Stark abdication by an absent state, paucity of basic necessities & poor, unhygienic conditions in relief camps: Manipur

A team of Karwan-e-Mohabbat visited five relief camps to assess the humanitarian crisis and highlight the suffering and demands of the internally displaced in Manipur; report makes recommendations for state and union governments and citizens groups to step forward to heal the wounds inflicted
Residents at Relief Camp set up at the residence of MLA, Khundrakpam at Sagolmang, Imphal East.

“The state is absent in its foremost constitutional duty to protect civilians; it is absent from relief camps”

– Observation by team of Karwan-e-Mohabbat visiting Manipur

The pitiful state of relief camps in Manipur, the visible absence of the state government in responding to the plight of citizens caused by a constitutional breakdown of law and order adds to the overall sense of deprival and pathos among Manipur’s displaced persons, says a report by Karwan-e-Mohabbat, to be released on Saturday.

Karwan-e-Mohabbat, in its report, The Humanitarian Crisis in Manipur –  has pointed to the pitiful state of relief camps in Manipur, the absence of the state government in protecting its citizens, and beleaguered situation and broken spirit of the internally displaced people.  The report was prepared after a four-day visit by activists from Delhi to the state. The report begins by providing an insight into the on-ground reality of the state that has been under the grip of violence since May 3, 2023, and states “Nothing indeed had prepared us for what we bore witness to. We found a Manipur almost fully transformed into a war zone, bursting with sophisticated rifles, mortars, bombs, and massive daily mobilisation of ordinary civilians. Entire villages of both warring communities have been razed to ashes.” Karwan-e-Mohabbat is a citizen initiative which strives to reach out to victims of hate violence which was launched by rights activist and former IAS officer, Harsh Mander.

Harsh Mander with the protestors at the ‘Wall of Remembrance’.

The focus of the said report is to understand the extent and nature of the conflict, and provide recommendations centred on the immense humanitarian crisis of Manipur based on the ground reality. The team of Karwan-e-Mohabbat had, over four days and three nights, from July 25 to July 28, visited the five relief camps being run in the Imphal which house the ones who were internally displaced. “Since there is little chance today that relief camps will be wound up and normalcy restored in the coming months, the focus of our report is on the humanitarian crisis of the internally displaced persons, and what we are convinced must be done immediately to alleviate and prevent further human suffering in Manipur,” the report states.

Protestors at the ‘Wall of Remembrance’ set up in the memory of people of the Kuki-Zo community who lost lives in the violence in Churachandpur/ Lamka.

The team met with affected people in relief camps, and community leaders, women and youth activists. Through their visit, the team revealed that there exists a stark difference in the conditions of the relief camps housing people from the Kuki and the Meitei community, the lack of basic necessities available and the pause on education of children.

The issue of the evil “other” community:

The report highlights how tragically, both the Kuki and Meitei community carry their own separate narratives of fury, of congealed and settled hate. According to the report, the Meitei community blames the Kuki -Zo community of having “illegally immigrated from Myanmar” and taking over the land of the indigenous Meitei people to whom Manipur belonged rightfully. The report states “Kuki had benefitted from reservations for tribal people to capture jobs and seats in educational institutions, while the Meitei are prohibited even from buying land in the hills. They accuse them of endangering Meitei youth by illegal poppy cultivation. They allege that the Kuki people are illegally clearing reserved forests for their farms and settlements, and threatening the ecology of the region. They claim that Kuki militants roam freely, and their violence and gun and drug trafficking thrive under the protection of the Assam Rifles.”

On the other hand, those from the Kuki community have a diametrically different narrative. The Kuki community allege that their farmers only resort to cultivate poppies for bare survival, but that the drug trade and profits are mostly harvested by politicians and big business in the Imphal valley and beyond. The Kuki community further claims that they are the legal citizens of Manipur, and allege that Meitei people want Scheduled Tribe status to grab their lands and reduce them to a minority in their mountain abodes. “Meitei also want to corner the seats in the legislatures and educational institutions that are reserved for tribal people. They also allege that a militia of Meitei youth is actively supported by the Chief Minister of Manipur, and that with open state patronage, it is these militants who ravaged their lands and people with rape, murder and arson. They allege long years of work by the RSS to convert Meitei nationalism into Hindu nationalism implacably hostile to the Kuki people also for their Christian faith. And they believe that the Manipur state police and paramilitary forces protect the Meitei militants and those who raped and murdered.”

Protestors at the ‘Wall of Remembrance’ set up in the memory of people of the Kuki-Zo community who lost lives in the violence in Churachandpur/ Lamka.

Conditions of the relief camps housing the Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs):

When violence broke down in the state of Manipur, houses and villages were burnt which forced Kukis and Meiteis, both, to flee from their homes. Official data states that, today, more than 57000 IDPs are living in relief camps in both the hills and valley of Manipur. As per the report, , an uncounted number of people have also sent their children, infirm relatives and women out of the state to relatives in other North Eastern states like Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Assam, or to cities in mainland India especially Delhi.

A brief overview of significant observations made by the Karwan team is as follows:

  1. Complete absence of state and union government from relief camps:

It was observed by the Karwan team that the state and the central governments were almost completely absent from the relief camps. Except for the one camp, located in the Imphal valley, that is being run entirely by the state government, the state and union governments were not involved at all in any relief and rehabilitation efforts.

