When I was first told by a long-time friend reporting from the
northeast that a mother in a remote Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP)
settlement of Manipur, India in 2007,
was feeding her children shirt buttons in the guise of medicines, it was
certainly difficult to digest. It was on that and later trips to the area, that
I realised how the widespread and protracted conflict had affected the local
populace and tribal settlements in one of India's most violent areas. Away from
the headlines, the northeast alone in India is home to more armed groups than
anywhere else in the country, which demand either a separate homeland, autonomy
or just basic governance. If at all, only a massacre of large scale gets
reported in the national media. What happens there, stays there.
I have worked in Manipur and adjoining areas of north Tripura, Assam and Manipur on the issue of Internal Displacement since 2006. My other projects include a story from Assam and Manipur, called “The Nowhere Clans”, which looked at the violence-induced internal displacement of the Dimasas and the Karbis in upper Assam and of the Bodo and Santhal population in lower Assam and the uprooting of the Kukis in Manipur, in areas bordering Burma. Meanwhile on my last trip, I commenced a project titled “Inside fractured Territories” which revolved around an economic blockade by Kukis in the Sadar Hills area of Manipur state blocking National Highway 39 while demanding for a separate District Council for the Sadar Hills area of Manipur. We were among the first to enter the blockade areas in the midst of charred vehicles as we were escorted by the town commander of the Kuki National Front (KNF) flying the David Star bearing red flag of the armed group that prevented furious mobs from attacking our vehicle. The KNF-controlled areas are parts of the fractured and contested territories that still witness protracted contestations and bloodshed.
My last story on displacement was about the Brus, who were displaced from Mizoram, and are more often called “refugees” in North Tripura where they have been in refuge since 1997. The plight of the over 35,000 Brus has deteriorated to become worse than that of a refugee in the six relief camps located at Naisingpara on the Tripura-Mizoram border. They were forced to flee their homes and places of habitual residence to avoid the effects of communal violence after they demanded a separate autonomous district council in Mizoram.
uprooted from their homes, anywhere in the world by conflict, human rights
violations, natural disasters and other comparable causes, who remain within
the borders of their own countries—are subject to human rights violations, both
during and after displacement. Frequently, they are discriminated against for
being displaced and exposed to discrimination on racial, ethnic and gender
grounds. I hope to spark a wider debate on the subject with my work. I strongly
believe that internal displacement in India’s northeast states in an important
and serious issue which demands to be told. It is not just under-reported, it
is also accepted the way it is and therefore requires long-term engagement by
both photographers and journalists alike.
Jamkholun Baite, 27 lost part of his left leg when he was out to cultivate his fields early in 2007, with his friends between Hollenjang village and Cheljang village. One of his friends was killed on the spot.
Karbi Anglong in Assam was witness to displacement of people in huge numbers due to ethnic clashes between the Karbis and the Dimasas in late 2005 and early 2006. The people of these camps have to fight a battle for daily existence. Government efforts to rehabilitate them have been inadequate. Mostly cultivators and with no other skills, the only means of livelihood for them is a long trek to the forest reserve everyday to collect firewood and sell it in the local market. The wood, up to 70 kilos per person, is sold for ₹70—almost close to the number of kilometres a person has to walk every day.
Moreh, India border town with Myanmar, is a highly fissured community. There are frequent ethnic clashes. Here, Hoikhotin Lhungdin, 38, and the wife of a pastor who was shot dead in a coordinated attack sits in her house. She has five children, and one child was just a month old at the time of the pastor’s death.
A football game in progress at the Naisingpara camp for the Bru tribe.
Hard hit by scarcity, women and children spend most part of the day carrying water for the families from distant streams and rivers. Water borne diseases are rampant in the relief camps. Hundreds have died in past years from the outbreak of water borne diseases.
The glinting roofs are a stark reminder of the fire that gutted the Naisingpara relief camp killing 18 people. The tin sheets were part of the relief material that was provided by the government.
There is no electricty at the Naisingpara camps for the displaced in North-Tripura since 1997. Lanterns are part of the relief material occasionally distributed by the authorities.
There has not been a single census in the camps for the Brus. Deaths are registered but childbirth is difficult to register. So on the surface the population seems to decrease, but in reality it has grown many fold since 1997. Unofficial figures put the population in the camps at 35,000.
In the March 2011, a fire broke out gutting most of the camps at Nasingpara. Here a man is shown with burn injuries to his back and arms. Medical help is far and difficult to come by.