Manipur violence: Imphal opens gingerly, traders stare at long road to recovery | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Manipur violence: Imphal opens gingerly, traders stare at a long road to recovery

May 10, 2023 12:17 AM IST

Close to a week after Manipur was swept by ethnic violence between two communities across multiple districts, the state capital began stepping towards normalcy.

On a Tuesday morning, Thoi, a middle-aged Meitei shopkeeper at Nupi Keithel, a daily market run exclusively by women in the heart of Manipur’s violence-torn capital of Imphal, sits forlornly. In front of her are heaps of the produce she seeks to sell, grains of local rice -- white, black and brown -- piled neatly in front of her. The market opened at 7am on Tuesday morning, and with curfew relaxed till 9am, she has had very few customers. “I feel scared at times, but business has to go on,” she said.

Tuesday’s morning at the women’s market in Imphal district (HT Photo)
Tuesday’s morning at the women’s market in Imphal district (HT Photo)

Also read: ‘Protect, rescue, rehabilitate’: Supreme Court takes note of Manipur violence

Close to a week after Manipur was swept by ethnic violence between the Meitei and Kuki communities across multiple districts, the state capital of Imphal began taking baby steps to normalcy, with the curfew relaxed between 5am to 9am on Tuesday. This was an hour more than the relaxation on Monday that lasted till 8am. But as Manipur begins to open up gingerly, people milling around its markets like Nupi Keithel, the scale of the challenge that the restoration of normalcy will take is becoming clearer.

“The usual market hours are from 7am to 6pm. On Monday, the curfew was relaxed till 8am. Today, the government extended it by an hour but that hasn’t really helped us. I have a family of four and my daily income has dropped by almost 90%,” Thoi said.

On Monday, for the first time since the ethnic violence began on May 3, chief minister N Biren Singh gave a glimpse of the scale of the destruction that swept through the state, saying 60 people had died, 231 were injured, 1,700 homes had been burnt, and over 35,000 citizens had been displaced.

On Tuesday, with personnel of the Indian Army, Assam Rifles and paramilitary forces still swarming the streets to restore normalcy, and facilitating the return of evacuated people to their homes, the general officer commanding of the Spear Corps called on the chief minister.

“GOC Spear Corps called on the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Manipur, Mr N Biren Singh; discussed the prevailing security situation and synergised ongoing efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and restore normalcy. Hon’ble Chief Minister lauded the efforts of Army and Assam Rifles,” Spear Corps, Indian Army, tweeted.

But at Nupi Keithel, most traders spoke of the long road back to normalcy, and counted their losses. Dedicated to Lemarel Sidabi, a goddess Manipuris worship, the market’s woman shopkeepers are predominantly from the Meitei community that forms 53% of the state’s population, and are the majority in the Imphal valley.

Flies buzzed around the undisturbed pile of homemade sweetmeats at the elderly Tababi’s shop. Next to her, Shalini’s store of freshwater fish, a Manipur staple, had more takers. “My sales may only have been hit by about 20% but that isn’t something to be happy about. Unsold fish has to be preserved overnight in iceboxes. That is an additional expenditure,” she said.

Mami, a Muslim woman who sells fruit on a pavement just outside the main complex, said that the restrictions on movement, both by the government measures to control violence and those self-imposed by wary residents, were affecting supply. “Supply trucks don’t come regularly from village farms. The prices have gone up by 20-30% since the curfew started. Wholesalers refuse to take back unsold products. These are left to rot,” Mami said.

Also read: Imphal-Kolkata air ticket touches 20k as situation in Manipur remains tense

Across the main street, where men run retail stores too, Jaspreet Singh runs a garment shop that has existed for fifty years. “I never expected to see this sort of violence. Businesses will continue to suffer because the Kukis, who live in the hill regions, will not visit markets in Imphal. Conversely, Meiteis who live in the valley, will avoid going to the hill districts,” Singh said.

A few kilometres away from open stores in and around Nupi Keithel, at New Lambulane in Imphal East, there are stark reminders of the long road to peace that still must be traversed; a charred shopping mall, barricaded roads, contingents of the Manipur police, and silence after curfew ends.

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