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.

Finally, those 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.


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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.

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A man sits idle at the Naisingpara relief camp for the Brus—a displaced tribe in north Tripura.  The men are not allowed to work but must survive on a meager allowance of ₹5 per adult and ₹2.50 per child.
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A casket being prepared in Manipur’s small town of Pallel, after the death of a village elder in an attack by the armed faction of a rebel political group.
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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.

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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.

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Residents of Hurnat Terang, a displaced Karbi village observe Good Friday in the Upper Chichirlangso area of Karbi anglong, Assam. With no hope from the government, faith plays an important part in keeping people together in these parts.
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A football game in progress at the Naisingpara camp for the Bru tribe.

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Phallam Khongsai, 27, was on her way home from Sugnu, a small town in Chandel district of Manipur on October 30, 2006, when her right leg was blown off by a landmine.
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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.

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Kho Khongsai lost both her husband and her son in landmine explosions in Manipur's Chandel district while they were out farming. She now lives in the camp for the displaced in Manipur's Moreh town. With no source of income,  and rendered homeless, she is one of the many displaced who face a bleak future.
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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.

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A mother’s tender hand rests on her son’s fresh grave. Tongkholun Sitlhou, 17, was killed in a coordinated attack in which five people were shot dead point blank within a minute of each other all over Moreh.
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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.

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Hollenjang, the last village south of Tegnopaul, on the friendship road from India to Myanmar, now lies literally empty.  A 10-km corridor between India and Myanmar is controlled by rebels in this area. Many from these areas have fled to Moreh and other safer areas due to constant threat of the rebels, as well as the danger of being caught in a crossfire between the army and the rebels.
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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.

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A Hindu funeral procession in the Naisingpara relief camp. Over 55 per cent of the displaced Brus are Hindus while the rest are Christians. Scarcity of firewood has been a hurdle for cremation in the relief camps.
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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.

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A family image with members lost to the fire that gutted the camps in Nasingpara in March, 2011. Eighteen were killed including women and children.