The fire of ethnic violence, which raged across Manipur from May 3, did not singe the Meitei-only village of Kwatha, or the Kuki-dominated village of Khudenthabi which surrounds it. The residents of these two villages, located just 7.5 km from India’s border with Myanmar, decided not to let the “politically-ignited animosity” between their two communities undermine more than a century of coexistence and interdependence.
Khudenthabi and Kwatha are in the Tengnoupal district, near a company operating base (COB) of the Assam Rifles, located about 100 km southeast of Manipur’s capital Imphal. The district saw its share of the ethnic violence that unfolded on May 3, following a tribal solidarity march triggered by a Manipur High Court order recommending a push for Scheduled Tribe status for the Meitei people.
Meiteis are a majority in Manipur, but the residents of Kwatha are a minority in their region. The only Meitei village in the Tengnoupal district, the village has more than 300 people across 87 households. Khudenthabi is a five-in-one village parked around Kwatha, much like the hills of Manipur surrounding the Imphal Valley, the seat of power.
Living in harmony
“We are grateful that our Kuki brothers stood by our age-old relationship and removed any thought of evacuating from our village and the district,” said an elder of Kwatha village, who did not want to be named.
“As the larger community, it was our duty to ensure our Meitei neighbours came to no harm. We have been sharing the same land and we cannot let communalism take over our lives and livelihoods,” a Kuki elder of Khudenthabi said.
Both elders appealed to the State government to ensure long-term peace to allow people to overcome the ordeal for a better future.
Support from Assam Rifles
The villagers acknowledged the role of the Assam Rifles in shielding them from trouble-mongers from elsewhere in the district, and ensuring that they did not go hungry. Civil supplies to these villages on the Imphal-Moreh axis have been virtually cut off since the onset of the violence a fortnight ago.
“Apart from 24×7 security, we have been providing medicines and rations collected from the battalion. It has been tough for the villagers and we are doing what any good neighbour would do,” the COB’s deputy commandant, Raj Kishore, told The Hindu.
Officials hoped that the resilience and determination of both communities to rise above their differences and work towards a shared vision of harmony would rub off on the rest of Manipur, to help heal wounds and rebuild trust.
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