[avatar user=”Rajkumar Bobichand” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” target=”_blank”]RAJKUMAR BOBICHAND[/avatar]
With the India-wide lockdown to contain COVID-19, there had been an exodus of hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers from Indian capital New Delhi to their respective states. There was also an incident of about 3000 migrant workers poured onto the streets of Bandra in Mumbai on April 15 defying lockdown in search of a train ride back to their homes. However, Manipuris were not amongst these migrants.
Meanwhile, migrant labourers in Manipur from other parts of India have not quite made such exodus back home. There is no denying the fact that there are reports of distribution of foods to non-locals in Imphal and other parts of Manipur by philanthropic individuals, political workers, civil society organisations and bodies of local communities. There is no indication of any of them even trying to leave Manipur in the COVID-19 outbreak. Rather there are reports of entry of migrant workers illegally into Manipur amidst the lockdown in trucks transporting foods and other essential commodities from outside the state.
Now, Manipuris living in Indian metropolises are desperate to reach their homes. Those who are desperate to leave Indian metropolises include students, low-salaried working people, pilgrims, and patients and their parties. They are seeking help from Manipur Government to transport them back home and provide financial assistance.
Manipur Government has launched a website www.tengbang.in for any Manipuri settled in any part of the world having difficulties and stranded due to Covid-19 pandemic, and requires help in terms of food, accommodation, medicines and health and travel to apply for help. However, the stranded people are still far to meet what they need.
President of Manipur Students’ Association, Pune (MSAP) Thounaojam Manishwor told FPSJ Review that they received information of only seven students have so far getting their accounts credited with Rs. 2000 each from Manipur government’s Tengbang as on April 17. He further said there are difficulties to apply for students who open their accounts in small local banks and those who don’t have separate bank accounts as they share with brothers or sisters.
It is well known that Manipuris in Indian metropolises are now facing racial discrimination in the time of COVID-19 pandemic more than ever before. Therefore, the difficulties being faced by Manipuris in Indian metropolises during the COVID-19 lockdown are boundless. Their pockets become empty and most of the ATMs are cashless.
Manishwor said they can’t buy foods even if they have money in their hands. Students and those working in unorganized service sectors staying in rented houses are worst hit. MSAP and Association of Manipur Diaspora (AMAND) are reaching out to the needy students and people from Manipur working in unorganized sectors. They have extended helps not only to the students but also to working people including three persons from L Khongbung village of Henglep Sub-Division of Churachandpur district who are working in Pune and don’t have money to pay their house rent and buy foods. They help financially or by providing foods to those who can’t buy foods even though they have money.
Manipuris in Pune don’t get any help from the local administration and Maharashtra government so far. The students don’t really want to leave before completion of their studies. When cash is running out and there are no foods they can buy, they feel insecure and want to return to their home state. Manishwor further said, if they get survival ration during lockdown, they wouldn’t have been desperate to return. They are afraid of hunger and starvation. President of MSAP, Manishwor expressed that they would appreciate the Government of Manipur if they could communicate with the Maharashtra government and requested to help the Manipuris get survival ration during lockdown.
In Bangalore too, Manipuris who are studying and working in low-salaried service sectors are also struggling for stay and survival ration. Manipur Meitei Association, Bangalore (MMAB) and Bangalore Manipuri Students Association (BMSA) are helping them by supplying survival ration for at least about a week to about 1500 students and working people from Manipur irrespective of ethnic groups.
So far the students and low salaried working people in Bangalore are not getting any help financially or survival ration from both the governments of Manipur or Karnataka or any political party or their frontal organisations, said MMAB Publicity Secretary Takhellambam Sibaraj. When MMAB and BMSA members go to different parts of Bangalore to distribute survival ration, they come across families who can’t keep their kitchen burning. Some of the stranded students are given accommodation at Sibaraj’s Paradise Stay Inn.
Similar situations and difficulties are being faced by Manipuris in Indian metropolises and other cities and towns. Many pilgrims from Manipur are also stranded at religious sites and places. They are also struggling for daily meals for survival.
The most unfortunate one is the difficulties being faced by cancer patients and their families at Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital, Mumbai. There are about 46 patients stranded including those whose treatments have been done and delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of them who have been there for about 5 to 6 months paying minimum daily rental charge of Rs. 500. They are also struggling for survival ration over and above financial problems. Those who completed treatment can’t return home due to the lockdown and those whose treatment has been delayed are also stranded, one of the patient party members told FPSJ Review.
Students and people from Manipur working in lower rank service sectors are struggling to survive in COVID-19 lockdown in Delhi. One student, Krishna from Manipur who stays at Vijay Nagar Delhi said the students living there are facing financial problems. The landlords frequently come and call asking them to clear their room rents. Though the students get foods from Manipur Students Association Delhi, MSAD, Helping Hands Group and other generous persons, they need money to clear rents. They had applied to Manipur government’s Tengbang website. But they are not getting any help till April 17, he said.
Meanwhile, one person from Manipur who works in low salaried service sector in Delhi and stays in Vijay Nagar area expressed that those living there are facing financial problems. Though they get ration intermittently from different sources they can’t pay room rents as they are not getting salaries due to lockdown. However, landlords are not cooperative. They continue to pressure them to clear room rents. She also requests the Manipur government on behalf of the Manipuris living there to request Delhi government to help them during the lockdown.
Another problem being faced by Manipuris in the metropolises is finding a place to stay in during COVID-19 lockdown. There are persons from Manipur who travelled for medical treatment and can’t find a place to stay. People from other states of the Northeast like Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal easily find a place at their guest houses even when they are stuck on the road their staff picked them up.
Even after a nurse from Manipur who works at Max Hospital, Delhi tested COVID-19 positive, racism against the people of the Northeast increases undermining the services rendered by Manipur nurses. There are cases of splashing water to Manipuris to vacate their rented rooms, said Chingkhei Saikhom, President of Manipur Students Association Delhi (MSAD). Though Delhi Government announced not to charge room rents, it is not practical. Manipuris who are studying and working in low salaried service sectors are struggling for survival ration and room rent charges. They want to go back home. One most unfortunate problem they face is the inability of the office of the Residence Commissioner of Manipur Bhavan to respect MSAD’s list of the students and persons from Manipur who seek survival ration, added Chingkhei.
When the pockets of the students become empty, the low salaried working people from the region are not getting salaries, racism against the Northeast people increases, and the people from the Northeast can’t buy foods as other citizens of India can get in the COVID-19 lockdown, the hunger for Manipuris grows with fear of starvation and feel insecure to struggle for survival ration. And they think coming back home is the only means to survive in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics