Journaling: Insights from a youth amidst conflict

Ngangbam Dipanjali *

It was the 3rd of May, a typical day at the office. I was called to the Lamphel Police Station for my passport verification. I arrived there before 3 P.M. The process took about 10 to 15 minutes to complete, and afterward, I went out for an afternoon snack with my best friend. I reached home a little later than usual that day.

When I arrived home, everyone in the house was engrossed in a discussion about the situation in Manipur. I learned more about it after checking social media on my phone. Chaos seemed to reign everywhere.

Initially, I assumed it would be resolved by the evening. However, I found myself unable to sleep the entire night. Sounds of tear gas, gunshots, and mob bombs filled the night air. Just as I was about to drift off to sleep around 1 A.M., a barrage of tear gas shots startled me awake.

The turmoil continued into the next day, the 4th of May, with numerous bangs and booms echoing throughout the daytime. Violent news, including pictures, audios, and videos, circulated widely on social media platforms. I pondered over who would be responsible for controlling such a volatile situation. Despite having lived in Manipur for 26 years, this was my first encounter with such unrest.

We did not dare to leave our house that day, and we were even afraid to venture onto the rooftop. It was in the evening when I noticed the sky turning a bright red hue from my window. Driven by curiosity, I ascended the stairs to investigate. As I reached the top, I saw the western side ablaze with fire. It could have been people’s homes, temples, or churches. The sight filled me with fear and dread.

Gradually, we began to grasp the situation unfolding around us. I started journaling my thoughts from the 5th of May onwards. A Rapid Action Force arrived in the state to bring the situation under control. Since then, numerous planes—cargo planes or fighter planes, as I described them—have been flying overhead.

At night, I would climb upstairs to witness these planes firsthand, despite feeling scared by their loud sounds. Yet, my curiosity always outweighed my fear. It seemed as though they were flying directly above my rooftop, especially with the strong gusts of wind accompanying their presence.

For three days straight, the same routine continued. Despite the curfew in place, people began venturing out onto the streets to purchase or gather groceries and other essential items. This action was taken urgently to address the chaotic situation, as people were in dire need of their daily necessities.

Television news continued uninterrupted, but our neighbourhood faced a setback when the entire cable network shut down due to burnt cables elsewhere. This made me focus more on local matters. I found myself engrossed in household chores like gardening, reading novels, and playing my ukulele.

I became increasingly interested in what was happening within our community. As a result, the time spent with family and neighbours significantly increased.

People mostly live their lives around the internet. Sadly, during that time in Manipur, the internet was banned. Everyone struggled to adjust to life without it. It felt like we were all living completely new lives.

It made us feel like we were taking a nostalgic stroll back to better times. We started sharing our pen drives filled with downloaded movies and songs, and exchanging movie discs with each other. Occasionally, we even swapped novels and storybooks with our cousins and friends. We would have conversations about the films, novels, and storybooks we exchanged. It was a completely new experience.

However, after a few days of my writing, our cable network was restored, and we could once again watch the news as usual. Sometimes, I felt trapped at home during those days, like I was handcuffed. It was not because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but rather due to a sort of war that even led to the internet being banned.

When Covid-19 emerged, it forced nearly everyone around the world to rely on the internet for the latest updates. Many resorted to social media platforms to stay connected, even if only virtually.

We relied on information provided by official sources such as newspapers, television, and radio. Without access to the internet, we could not gather information on our own from online sources. Many panel discussions and talk shows were aired discussing the events in the state, which we watched on television. Previously, we could actively participate by watching live streams on YouTube and leaving comments, but that option was no longer available to us. Finally, the internet ban was lifted in December 2023.

The year 2023 brought significant losses to Manipur across various sectors including education, business, agriculture, and the economy. Many businesses and firms experienced a sharp decline, with some still struggling to recover to this day. Numerous youths were left feeling helpless as they encountered difficulties accessing education or employment opportunities. Many people left the state in search of opportunities elsewhere.

The time from May to December flew by so fast, leaving everyone stunned. It affected people of all ages, from kids to the elderly. Many lost their homes and loved ones, their belongings and lands. Nobody was ready for such a huge loss. Finding a new place to live for the coming years seems impossible. Home is where you feel safe and loved. I cannot even begin to imagine how those who suffered in this war must feel. Words cannot express the pain they endured.

I heard a story from one of the relief camps that struck me deeply. It was about how the people there felt when others came to donate clothes and other essentials. Surprisingly, instead of gratitude, they felt annoyance and anger. I could understand their feelings because they used to have homes and all the things they needed.

It is just that fate dealt them a cruel hand and snatched it all away. It must have been incredibly hard for them to see reminders of what they once had, now given to them as charity. It is like rubbing salt into their wounds, reminding them of what they have lost.

As a young person in my twenties, I feel it is important to speak up in times like these. Even if those in charge seem to ignore what is happening around us, as citizens of our state, we all share responsibility in some way.

Whether it is through using our voices, our pens, or any other means available to us, we must take action. Our voices carry the energy and fresh outlook to bring out positive transformations. We are all in this together.

The unrest in Manipur has now lasted for almost 10 months. I hope the situation improves and everything returns to normal soon. We all understand the consequences and dangers of war. We are aware of the destructive impact it has and how it harms nature. In one way or another, we are all concerned about it.

Who will be responsible for addressing these issues and finding the necessary solutions to bring peace to these disputes?

* Ngangbam Dipanjali wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 12 March 2024.

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