It all started on May 3 when the Northeast woke up with a sense of discomfort as the Meitei and Kuki communities were caught in the grip of ethnic disagreement. It opened a can of worms until the internet had to be snapped and ‘shoot at sight’ ordered by the government.
After covering the first incident of violence from ground zero on May 3, things were returning to normal in the subsequent days, with a few minor incidents in the periphery areas. On May 28, my office assigned me to go to Imphal again because violence had erupted in the Kakching area and other parts of the state ahead of home minister Amit Shah’s visit.
On May 29, I set out for violence-ravaged Manipur. I took the first flight and arrived around 8:30 am. Upon landing, I had a distinct feeling that this was not the same Manipur I had left just 15 days ago. I took a cab to my hotel, ‘Hotel Imphal’. Around 9:15 am, right in front of the hotel, I saw a few young protesters attempting to snatch weapons from a Manipur Rifles truck. That’s how began my day, or rather my breakfast with ‘arms and ammo’, in Imphal.
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The scene was nothing short of a movie set. It was a state of complete lawlessness. When I went to Sugnu, I saw civilians carrying arms and landmines in a location where alleged Kuki militants were taking refuge. The civilians were carrying guns for self-defence.
I covered the scene and headed for Sugnu Bazaar and Serou. When I arrived at Sugnu Bazaar, I saw people being rescued to safer locations. I headed for Serou, where houses had been gutted and the situation was tense, with the likelihood of untoward incidents anytime.
When I returned to Sugnu, the situation was very different, with civilian youth, dressed in black and mostly wearing black masks. Manipur police commandos were also present. The youth were breaking into houses. No one allowed me to take photos and I was warned to leave immediately. I figured out they were Arambai youth.
With so much to report and the internet down, I returned to Imphal and went to DIPR, where the internet was available for journalists to file reports. While working on a news report, I received a call from a reliable source about a gunfight between the 37 Assam Rifles and Arambai militants in Sugnu. I knew I had to report the news from the scene.
I also got visuals of people carrying guns for our channel India Today TV’s prime-time bulletin, filed a report on the gunfight for India Today NE, and left DIPR for my hotel. Everything was fine until 9:30 pm, when I received multiple calls from various Meitei people as well as someone claiming to be a senior official, who indirectly warned me about facing consequences. Immediately afterwards, I received a call from the hotel reception that a few women had come to meet me and enquire why I had done the story. A large gathering was outside.
When I realised something was wrong, I immediately briefed my superiors about the situation. My colleagues and well-wishers went all out to ensure my safety and extended all possible assistance. My seniors informed me, somewhat anxiously, that they had contacted the higher authorities about my security, but the situation remained tense until 1 am when police were finally able to disperse the mob from the hotel. Numerous threatening phone calls came and the hotel management had to change my room.
I also contacted the Assam Rifles IG, requesting assistance, since the language problem made it difficult to understand what the mob wanted or to address their issues. The situation could have worsened. Thankfully, I received an excellent response. Around 3 am, a team led by Colonel Sandeep Mishra, commanding officer of 4 Assam Rifles based at Mantripukhuri, evacuated me from the hotel and arranged for my stay at a safer location until I reached the airport.
Those threatening phone calls, however, continue to haunt me, raising several questions in my mind. Aren’t we supposed to bring out the truth? No one questioned me when I went to Manipur on May 5 and covered Kuki milltants. But one thing against the majority community got me into trouble.
As casualties in the Manipur ethnic clashes continue to mount, reporters on the ground have to walk a tightrope between getting the story and potentially getting killed. So, if we have to withdraw our coverage for some time, it does not mean we are scared.
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