Chandrayaan touches Moon, James' family lands in relief camp
Source: Chronicle News Service / Thounaojam Brojendro

Imphal, September 03 2023: As the whole country was celebrating the historic landing of Chandrayaan-3 on the Moon's south pole, the family of James Leichombam, a member of the mission's team, faced a life filled with uncertainty and unimaginable hardships as they land in a relief camp after being forced to flee from home for their safety.

James, who hails from Churachandpur Lei-maram Leikai, was a part of India's moon mission's team, working in the non-technical section.

As James prepared to leave Imphal on Sunday to return to his posting at ISRO, I visited the relief camp at Leimaram, where he and his family were staying, hoping to have a conversation with the ISRO employee.

While waiting for him at the camp, I observed children playing, a brief respite from their traumatic experiences before nightfall brings haunting memories back.

I overheard one of the children saying, "Let's play war.

We ll have some play as Meetei, and you can be Kuki.

Let's play war" .

The children divided into two groups and began re-enacting a gunfight, a scene etched into their young minds by the horrific incidents they witnessed at home and the subsequent cycle of violence.

After about 10 or 20 seconds, some of the children started shouting "dang! dang! " mimicking the sounds of gunfire.

"You've been hit! You're dead!" came the battle cries.

Even though they played with hearty laughter, I couldn't help but worry about the future of these children, who were the most innocent victims of war.

Turning my attention away from the children, I noticed an elderly woman sitting silently, her aging back supported against the wall of the ground floor of the building where the relief camp was set up.

While I couldn't fathom her thoughts, the look on her face and the blank stare in her eyes indicated a darkness enveloping her, from which she seemed to have lost hope of emerging.

In stark contrast, a group of women on the first floor engaged in lively chat with occasional bursts of laughter, as if they didn't care about the impact on their lives.

However, it was evident that their laughter and conversations were more of a coping mechanism, a way to find relief from their hardships and uncertain fate.

Lost in my thoughts, I didn't notice James approach ing from the room where his family was staying.

I only realised his presence when he sat beside me and greeted me.

As we spoke, James shared that violence in Churachandpur was not a new occurrence.

The district had witnessed many violent incidents in the past, and on May 3, Meeteis in Churachandpur had hoped that the violence would subside, something they failed to comprehend.

Upon seeing videos and reports of the ethnic violence escalating and spreading, James reached out to some friends, seeking their help in providing security for the Meeteis in Churachandpur.

He even sent a voice message to Chief Minister N Biren's social media account and waited anxiously throughout the night for a response that never came, he recounted.

"As I was away from home, I became increasingly restless and worried with each passing moment.

I could not focus on my job in the following days.

Seeing how anxious and distracted I was, my superiors granted me a one-week leave," James revealed.

On May 9, he received news that his family had reached a relief camp in Khuman Lampak, which was a tremendous relief for him, knowing that his family was safe despite the losses they had suffered.

Concerned about his mother's health, he asked both his parents to come and stay with him, but his mother declined.

She explained that they had raised their two children through hard work and support from their neighbours and friends, and they could not abandon them in this desperate time.

She insisted they would stay with their friends and neighbours, sharing all the pains and hardships.

From Khuman Lampak, they were shifted to another relief camp in Leimaram in Bishnupur district.

Following the launch of Chandrayaan-3, James took leave and travelled to Leimaram on August 21 to be with his family, only to witness the anguish of displaced people who were rebuilding their lives in the relief camp, waiting for the crisis to end with the hope of starting life anew.

The harsh reality of life struck James deeply as he heard the painful stories of many families, similar to his own, who had fled the violence.

Unable to bear the hardships faced by the people, he reached out to several friends, intellectuals, and strangers, seeking their support to improve the conditions of the displaced people within the relief camp.

He brought many of the women to various government offices with the aim of providing them with a source of income through various activities, which would also aid in their healing from loss and trauma.

He also sought assistance from government departments for counselling and motivation sessions.

However, he received no positive response from the government.

James made every effort to divert the children's attention towards games and sports, hoping that such activities would provide them with a healthier environment that would help them forget their horrifying experiences.

He emphasised that children were also enduring hard ships, and the government needed to focus on their mental well-being and educational needs, removing any obstacles hindering their education.

He went on to express that the crisis would set the state back by two or three decades.

The economy would suffer greatly, and he was doing everything within his power to secure income opportunities for the displaced people by discussing the matter with his elder brother, Romeo, who is in Bangalore, and friends living in different parts of the country.

James had been tirelessly working to obtain assistance from various individuals and was determined to intensify his efforts once he returned to Sriharikota.

Commenting on the perspectives of different communities in the state, James noted that other communities have clear objectives and set long and short-term goals to achieve their ultimate aims.

They were also highly disciplined in following the guidance of their leaders.

In contrast, Meeteis are proactive but lack a clear vision, he observed, while hoping that thecrisis would bring about some changes.

Despite the loss of lives and properties and the displacement of people, there is still goodness among the people.

Many individuals from both sides desire peaceful coexistence, just as before.

However, James believed that allowing the violence to persist for too long would jeopardise these bonds, which would not be in the best interest of the state and its people.

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