Mapithel Dam knows 'Save Thoubal River': Tumukhong Villagers

Mamta Lukram *

Smog of dust follow in trail the vehicles as it passes by, forsaking visibility of the vehicles that followed by, is the road of condition of Tumukhong, the Village that lies within Zero (0) kilometre of the Mapithel Dam reservior, which is proposed to be inaugurated by March 2018. The village boundary begins with a 'Welcome to Tumukhong' signboard standing overhead the bridge on the Thoubal River. Beneath the bridge is a shrunken river bed laying bare and dry. Inter-village roads running along depicts a weary look with a dusty shade.

A view from Tumukhong village boundary and the shrunken Thoubal River
A view from Tumukhong village boundary and the shrunken Thoubal River

At the middle of the river-bed, small sand-filled bags form a low strip, blocking to accumulate the scantly dripping water, metaphorically equating the logic of water scarcity mitigating through traditional management system. While enquired into, the villagers narrated how the river bed has all dried up long time back and the instant downstream village strive for drops of water.

The dripping water according to the villagers is not from the course of the river, but the scarcely released water from the dam filters and along the stretch of irrigation canal component. Endorsing the testimony was precise witnessing the barren riverbed. A diverted stream approached and dripped down to the riverbed. It is this water, villagers rely upon for their domestic purposes.

The middle of Thoubal River in Tumukhong, and the current mechanism to accumulate water
The middle of Thoubal River in Tumukhong, and the current mechanism to accumulate water

The dynamics of 'Water Politics' for social divide was the denomination of their narration. The recent people's initiative of 'Save Thoubal River,' and the unfortunate fixing of Tumukhong Village for dirtying river water was the resenting juxtaposition. The structural dichotomy was blocking the serene flow of the Thoubal River, alienating the means of livelihood pauperising the villager on one hand, and labelling the villagers as polluters on the other hand. Villagers questioned the reliability of information for which they must be fix on the blame frame.

The conservationist perspective of 'Save Thoubal River' is not a tangent to the voice of the Tumukhong villagers. According to them the installation of a barrier disrupting the natural course of Thoubal River inducing artificial scarcity in the downstream villagers must be the submission. Phenomenally, in the strive to sustain, ethics degenerates and people started fighting over the scare resources. Consequent short-sightedness shielded like a 'glass-ceiling,' paralysing intuitive capability to rationalise the root causative factors and follow the traits of blame game.

Mapithel Dam Downstream Affected People (MDDAP), Chairaman Yumlembam Thoiba affirms, once the Thoubal River water resource become scarce, people remember Tumukhong as a village around the dam reservior, and pinned tight as the irresponsible denizens, contaminating water. Had the Thoubal River not been blocked by Mapithel Dam, would people remember the name of a village called Tumukhong? Does anybody recognise that Tumukhong is the silent sufferer of Mapithel Dam?

The dynamics of 'Water' as a divisive mechanism perpetuates in Tumukhong village, yet through another socio-political dimension. Untreated piped water from two perennial springs located at nearby Louphong and Thangjingpokpi Tangkhul villages are the sources of drinking water in Tumukhong. Tumukhong has to pay some loyalty to the village chiefs where the spring located in cash or kind.

This tradition has been maintained throughout generations. However, in the post-construction of the Mapithel Dam, water become the scarce resource. When the demand pressure surmounts, equilibrium is disturbed, social-cohesion shook. Instances of moral crisis in perusal of raising loyalty demand backed by refusal poking unsolicited social-division frequented.

Villagers admire 'Save Thoubal River' initiatives. They confronted if it was right to take up the matter to the Manipur State Legislative Assembly alleging Tumukhong as polluters, sans reliability. They doubt the accountability and responsibility of the representatives. Tumukhong's apprehension of 'Save Thoubal River' is to release the blocked Thoubal River by the Mapithel Dam. Unless the natural flow is maintained, expecting healthy river environment bears no resemblance. Naming and shaming will not improvise the situation.

The village itself is reeling high with water woes, since Thoubal River is the sole source of water. The drying river bed has unleashed hardships to the whole village. Thoubal River dosen't simply mean a trench of running water to the Tumukhong villagers. Its meandering course entangles the tangible and intangible aspects of socio-cultural and economic prospects of the people. The river's gradient flow plaited the intrinsic core of the villagers. They say, Thoubal River is their life. Why would Tumukhong be against 'Save Thoubal River' campaign?

