Manipur women face trauma in relief camps - Hindustan Times

Manipur women face trauma in relief camps

Feb 26, 2024 11:10 AM IST

In many camps, there are 200 women to one toilet in most camps and often only open spaces for bathrooms

Over a year after the horrific violence broke out in Manipur, it is disheartening that the stories of women who suffered in this and who were displaced literally overnight from their homes and lost their loved ones, have now become just a footnote to the bigger story of politics. Many of the women who had to flee are still in relief camps with no prospect of return as their homes have either been burnt down or their villages have been deserted. Now, the number of camps has decreased as many buildings like schools which were commandeered for the purpose have become operational again for their original work. NGOs working in the region say women report being given food rations by the state in May, June and July last year, but thereafter it ceased and the gap was filled somewhat imperfectly by civil society groups and NGOs. The rations are still largely just rice and dal, not the nutritious food required especially by lactating mothers, pregnant women, or adolescent girls.

Many women have had to flee their homes to reach refugee camps as the violence spread (PTI Photo) PREMIUM
Many women have had to flee their homes to reach refugee camps as the violence spread (PTI Photo)

In the bitter winter, even the resources pooled together by NGOs could not provide more than one blanket per family or indeed the items required for sanitation. In many camps, according to Marybeth, women’s aid worker, Rural Women Upliftment, there are 200 women to one toilet in most camps and often only open spaces for bathrooms. Those in their menstrual cycles spoke to her of their acute discomfort and health issues due to this. The lack of counselling services has led to lingering traumas among many women, which, in turn, has led to mental health issues as well as loss of appetite and feelings of hopelessness. Pregnant mothers are not able to access medical care in time or get medication as the pharmacies are far away and they have no resources with which to buy medicines.

Marybeth spoke movingly of a mother who had to give birth while fleeing her village. In a dilapidated truck transporting her, with other women providing a shield with some of their clothing, her child was born. When NGOs met her, she was sleeping on a cold floor with her baby. When asked what she would like, all she asked for was a small bathtub to bathe the baby, which the NGOs managed to give her. In the camps, where men are crammed in with women like sardines, there are serious privacy issues, safety problems and severe hardship. Many babies and older women have not been able to withstand the lack of medical help and infrastructure in the camps.

Hechin Haokip, founder, Centre for Women and Girls says, “The conflict has taken a considerable toll on families. Financial vulnerabilities have worsened. The youth face circumstances that engender feelings of anger as well as helplessness. People are forced to choose one basic need over the other.”

Roshmi Goswami, human rights activist from the North East, says that the women are in a state of limbo. “The patriarchy which has always been there is now rising. But when we brought women together into safe spaces where they could express themselves, they generated a spirit of cooperation.”

All the activists working with women are clear that this state of affairs cannot be prolonged. These women, who have lost everything, need more than cursory skilling courses and bits of money every now and then. They need rehabilitation, sanitation, assurances of safety, privacy and medical assistance. They are traumatised and constantly worried about the future of their children. The local leadership, which understands the circumstances and social milieu, needs to be activated to help rebuild the lives of these women who have suffered so much.

“They need a sense of normalcy, something as simple as chai over which they would socialise in happier times. Now, they live in isolation and fear. Even when they band together to start small businesses like weaving bamboo baskets, the margins are so small. They need credit lines and other financial support,” says Marybeth.

Far from a suitable resolution, the situation is getting worse for women in camps as electoral issues have assumed dominance and their plight has been marginalised. But with all parties realising that the women’s vote can change the course of elections, it can only be hoped at least in enlightened self-interest, there will be some attention on the issue of displaced women in Manipur.

The views expressed are personal

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    Lalita Panicker leads the opinion section at Hindustan Times. Over a 33-year career, she has specialised in gender issues, reproductive health, child rights, politics and social engineering.

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