Escaping from Manipur with a badminton kit bag - A Kuki survivor’s account
Kimkim Khongsai is known as the 'Saina Nehwal of Kangpokpi' in Manipur. Her parents relate how the family was attacked by a mob and how the CM - a family friend - let them down.
There’s nothing left in Imphal to go back to. They’ve burnt our house down - where we stayed all our lives. We have escaped to Assam with two suitcases and one badminton kit bag.
A Class X boy was shot by a sniper in front of my eyes. And it’s not just the killings. It’s the entire array of barbarism playing out in broad daylight in Manipur. The Meiteis are burning, raping, looting, cutting off limbs - all in broad daylight and all in the presence of state police.
My daughter is a Manipuri badminton champion, but I cannot think of going back there ever again. Maybe she shall represent some other state, it’s hard to plan for the future now.
I don’t want to think of those two nightmarish nights in Imphal we had to endure just before escaping. A mob of a thousand armed men came for us in our colony in Khongsai Veng, in the CM’s own assembly constituency of Heingang. I could see the glint in their eyes.
We had been in touch with CM Biren Singh’s family earlier. I was close with one of his family members, he himself used to come as a guest to events we organised, like some Kuki festivals. We had been respected government servants earlier, our daughter’s badminton expenses at the U11 National Championships last year were borne by the state. But that night, all our calls for help went unanswered. He is a Meitei after all.
Even Kuki IPS officers, politicians have had to flee Imphal. The Meiteis looted their houses and set fire to them, till the Nagas intervened and stopped the fires as it would spread to their homes too. I don’t think there are any Kuki survivors remaining in Imphal; even if there are some in hiding, they will be found out soon.
We are now in Dibrugarh, where Kimkim just tried out the local badminton court. For the moment, we are just relieved to be safe.
She has her kit bag with her, but it’s hard to say where her future lies. It could be in representing Assam, or Delhi. If it has to be Manipur, she has to go back there to compete, which seems impossible now.
No way back home
Trouble had been brewing since April, after the high court’s direction on the inclusion of Meiteis in the Scheduled Tribes category, which would allow them to purchase land in hill areas, inhabited by tribals.
We heard that the Meiteis were going to hostels and public institutions asking for ID cards, as it is difficult to identify Kukis. They were then selecting the Kukis and killing them.
On the night of 2nd May, they came for us. There were men of all ages, some with sophisticated weapons, banging down doors, attacking every Kuki in sight. We fled to the nearby Naga locality and took shelter in the Lodestar Public School along with some others. I saw three people being killed, I shudder to think what the current state of my locality is.
A crowd came and fired at the school too. We crouched in groups in the school ground. A little later, the Army came and rescued us.
We survived the next day and night in the same way, I was almost sure at one point the Meitei mob would break into the school too, but we somehow managed to survive. There was no food or water, we were scared of going out and all the markets were closed anyway.
The next day we hid in a car that was headed to Nagaland and crossed the Assam border. The Nagas were not being harassed, it was just the Kukis, so we were relatively safe.
Those that could not escape Manipur escaped to the hill regions from Imphal. They are now defending their villages from attacks. The attacks have not stopped, sometimes they last for an hour and then there is a retreat or sometimes there is a siege that goes on for days.
Many of our family members continue to stay in Kangpokpi, a Kuki-dominated region, but every day is a fight.
I do not see how there can be an end to this violence. I don’t think there is any way home for us.
- As told to Dipankar Lahiri
Meiteis are about 53% of Manipur's population but occupy about 10% of the land area, mostly in the valley districts. Tribal communities, of which the Kukis have been the predominant target in the ongoing violence, majorly occupy the hill districts, where talent abounds but facilities are lacking.
The badminton-crazy Khongsai family - the 11-year-old Kimkim, Hoichong Khongsai and Jangkholim Khongsai - had been in a unique position such that they had been a Kuki family living in Imphal’s valley. However, recent events have revealed how fragile their position had always been.