Meetei octogenarian keen to rebuild life in hometown Moreh
Source: Chronicle News Service / Thounaojam Brojendro

Imphal, September 20 2023: Moreh, a strategic town located at a distance of about 110 km from Imphal in Tengnoupal district near the Indo-Myanmar border, flourished as an important centre for border trade, after Meetei forefathers set up a market place just after World War II.

The name of the town was derived from Mo Leh, as referred to by the Burmese and it is located under the jurisdiction of Kondong Lairembi, a Goddess revered by both Meeteis and Burmese which makes the border town an inseparable part of Manipur.

Through the years, Moreh evolved into a small cosmopolitan town, hosting a diverse populace engaged in a thriving cross-border trade, attracting migrants from different communities.

While the market was initially established by the Meeteis, they have become a minority in the town today.

The few thousand Meeteis who resided in Moreh for generations were forced to abandon their homes due to violent acts by the Kuki people, supported by Kuki militants.

Some sought shelter at Moreh police station and were later relocated to an Assam Rifles camp before being evacuated to various parts of the valley area.

Others sought refuge in the neighbouring country to save their lives and were eventually repatriated and relocated to Kakching, Thoubal, and Imphal.

Many of them are now taking shelter in a relief camp set up at Ideal Girls' College run by Thongju Kendra Relief Committee.

Among them is Thangjam Shyambondhu Meitei (80) of Moreh Turel Wangma Ward No 7 Ching-dong Leikai, one of the three surviving Meetei octogenarians in Moreh, with whom The People's Chronicle had an opportunity to sit down for a talk.

Shyambondhu, displaying remarkable composure despite the trauma and hardships, believes that Meeteis can return and rebuild their lives in the border town if the government, with a longterm vision, initiates necessary steps to secure their lives and properties.

He conceded that neither he nor any other Moreh residents can thrive and sustain themselves in Imphal.

Their prosperity lies solely in Moreh, the town they grew up in and got accustomed to.

Shyambondhu expressed his desire to return, resettle, and rebuild his life in his hometown.

Even in death, he wished to be in Moreh, a town to which he feels a deep connection.

Originally from Huikap Makha Leikai in Imphal East, he shifted to Moreh Chingdong Leikai at the age of 32 following his late uncle Kalachand's footstep in search of livelihood opportunities.

Kalachand was one of the Meetei traders, who used to carry out cross border trade on foot.

The only means of transport between Imphal and Moreh back then was a bus, which they used to call Bazar Bus with a fare of Rs 7.50 per one-way trip.

Back then, a daily earning of Rs 10 was sufficient to support a family.

Shyambondhu engaged in various jobs, including bamboo and timber trade, managed to save some mon ey, and eventually bought a small land plot of around 0.5 acre for Rs 650 .

There, he settled with his three sons and three daughters.

During those days, Moreh was predominantly inhabited by Meeteis.

There were approximately 10 households of Khongsai in Moreh Ward No 8, one Tangkhul doctor in Moreh Thongkhong, and around 10 Tangkhul households near the present-day ABC office.

Additionally, there were about 10 Anal households in T Minou and approximately 10 Khongsai households in Govajang.

Communal harmony prevailed, and people from various communities coexisted peacefully.

Meetei candidates often won elections for the Hill Area Small Town Committee during that period.

He further told TPC that the first Meetei settlement in Moreh was a Yumnam family while Thangjam family, to which he also belongs to, has the maximum number of people in the border town.

Other Meetei families living in Moreh include Ningthoujam, Leishangthem, Saikhom, Longjam, Lairenlakpam, Loitongbam and Ahanthem among others.

However, the demographic landscape has drastically shifted, and Meeteis are now a minority in the border town.

About 4,200 Meeteis are clustered in Moreh Khunnou Leikai Ward No 9, Moreh Keinou Makhong Ward No 7, Moreh Turel Wangma Chingdong Leikai Ward No 7, Moreh Premnagar Ward No 4 & 7, Moreh Turel Wangma Chingdong Leikai Ward No 7, Moreh Premnagar Ward No 4 and Moreh Bazar Ward No 6.The Meetei population are primarily engaged in trade or manual labour.

Only a few Meeteis hold government positions.

Shyambondhu, as one of the eyewitnesses to the once peaceful and harmonious society in the border town, never anticipated being forced out of Moreh.

He strongly condemned the inhumane acts perpetrated by the Kuki people and their militant groups, while attributing the fate of Meetei community to a lack of vision and unity.

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