Has Manipur changed since 1999 or it is the same? The current situation is moving from bad to worse

With the objective of further developing sports in Manipur, the National Games (which is like a mini Olympics for Indian players) was held in Imphal in 1999. For coverage, The Hindu newspaper sent a team of reporters and photographers. This correspondent was one of the reporters. The fortnight-long trip turned out to be an eye-opener for us and we came to know the fascinating history and culture of Manipur.

But there was also a hair-raising incident which we will never forget. A day after the opening ceremony, all journalists were invited to dinner by Suresh Kalmadi, former MP, who was then the President of the Indian Olympic Association. We went to his hotel, chatted with him, had dinner and then returned to our hotel late at night.

When we returned, the receptionist informed us that a gang of hooligans had come to our hotel and were searching for journalists of The Hindu.

MS Education Academy

Goons came to beat up journos

We were completely taken aback! Why? The receptionist had no idea. “I told them that you all had gone out. They came inside and began shouting before they were chased away by this man,” he said, pointing to the armed security guard who was standing at the door.

An armed soldier of a paramilitary unit had been assigned to our hotel to protect journalists because militant groups were very active in the region. A few days earlier an army convoy had been ambushed and there were casualties on both sides. So the Games organisers were taking no chances.

This soldier had pointed his rifle at the hooligans and told them that he would shoot if they did not leave immediately. Apparently one of the intruders had asked: “Why are you supporting them? You are a Manipuri. You should support us.”

But the guard was adamant. “I have strict orders to shoot down unauthorized persons who enter this building. I am giving you ten seconds. Then I will begin firing.” Seeing that he was absolutely ready to open fire, the hooligans took to their heels.

But why were they angry with us? After questioning several people, we finally discovered the answer. During the games, a group of photographers had been huddled in an enclosure. As they tried to get the best angles for their pictures, one local photographer accidentally jostled the hand of our photographer and ruined his shot. An exchange of angry words followed.

Thereafter the Manipuri person felt that an outsider had come to his city and insulted him. His ego was hurt. He gathered a gang of musclemen and came to our hotel to beat up our colleague. But we were not present and in any case, they would not have succeeded because of the vigilant paramilitary guard.

Later we sought out the angry Manipuri man, apologized profusely and offered him a gift as a token of our friendship. We bumped into him several times after that but every time he greeted us with a smile. So the affair ended peacefully.

I had another unforgettable experience. One of my assignments was judo. But the judo hall was located 12 km away from Imphal in a remote location. I found out that the athletes would be traveling in a team bus so I too got onto that bus and reached the venue.

Helping hand extended

But while returning I ran into trouble. After the competition ended, I had to note down the scores of each participant for writing my report. After doing that when I emerged from the hall I found that the bus had gone off with the athletes and I was left all alone. There was nobody in sight except a few spectators from nearby villages. By then it was dark.

So there I was – stranded in a remote place without any transportation to return to the town. I had no other option but to walk. I didn’t even know the way. Much of it was along unlit roads winding through villages and hills so I could get lost. Even if I found the right path it would take me at least two hours to walk 12 km. And I had to meet my deadline with the report which was 8 p.m.

Anyway, there was no point in waiting there so I began walking. After 15 minutes I saw a boy who was trying to repair his motorbike which seemed to have broken down. I asked him which was the way to Imphal and then he told me: “Uncle I live in this village but I will take you to Imphal. Give me a few minutes. Let me get my bike going.”

After some time he managed to start his bike and we began our journey. But the bike kept breaking down at frequent intervals. He had to repair it again and again before we finally reached Imphal. Only after making sure that I would face no more difficulty, the boy began his long journey back to his village on his malfunctioning bike.

Had this boy not helped me that day I would have been in the soup. I will always be grateful to him.

This was not the only case. On several occasions, I found that the citizens were eager to help. Some even wanted to take us to outdoor picnics. They seemed to be very eager and excited that a big event was happening in their city. There was positive media coverage of Manipur. Mostly Manipur gets negative coverage whenever unpleasant things happen.

At other times nobody cares about the state’s culture and people. So the inhabitants feel neglected and ignored. That was the impression I got during my visit. The National Games gave them a few days of glory and positive coverage and they were extremely happy about that.

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