Guns and widows

Posted on: December 5, 2011

Insurgency-related incidents have left many women widowed in Manipur.

When men in her neighbourhood return home every evening after work, four-year-old Alice often asks a question. When will my father come, she wants to know from her mother, Irengbam Nalini. “I have no answer,” Nalini says, before breaking down.Nalini still remembers that Saturday afternoon two years ago as if it was just the other day. Preparations were on in full swing for a cousin’s wedding in her house in Singjamei Chingamakha Chongtham Leikai in east Imphal in Manipur. Her husband, Choingtham Hem Singh, a government officer, had gone to Paona Bazaar, the busy market hub in Imphal, to buy a wedding gift. The gift was never bought. The shop that he entered was blown up, allegedly by an underground group of militants.

“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” says Nalini.

When you travel in and around Imphal, you come across many women who have been widowed in troubled Manipur. They are called gun widows — for they lost their husbands in either militant attacks or at the hands of security forces. According to data jointly provided by the ministry of home affairs and the South Asia Terrorism Portal, an independent agency, 369 people were killed in insurgency-related incidents last year. The incidents widowed some 300 women.

Farhana Bibi, 46, is a gun widow too. Her husband, Mohammed Islamuddin, a former proctor of Manipur University, was killed by three unidentified gunmen in the university last May. “I have no idea who killed him. Newspaper reports said the militant outfit Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup took responsibility for his killing. According to some other reports, the Muslim underground outfit People’s United Liberation Front accused the Indian Reserve Battalion of killing him. The case is with the Central Bureau of Investigation now, and we have not been informed about any development in the investigation so far,” says Bibi.

Clearly, the victims of violence in Manipur are not just people who are killed. The deaths leave behind women who are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Last year was particularly bloody in Manipur. Nine civilians were killed by unidentified insurgents inside the Keibul Lamjao national park in Khordak Awang Leikai in Bishnupur district on May 11. Exactly a month later, four men were killed when unidentified insurgents opened fire in the Central Agriculture University at Iroisemba in west Imphal. And these were just two of the many violent incidents.

What upsets the widows is the fact that even months after the deaths of their husbands, they have no answers about the killings.

Shobha Rani still doesn’t know why her 39-year-old husband, R.K. Sanajaoba Singh, had to die. He was allegedly killed by the Manipur police at Waheng Leikai, barely 500 metres from their home at Sagolband in west Imphal, six years ago. The case is pending at the Gauhati High Court — the highest judiciary body for the state.

“It is not difficult to investigate the case and punish the killer. But who will do it? The government is not keen to end the violence in the state, and therefore we continue to suffer,” says a tormented Rani. Even her powerful political connections — she is a close relative of former Manipur chief minister R.K. Joychandra — have not helped her.

But she is luckier than many others, for Rani did receive an ex-gratia payment of Rs 1 lakh from the state government. Women such as N. Mori Devi, whose contractor husband was abducted and killed by alleged militants four years ago, are still to get any compensation.

“Every time I visit government officers, they ask for a bribe. I do not have any savings and there is no one to support me financially. Where do I get the money from,” asks Mori Devi, who runs a tea kiosk on the highway at Kakching in Thoubal district, 70 kilometres from Imphal, to support her two children — a 12-year-old boy and a six-year-old daughter.

Corruption is a scourge that many gun widows complain about. Hoikhovok Serto of Phunchoingjang village in Churachandpur district has paid every rupee that she had saved over the last 14 years to government officers as bribes in the hope that she’d be financially compensated for her husband’s death.

“I even sold the two acres of land that I owned,” she says. “I was promised a job for one of my eight children — but we have got nothing so far,” laments Serto whose husband, a village sarpanch, was shot dead, allegedly by members of the Assam Rifles, who mistook him for a militant.

Though the Union ministry of women and child development runs shelter homes for widows across the state, help has not reached them all. Jinhu Hoikhothim, 32, widow of a social worker, has been staying in a rehabilitation home built by a local voluntary group for victims of the Kuki tribe in Chandel district. She has never been to a government shelter.

She collects fuel wood from the forest and sells them to support her three children. But the Rs 300 that she earns every month barely provides them with one square meal a day. She pins all her hopes on a pig that she is raising. “I hope to receive at least Rs 10,000 when I sell it. I will use this money to send my children to school,” says Hoikhothim. Her husband was allegedly killed by members of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muviah) group after he refused to pay the Rs 2,000 they had demanded from him.

That the government has no answers about the killings troubles the widows. Salom Lokeshwari, 26, has no idea who gunned down her husband, Ajit, a driver, two years ago. “Some people said he was gunned down by the Assam Rifles while others said he was killed by militants. His death remains a mystery to us,” she says.

Yet, while the reasons differ and the women themselves come from different strata of Manipuri society, they have one thing in common — their never-ending grief and suffering. “Death seems to be the unbiased leveller for these perturbed widows. From educated to illiterate, from rich to poor, from Kuki to Metei — the struggle for survival for these victims is the same,” says Reena Murum, a local activist at the non governmental organisation, Manipuri Women Gun Survivors Network.

Not surprisingly, for many who witnessed the ongoing violence for the past few decades, this is a life they had often anticipated for themselves. “Looking at the crisis in Manipur, my husband and I often discussed how we should save every rupee for our two children as life here is too unpredictable. I knew sooner or later destiny would force me to join the thousands of widows of conflict in the state,” says Lokeshwari, as she cuddles her two-year-old son in the courtyard of her house in Thanga village in Bishnupur district.

Yet, amidst the agony, many women are moving on with their lives. “I have become stronger now. I don’t have any fears. Now, my only dream is a better future for my child,” says Rani.

After all, you can’t kill dreams.

Salom Lokeshwari with her son,

 Hoikhovok Serto who is yet to get compensation despite bribing officials

Jinhu Hoikhothim is depending on her pet pig to help bring up her children;


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  • ranginee09: It is clear, justice eludes many but to imprison a man for his humanitarian deeds in a civilised society leaves an permanent blotch in our criminal ju
  • ranginee09: The article points-out a very pertinent social ill. Social ostracisation in childhood may have unwanted results later in life. A child victim is not a
  • Seeker and her search: Thanks for reading, Anne. Yes, I know what you are saying.
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