Footballs returns many Manipuri childhoods and offers a better future.
Even as the ethnic conflict between the Naga and Kuki tribes continues to burn the Chandel district of Manipur, hope shines in an unlikely corner. The children of the conflict are attempting to affect
catharsis over the region. They are reconciling their troubled histories, making peace with their rivals and coming together on the ground for a round of that most beautiful game – football.
“The struggle of Manipur has been long and complicated,” says Kamei Mercy, IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent from Manipur. “Just the sight of these children coming together and playing is a vision that one wishes to keep for the future.”
In 2006, the Ministry of Panchayat Raj named Chandel among one of the 250 most backward districts in the country. Poverty, unemployment and malnourishment are rife. There are no proper healthcare facilities or schools. The prolonged civil strife has paralyzed the district. It is a heavily militarized zone with over one military personnel for less than 50 civilians.
Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in the regions. Some are recruited as child soldiers by the insurgent groups. Many children have killed in cross-fires between the army and the insurgents. They are illiterate and malnourished, the war has broken their families. They are easy prey for trafficking and child labour cartels. They are emotionally scarred and psychologically damaged by the violence, fear and displacement.
The sports are an initiative of the Manipuri Alliance for Child Rights, a right based forum of NGOs, people’s organizations, activists and individuals who are working for child rights in the state of Manipur.
“Education and healthcare are essential,” says Mercy. “But there is something more about a game of football. Your playmates are your first idea of community and in getting the children to play sports, the
Manipuri Alliance for Child Rights is doing a great job in restoring not only their childhoods but a sense of community among the future citizens of Manipur.”
The Naga-Kuki conflict has been a long standing and bloody fight for the control of land and resources. In the late 60s, the Kuki tribes were forced to immigrate from Burmese borders to the hills of North
East Indian to avoid being persecuted by the Burmese military. With the rise of Naga insurgency in the 1990s, the Kuki became the target of ethnic cleansing. Entire settlements were razed to the ground. The intervention of the Indian Army only escalated the violence and the Kuki were once again caught in between.
“The situation of Manipur needs fresh ideas and outlooks,” says Mercy. “There children are our hope. They’re scoring one for peace.”