The dried up Thoubal Riverbed in Tumukhong and the Mapithel Dam reservoir at the right end corner
The dried up Thoubal Riverbed in Tumukhong and the Mapithel Dam reservoir at the right end corner

Womenfolk and Thoubal River

The sense of solidarity for collective responsibility shouldered by women could simply be portrayed from the crowd gathered at Tumukhong Community Hall for sharing their grievances. The collective responsibility of women in redressing social issues could be categorised. Womenfolk ranging from different age groups gathered at the spot, each one trying to utter words of discontent. Young mothers carrying babies at the back also do attended the meeting.

Womenfolk narrates how they strive to cop up the scarce situation. Menstrual health care of adolescent girls, maternity care and other health concerns remained unattended. One of the woman remarked the adversity of the road conditions risking the lives of woman, where a tribal lady from a nearby village delivered her child at an open space nearby the bridge, through traditional midwifery of the local ladies, unable to reach hospital, due to the increased natural contractions travelling through a worst road lined by potholes.

Tumukhong women in collectivity, affirms three precise points on their testimony to 'Save Thoubal River' Campaign and Mapithel Dam Inaugural Plan

o The long course of the Mapithel Dam construction and commissioning plan lasting for decades, in phases of talks and negotiations, which concrete plans or initiatives has been taken up by the responsible concerned in favour of Tumukhong Village, a village within zero kilometre of the dam, sustaining with fear psychosis of dam wreak throughout the years?

o The desertification of Tumukhong village, which once boasted of its "Tumukhong Hangam/Kobi" (vegetables), now become dry barren land in the post-construction of Mapithel Dam. Blocking the natural flow of the river induced loss of livelihood, social disorganisation and family disorientation. Who will reassert the deprived right to life and the right to work of the Tumukhong villagers? 'Save Thoubal River,' unblock it, release the water.

o Mapithel Dam's component of Integrated Water Supply to the Greater Imphal area through tunnelling pipes, ignoring water crisis of the downstream villager is a non-inclusive plan. Does such a policy indicate that Tumukhong and other downstream villagers have no right of access to safe drinking water? Or should the villagers compromise their basic human rights for the urban and peri-urban dwellers in the name of revenue generation?

Womenfolk continue to share the spell of misery generated by the Mapithel Dam to Tumukhong village. They stressed on the point blame game must not override the 'Save Thoubal River,' people's initiative. Thoubal River claimed the survivorship of the villagers, desertification of its river bed jeopardises the ground water level, rendering Tumukhong barren.

Small-scale sand mining has been the primary source of livelihood for Tumukhong villagers substantiated by the flourishing vegetables. Disrupting Thoubal River's natural flow degenerate the socio-cultural lives of the people. One of the lady remarked;

'Makhoi laklaga yenglulao haiyu' (tell them to come and see) the situation of water scarcity in Tumukhong village. Alleging us as polluters has nothing to with 'Save Thoubal River Campaign. We are not access with adequate water for domestic purposes. We urge to rationalise why will we contaminate this minimal volume of river water which we striving to preserve and conserve?

Villagers seek explanation on the rationality of categorising Tumukhong as dissidents to the 'Save Thoubal River' campaign. They insisted the need to conserve Thoubal River. Villagers urged an amicable solution to the dichotomy of the Mapithel Dam inaugural plan ignoring downstream impacts; labelling Tumukhong as polluters in the people's campaign of 'Save Thoubal River.' Sloganeering together in raised high voice, Tumukhong Villagers affirmed;

"Tumukhonggi Livelihood pidrikhei; Dam Sanggaba Yaroi" (Unless alternative livelihood of Tumukhong is arranged/provided, No to Dam inauguration)

Womenfolk in progression after the meeting towards the dam site
Womenfolk in progression after the meeting towards the dam site

The dissenting voice raised and vanished like the smoke in the air and the Tumukhong villagers proceeded towards the barren river bed, where the Mapithel Dam reservoir stood like a mammoth structure, the beyond thirsty downstream side of which spread like a desert. Standing on the dried up middle river bed, the women explored many unfold reality throwing a critique on how the unaccountable development initiatives over river as an economically viable resource could plunder lives and ecology.

One from the group of the women asserts,

"(.....pointing the finger...) Mayam fibamsi yengbiyu, (have a look of the situation) we are not access to adequate water, we are facing scarcity, our efforts are on engaging traditional mechanisms to retain this least water volume. Sometimes we experienced filthy smelly water released from the dam. Tumukhong always is in trouble relating to water matter; be it drinking water, domestic purpose, cultivation or livelihood. Thoubal River is our life, we want to save the Thoubal River, stop blocking Thoubal River"

* Mamta Lukram wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at mamtalukram(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on March 10 , 2018.

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