Churachandpur— Lily, a tribal woman sought refuge in the relief camp just two weeks ago, has received a devastating prognosis from the district hospital's doctors — a severe liver condition. Lily's frail and gaunt form speaks about her profound suffering. She is confined to a room shared with over 30 fellow residents, and the collective anguish of witnessing Lily's pain has left an indelible mark on everyone in the camp.
Rengkai, nestled within the tribal-dominated Churachandpur district, stands as one of the most densely populated areas. Here, a high school campus has been transformed into the Rengkai Relief Camp, housing a total of 378 refugees, comprising 191 men and 187 women, representing 72 families who fled various locations in the wake of the violence. Lily is one of them.
The Mooknayak team visited the room where 45-year-old Lily resided, surrounded by women and children. It was heart breaking to observe Lily's feeble attempts to consume the rice and lentils provided at the relief camp. Nearby residents urged her to eat more, but her deteriorated physical condition prevented her from even sitting up unaided. The refugees refuse to lose Lily, having already lost loved ones and homes. The women from the camp visit Lily throughout the day, ready to offer assistance.
Lily, who hails from B-Gangte village and arrived at the Rengkai Relief Camp, is a mother of four. However, in the camp, only her 12-year-old son, Lunjalin, accompanies her and tends to her needs during her severe illnesses. Lunjalin's peers play around the camp, but he remains steadfastly by his mother's side. His meager earnings from the relief camp and contributions from nearby residents barely cover his mother's medication costs.
Lily, while struggling to sit for extended periods, revealed that one of her sons had already passed away, while the whereabouts of her other two sons remain unknown since the violence erupted. She explained, "My married daughter provides money for medication, keeping the treatment going. When the pain becomes unbearable, fellow camp residents take us to the doctor." Lily couldn't elaborate further on her situation.
Anthony, a volunteer at the Rengkai Relief Camp, provided insight into Lily's condition, stating, "When we took Lily to Churachandpur District Hospital, we discovered she had a severe liver problem. Unfortunately, we lack the funds for proper treatment, and the doctor says essential medications are out of stock. Witnessing the suffering of people in this relief camp always brings tears to our eyes. What else can we do?"
Anthony, with a kind heart, offered food to The Mooknayak team, saying, "You've come to my place, and I don't know if you've eaten or not. I've prepared some food for the camp; please have some. It's all I can offer." His words touched the team deeply.
The story of another Kuki tribal woman at Rengkai Relief Camp, Chinkhoneng Baite, 46 years old, is even more distressing than Lily's. She battles breast cancer and spends her days sitting and resting outside the relief camp's houses to avoid unsettling others with her illness.
Upon arriving at Rengkai Relief Camp, refugees mentioned another woman suffering from cancer. The Mooknayak team searched for Chinkhoneng and found her sitting with her husband, Jamkhothang Baite (50), flipping through medical test reports and prescriptions written by doctors.
Chinkhoneng explained that her neighboring village, consisting of over 100 houses, was set ablaze by Meiteis during the violence. Fearing for her life, she sought refuge in an army camp, leaving behind her children, a son (7) and two daughters (11 and 8). After a week, the children were sent to her married daughter, and she eventually arrived at Rengkai Relief Camp. Due to her incurable disease and financial hardships, she and her husband have been residing there since. They lack both money and a home, surviving solely on the relief camp's resources.
Chinkhoneng, with teary eyes, expressed her anguish, saying, "The treatment has been ongoing for 3-4 years, and I was diagnosed with cancer last year. Life has become incredibly challenging now. I worry about my daughters. Who will take care of them? All this is driving me to despair."
Jamkhothang Baite, once a renowned professional football player transitioned to farming after an unfortunate event in 2011. However, he now faces unemployment, and before the violence, he grazed goats in the hills.
"We sold our goats to a company. All the money I earned from football went into my wife's medication. The government district hospital claims they lack the required medicines. We're not receiving any government medical aid either. We're barely getting by each day," Jamkhothang Baite revealed.
Jamkhothang also shared the reason for quitting football, "I had a Meitei friend who grew jealous of my rising football career, especially as I was gaining recognition in state-level games. To hinder my progress, my Meitei friend conspired and began giving money to Naxalite groups who in turn threatened me to quit football or face harm. After 2011, I ceased playing football."
