Struggle to find a “temporary” home away from home: Stories of Manipur’s Kuki-Zos in Shillong

The ongoing outbreak of violence in Manipur has forced thousands of individuals, particularly young students, to seek refuge in Shillong. However, a new hurdle has emerged for these...

The ongoing outbreak of violence in Manipur has forced thousands of individuals, particularly young students, to seek refuge in Shillong. However, a new hurdle has emerged for these displaced people as the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) recently issued strict directives to Rangbah Shnong, local administrative heads, regarding the provision of rented housing. Ngamboi, Secretary of the Kuki Student Organization, highlighted the challenges faced by asylum seekers from Manipur due to these directives.

According to Ngamboi, individuals fleeing Manipur are encountering difficulties in finding rental accommodations in Shillong, making it increasingly hard to secure shelter. To cope with the situation, temporary shelter homes have been set up at Lapalang Rynjah, Them Basuk, and Madanryting, where the fleeing population currently seeks refuge. Unfortunately, due to the KHADC’s directives and the lack of assistance from the Meghalaya government, acquiring a rented house has become an arduous task for those in need.

“Since now it is difficult to get a house and since there is no help from Meghalaya government, those who are fleeing Manipur are currently staying in a pack relative’s rent house somewhere in Shillong and those who are studying are admitting themselves in private hostels” said Ngamboi.

Ngamboi further revealed that individuals from Manipur are currently staying in the rented homes of relatives scattered across Shillong. Meanwhile, students among them have resorted to enrolling themselves in private hostels to continue their education. “I can say 90% of the Rangbah Shnong are not willing to help us with rent houses but there are few who understand the concerns and plights of people fleeing Manipur” said Ngamboi.

A concerned student from the Meitei community, who wished to remain anonymous, revealed that student organizations from Manipur have met with the Meghalaya Chief Minister and Chief Secretary to seek assistance in finding temporary shelter in Shillong.  However, they have not received any communication from the government to date.

T. Hoakip, a senior citizen who recently fled Manipur, shared that he and his family have not experienced discrimination while staying with relatives in Shillong. However, they are required to inform the local Dorbar Shnong (traditional administrative body) before settling in the area. Hoakip, who has been residing in Madanriting since May, considers himself fortunate to have relatives permanently settled in Shillong. However, he expressed deep concern for those facing difficulties in finding accommodation not only in Shillong but also in other states across Northeast India. “I have received information that due to the directives from the KHADC, many people from Manipur have sought temporary shelter in other cities such as Aizawl, Guwahati, and even Tripura,” T. Hoakip stated.

The Synjuk Ki Nongsynshar shong Ka Bri U Hynniewtrep, a conglomeration of traditional headmen in and around Shillong, emphasised their obligation to comply with the KHADC’s directives and the district administration. However, they clarified that this does not imply any opposition to those seeking shelter in Shillong.

Bantylli Nari, the headman of Nongrim Hills in Shillong, which has seen a significant number of Manipuri residents, emphasised that the executive committee is monitoring all individuals settling in the locality, not just those from Manipur. Nari stated, “It is our responsibility to ensure peaceful coexistence of all communities in our locality. Therefore, we need to exercise caution before providing housing or any form of accommodation to anyone, regardless of their origin.”

The violence in Manipur has prompted discussions within the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) in Meghalaya. Concerns regarding their vulnerable situation were discussed in the District Council, with members from both the ruling and opposition parties addressing fears of establishing a permanent refugee camp, similar to the one already existing in the heart of the state capital.

In a motion proposed by nominated MDC Bindo Lanong, it was emphasised that the people of Meghalaya and the District Council empathise with those compelled to leave Manipur. It was suggested that the Council and the state government work hand in hand to designate a specific location in Shillong to provide temporary shelter for those fleeing Manipur.

Chief Executive Member (CEM) of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) Pyniaid Sing Syiem while expressing concern on the ongoing violence in Manipur informed that Elaka Administration since first week of April had held meeting with Dorbar Shnong of all localities in Shillong and its agglomeration to keep check on people fleeing from Manipur who are seeking shelter in the state capital.

Expressing worries about the growing number of asylum seekers in Shillong, the CEM highlighted that some localities, such as Mawbah, have experienced a significant reduction in the Khasi community, with around 14,000 non-tribals and only 400 Khasis. This situation contributes to the vigilance exercised by the KHADC in response to the rising number of people seeking shelter in Shillong. During the budget session, the KHADC unanimously paid homage to the victims of violence and condemned the perpetrators who targeted members of tribal and Christian communities, as well as those who destroyed places of worship in Manipur.

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