious meals. There is no LPG supply in the camps and lactating mothers need nutrition to be able to breastfeed their babies. Occasional supplies of baby food from the DC’s office till now have been irregular and inadequate, he informs.
It is a tough time for the elderly and those with serious health issues especially. Dialysis patients have been unable to get treatment. Those who were awaiting organ transplants find the validity of the documents and clearances have lapsed. The mother of one of Sanate's colleagues passed away because her doctor from Imphal could not reach the district hospital.
"Vendors do not want to supply any more," says Sanate, because payments are held up, and they have turned down personal requests from the DC. With no government support in the hills, it is becoming difficult to keep the camps running, says Haokip. Both admitted that the crisis shows no sign of a quick end, and even food supplies are now dwindling.
The crisis has brought to the fore the neglect of the hill districts, which do not have hospitals for specialised care. Critical patients are being transported to Dimapur, Kohima and Aizawl for treatment, while those who can afford it are shifting to Guwahati, Delhi and other cities.
Also Read: Why Manipur is Burning
The state capital Imphal, where most of the hospitals are concentrated, is literally out of bounds for the tribes, and with Meitei protestors and mobs blocking movement of supplies to the hills, the situation is grim indeed.
"Not many NGOS could come to us," says Sanate. "They all arrived at Imphal but failed to reach us because of the blockade. Much of the relief material is still being routed through Aizawl, which is 350 km away from Churachandpur and takes 13 hours to reach."
Published: 26 Jul 2023, 2:39 PM