  1. Visible disparity between the condition of the Meitei camps and the Kuki camps:

The report provided that even though both the Kuki and Meitei relief camps lacked adequate conditions of safety for the displaced and affected civilians, the team observed that the Meitei camps were being run with some government support – either sponsored by the local MLA or established in government buildings like colleges and sports complexes. On the other hand, Kuki camps were mainly being managed by the local church and supported by the community’s contributions.

  1. Promises of ex-gratia relief not delivered

As provided in the report, on June 27, 2023, Chief Minister N. Biren Singh had visited the relief camps in Imphal East and Imphal West districts, and announced that the state government will be providing a one-time financial assistance of Rs 1000 to those living in the relief camps. Even as the mere amount of Rs. 1000 sounds cruel, insufficient and absurd, the Karwan team was informed by the camp residents that many affected people in both the Meitei and the Kuki camps had either not received this amount or they had only received a portion of the promised amount. 

  1. No cash compensation for survivors of violence

The report provides that though union Home Minister Amit Shah had announced that cash compensation of 10 lakh rupees will be provided to the families of those killed during the violence, no realisation of the scheme for the survivors of violence was actually announced or implemented.

Post violence visuals from the Sangaiprou locality in Imphal.
  1. Lack of infrastructure, protocols, management, hygiene, sanitation, and disposal

As provided by the report, both sets of relief camps (running separately for Meitei and Kukis) were overcrowded, but more so the camps for Kukis in church compounds. It was also provided that the Karwan team could not find district officers managing the camps anywhere, and the camps were being run by volunteers from the surrounding communities or part of civil society. The issue of unhygienic conditions was also highlighted in the report. The team noted a lack of drinking water, hygienic toilets, piped water for chores, space for cooking or drying clothes and disposal of solid waste in camps.

  1. Lack of food and nutrition

The Karwan team observed that there was in the Kuki-Zo IDP camps in the hills, food supplies are mainly being organised by local donations which were unstable and unpredictable. The public health experts in the Karwan team also observed that due to the lack of food support from the government, in many camps residents were eating only two meals a day without any diet diversity. Signs of both adult and child malnutrition with micronutrient deficiencies were also noted the experts in the team.

  1. Inadequate health services

The Karwan team noted that there was an acute shortage of doctors in the relief camps, as the divide between the estranged communities has also divided doctors and health personnel. Systematic primary healthcare at or near the camp was not visible as per the report. Even for emergency medical care, people across the camps, including pregnant women and elderly people, were forced to take an expensive ten-hour long road trip to Aizwal, Mizoram to access tertiary care.

  1. Education and livelihood on standby

The team of Karwan provided that no schooling and educational services could be found, especially in the camps in the hills. The report further provided that only a few school-going age group children in the Meitei camps have been enrolled in the nearest school but most children in the Kuki camps have only informal school education provided by camp volunteers in a few camps. The report also stated: “Youth in the camps are drawn into becoming front line village defenders and recruited for protection along the informal border areas and bunkers with almost no adolescent and young men left in the Kuki camps.” 

Protestors at the ‘Wall of Remembrance’ set up in the memory of people of the Kuki-Zo community who lost lives in the violence in Churachandpur/ Lamka.

Based on the afore-mentioned observations made by the team, the report provided a few suggestions for humanitarian interventions to aptly address the suffering of the Manipuri people. Through the suggestions, the team provides the steps that the governments of India and Manipur as well as the humanitarian agencies need to undertake to embark on this long mission of healing and ensuring justice in wounded Manipur.

Some suggestions and recommendations:

  1. The union and state government must announce a comprehensive relief and rehabilitation program for all affected people, including but not restricted to compensation for death, sexual violence, injury, disability, and loss of moveable and immoveable property; but also, for the running of humane and dignified relief camps, and helping people affected by the violence to rebuild their homes and habitations in accordance with their wishes.
  2. All costs of food, water, sanitation, health care, education and other services in relief camps must be borne by the state government, with necessary assistance from the union government, and not by community organisations.
  3. All camps must be housed in government buildings like stadiums and college buildings. These must be spacious and well-ventilated, with good drainage. Additional toilets with safe sewage disposal must be built for every camp on priority; and scientific arrangements made for waste disposal.
  4. The state government must ensure that blockades on the movement of food, medical and other essential supplies are firmly removed, and safe passage of all such transport is ensured. It should urgently establish of a safe road corridor in and out of the valley towards the north and south for humanitarian aid and ambulances with outlawing of searches and confiscation by any citizen group of the aid passing over from hill to valley or vice versa.
  5. Free and regular supply of sanitary napkins, and sufficient quantities of clean clothes and undergarments, and bathing and washing soap must be ensured for all residents.
  6. Every child over six years in camps must be given temporary admission at the nearest school to the camp. If the school is distant, then safe transport to the children must be ensured by the district administration. There should be regular surveys to assess school dropouts combined with initiatives to re-register such students back in the nearest government schools.
  7. Humanitarian agencies would have a special role in helping official efforts for essential supplies, education, health care, child care, and sanitation and youth activities. Their most significant contribution could be for identifying and training community mental health workers to assist people to deal with their grief, loss and trauma. They can also link neighbouring communities in the camp vicinity to contribute to the wellbeing of camp communities. Finally, they can assist with recreational and sports activities for children, youth and women.

The complete report can be read here:



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