Anthony, a volunteer at the Rengkai Relief Camp, corroborated Jamkhothang's story and described him as the era's finest football player, unmatched by anyone else.
Chinkhoneng's cancer is incurable, and she lacks the means to receive timely dialysis. Her life hangs in the balance. The Mooknayak team's journey into the tribal-dominated Churachandpur region was fraught with risk, as the area is known for its tense atmosphere. As the team prepared to depart, Chinkhoneng quietly requested, "Can I shake hands with you?" She wanted to express her gratitude for shedding light on the tribals' suffering. The team obliged, and Chinkhoneng exclaimed, "God Bless You!" Her heartfelt gesture left a lasting impact on us, and we couldn't bear to look back as we left.
In the Saikawt ITI relief camp, nestled in the Churachandpur district hills, three-and-a-half-year-old Seth battles chickenpox. His family is concerned as they lack access to medicine. His mother, Maryjona, 34, is his caregiver, while his father, Philip, 39, struggles to find daily wage labor in the challenging post-violence environment.
Philip is helpless due to financial constraints preventing him from seeking treatment for Seth's chickenpox. Doctors at the district hospital claim that government medicines are unavailable. In the dark of night, Maryjona shows Seth's chickenpox-infested body with the light of a torch.
Maryjona remarked on Seth's treatment, saying, "We have no choice but to quietly endure here. We have no money and no work. Our house was looted and set ablaze. People who identify as Meiteis have reached the relief camp here to save their lives."
Notably, Churachandpur district in Manipur has a population of 330,100, with just one government hospital serving this tribal-dominated region. The disparity between the underdeveloped hills and the more developed valley raises questions. The tense atmosphere in the hills following the violence has hindered the movement of vehicles, affecting the supply of essential goods, medicines, and fuel. Prices in the hills have surged, leaving relief camp refugees helpless, especially those suffering from severe illnesses.
The Mooknayak team met with Churachandpur Deputy Commissioner (DC) Dharun Kumar to inquire about the medicine shortage in relief camps and the state government's readiness to assist refugees. When asked about the medicine shortage and healthcare challenges, DC Churachandpur responded, "There is a medicine shortage across the country, and people face various health issues. It's possible that certain medicines have never been available. We have some remaining medications." The DC did not elaborate further on the medicine shortage.
Initially, DC Churachandpur's response appeared somewhat dismissive of the refugee's predicament.
However, The Mooknayak's investigation uncovered deeply distressing and painful circumstances. The refugees are not living their lives but are merely enduring each passing day. They have become refugees in their own city.
Furthermore, the refugees in Churachandpur cannot easily access good hospitals in the valley for treatment.
Manipur has been divided into two regions following caste violence that erupted in May. The valley is inhabited by the Meitei community, while the hills are predominantly occupied by the Kuki-Zo community. Both communities remain segregated, with heavily guarded borders separating them. Additionally, the buffer zone between the two regions, through which essential supplies, including medicines, must pass, experiences frequent gunfire, hindering transportation. As a result, people in the hills must make do with whatever resources they have.
There is also a shortage of medicines for HIV patients. Churachandpur reports a total of 4,239 HIV-positive cases, with 105 new cases detected between April and July 2022. Of these, 2,072 individuals are receiving ART treatment. Manipur has 1.04% of India's HIV cases, accounting for 0.24% of the state's total population. Following the violence, there is a severe shortage of general and high-risk disease medications. Churachandpur Antiretroviral Center last received medicines from Manipur State AIDS Control Society on June 24. The center's consultant revealed in August that no supplies had arrived since that date due to the officer-in-charge, who was Meitei, fleeing to Imphal in May.
The center's consultant explained, "We are out of stock for Lopinavir 40 mg and Ritonavir 10 mg tablets required for children. As we have no stock left, we're breaking adult tablets in half to administer them to children."
It is evident that the only government hospital in the Kuki-dominated area faces a severe shortage of life-saving medicines. Without prompt action from the state or central government, hundreds of lives may hang in the balance.
Story Translated by Geetha Sunil Pillai
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