Kuki-Zo students on Saturday held a 3km march in Churachandpur district of Manipur to underline their suffering amid the unrest and seek “alternative arrangements” to continue their education.
They submitted to the deputy commissioner a two-page memorandum meant for Union home minister Amit Shah that said “even our students have been victimised in the ongoing unrest and have been subjected to ethnic cleansing in the (Meitei-majority) valley districts”.
It added that “the lack of any tangible steps in addressing the grievances of our students has been spawning an increasing feeling of alienation and disaffection”.
The “March Against Education Negligence” was organised by the Joint Students’ Body (JSB), a federation of students’ organisations belonging to the larger Zo community and headquartered in Kuki-Zo-majority Churachandpur.
The marchers held up placards that carried slogans such as “Kuki-Zo education matters”, “We demand equal rights”, “Imphal Valley of Death”, “Hear our voice”, “Stop attacks on education” and “Kuki-Zo medical students will become doctors too”.
The violence between the largely Hindu Meiteis and the mostly Christian Kuki-Zo tribals, continuing since May 3, has left at least 181 people dead and over 67,000 displaced. Kuki-Zos have largely fled the Meitei-majority Imphal Valley while most Meiteis have left the tribal-dominated hills.
A JSB leader said the march was held to highlight the alleged negligence of Kuki-Zo students by the state government and seek immediate central government intervention to address concerns that they have been flagging repeatedly.
Among the complaints are the lack of opportunity for the displaced Kuki-Zo students to continue their education in the hill districts, including online and offline classes; and the loss of educational documents in the violence. Those affected include medical and engineering students along with those doing general courses.
A student said that most Kuki-Zo students studying in Imphal had had to flee without their belongings on May 3.
“Some don’t even have the finances to continue their studies as their families’ homes and business establishments have been burnt down in Imphal. Even books ordered online can’t reach Churachandpur because of the unrest,” he said.
A NIT Imphal student said that 51 displaced students of the institute were struggling to adjust to the sporadic online classes.
“There is no place for us to attend offline and practical classes in Churachandpur. We have sent at least 19 representations to the authorities in the state and at the Centre but to no avail,” he said.
Efforts to contact state government spokespersons and officials proved futile.
The memorandum to Shah, signed by JSB convener N. Tonsing and joint secretary S. Taithul, said Saturday’s march “demonstrates the ever-growing feeling of alienation among our youth and demonstrates our resentment at the indifference of the Union government to the sufferings of our students and the complete neglect of their collective future”.
It asked Shah to “secure” the future of the Kuki-Zo students and ensure that they
are “insulated” from any harm and don’t have to return to Imphal or any of the valley districts to continue their studies.
The demands include:
The establishment of a central university in Churachandpur, and technical and other higher-education institutions in the hill districts.
Disbursal of central government funds for tribal empowerment to hill-based organisations headed by tribal people.
Speedy completion of the Churachandpur Medical College and streamlining of classes at the temporary centre.
Immediate resumption in Churachandpur of online exams conducted by the state public service commission, banks and the UGC as well as those for Agniveer posts and the NEET for medical college seats.