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Manipur development project spells doom for 11 villages, 12,000 people

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Imphal: One person’s manna is another person’s poison. This adage couldn’t ring more true for the people of Manipur whose fate has been divided along the line of development. Manipur

The construction of a multi-purpose dam that promises a better life for people in one part of the state has spelt doom for nearly 12,000 people in 11 villages whose homes will be submerged in the waters and be lost forever.

The Mapithel dam of the Thoubal multi-purpose project in Phayang has been the eye of a storm for the locals for a long time now – since its inception in 1980. But now that the end is nearing and the result is there for all to see, those affected have been raising a last cry for help.

Construction of the dam means blocking the Thoubal river, leading to the water-level rising and submerging 11 villages in the vicinity, along with fertile paddy fields, forest land and historical relics like some of Manipur’s oldest churches.

One such church, the Chadong Baptist Church, which was built in 1935 and is claimed to be one of the oldest in the state, held an emotional prayer service last week before it went under water.

In a memorandum to the chief secretary of Manipur, the religious heads of the affected villages and others wrote: “While trying to provide benefits to the valley districts, more than 12,000 people who are in the project upstream are adversely affected and displaced with no means of future survival.”

The 66-metre-high and 1,074-metre- long dam is aimed at utilising the water resources to provide irrigation to 21,860 hectares of cultivable land in the Thoubal district as well as generate 7.50 MW electricity and supply water to the capital city, Imphal.

This “positive” development has, however, not gone down well with the people of the affected villages, mainly because they will in no way reap the benefits of this project but lose a lot in the bargain instead.

“There has been no proper resettlement and rehabilitation programme for the affected villagers. There has been no impact assessment on the socio-economic and religious perspective,” the memorandum said.

“The Mapithel mountain, located across the dam, will become inaccessible for forage of edible plants, roots and mushrooms necessary for future survival when a reservoir is created,” the memorandum added.

Chadong, one of the affected villages, is known for its soil fertility and its organic food products like mushrooms and bamboo shoots make their way to markets in Imphal and elsewhere.

The Thoubal river, often called the river of strength because of its strong undercurrents, also sees community fishing in the Chadong area – a much celebrated event.

“All of that will now become history,” lamented Ngayeimi, a villager in Chadong, echoing the sentiments of others. Most people in the affected areas are farmers and they fear the uncertainty of the future.

“The future looks bleak. What will I do, I am a farmer…” asked Bosco, another villager who has a family of five, including three children, to support. Villagers also claim that after years of protest, the state government did agree to give compensation, “but only few have been given this till now”.

“All we want is that our plight should be first redressed, then the construction,” the memorandum read, reflecting the irony of how development can have different definitions for different people.

(IANS)

Next Story

Manipuri Women Are Breaking Barriers, The Birthplace Of Modern Polo

"Their enthusiasm lit a desire in me to play polo. I've felt close to horses since my uncle brought them home. But before that, horses roamed about everywhere. My family was not very well off and my uncle couldn't afford to buy a horse,"

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"Here is one (polo) community whose welfare is so closely tied with the welfare of the animal on which the game is played. We felt that since India did not have any women's polo tournament, Manipur could be, and should be, the home of women's polo in India," Somi Roy says. Pixabay

Polo, often thought of as a game of the rich, has also been generally dominated by men. However, a quiet revolution is taking place at the very place where it all started – the northeast Indian state of Manipur, which is considered the birthplace of modern polo.

While men had been playing this game here for centuries, the spotlight has now shifted to women of the state who now field five professional polo teams to compete with the world’s best. These Manipuri women from humble backgrounds are not only shattering stereotypes that polo is a game for men, but also that it is the privilege of the rich.

L. Somi Roy, conservationist and partner at Huntre! Equine, has been one of the main crusaders for women’s polo in the state and sees it also as a campaign to save the iconic Manipuri pony, whose numbers have been declining over the years. He says while Manipuri women traditionally did not play polo as it was an equestrian game coming out of a martial tradition, in modern times, in the 1980s, they got inspired by their male relatives.

“The All Manipur Polo Association encouraged them. About 40-45 per cent of polo players in the world are women. So we are just catching up. It’s pretty gender free as a sport, so it puts them on the level of men when they play together,” Roy tells IANS.

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“Playing with the United States Polo Association (USPA) team was a great experience. Though their skills are very different from ours, we could learn a lot,” she says.
Pixabay

While Manipur produces one-third of male players and three-fourths of women players in the country, Roy says most of these players from an isolated, economically-underdeveloped state are not members of the Indian Polo Association.

Yet, the state has India’s longest polo season — November to March — with two international and four state tournaments, including the Manipur Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament, the only such tournament in India where teams from the US, UK, Canada, Kenya, Australia and Argentina have participated alongside Manipuri girls.

The matches are held in Imphal’s Mapal Kangjeibung Stadium, the oldest running polo ground in the world.

Filmmaker Roopa Barua, who started documenting the story of women’s polo in Manipur in 2016, says a young polo sisterhood is developing in the state that ploughs on despite adversity and political turmoil.

“Around 2014-15, there was an effort to bring in international women players to play in Manipur. Part of this effort was to create a campaign to save the Manipuri pony which is endangered. I saw a symbiotic relationship developing and I followed this story for four years,” she tells IANS.

This documentation culminated in a film which intends to take the story of these strong women players to the world. The documentary film, “Daughters of the Polo God” was showcased earlier this month at the IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival in New Delhi, and would also be screened at the Bombay Stock Exchange on March 26.

“Manipuri players are natural horsewomen and extremely athletic. As I stayed on throughout the tournament, I saw that women’s polo was becoming a growing story. The symbiotic relationship between women’s polo and the endangered Manipuri pony was a very unique concept,” Barua said.

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“Horses for centuries here are owned by people, they are trained, they are broken. And then they are let loose to graze freely in the open wetlands of Manipur.”
Pixabay

Nineteen-year-old Tanna Thoudam, one of the protagonists of the film, was inspired to play polo when she saw some women players playing in a match in 2010.

“Their enthusiasm lit a desire in me to play polo. I’ve felt close to horses since my uncle brought them home. But before that, horses roamed about everywhere. My family was not very well off and my uncle couldn’t afford to buy a horse,” she says.

Tanna joined the Assam Rifles Polo Club in 2011 and became the only junior to make it to the final Manipuri team for the 2017 Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament. “It was the happiest moment of my life.”

Thoinu Thoudum, founder of the Chingkhei Hunba Polo Club, says it is good to have a women’s tournament as it encourages girls to start playing polo while also showing solidarity and respect for women players.

Jetholia Thongbam started playing polo in 2016 and carried on even after her sister stopped playing following her marriage. She believes that Manipuri players are becoming better every year by playing with international players.

“Playing with the United States Polo Association (USPA) team was a great experience. Though their skills are very different from ours, we could learn a lot,” she says.

N. Ibungochoubi, Secretary of the Manipur Polo Society, says the relationship between Manipuris and horses is special.

“Horses for centuries here are owned by people, they are trained, they are broken. And then they are let loose to graze freely in the open wetlands of Manipur.”

But lately, the Manipuri ponies have lost their home to urban blight with their numbers declining from 1,893 in 2003 to just around 500 in 2014.

This is where this symbiotic relationship between humans and horses can potentially be a game-changer.

“Here is one (polo) community whose welfare is so closely tied with the welfare of the animal on which the game is played. We felt that since India did not have any women’s polo tournament, Manipur could be, and should be, the home of women’s polo in India,” Somi Roy says.

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He adds that going to play polo in Manipur is like going to Mecca.

“For people who know the history of polo, Manipur is a special place – that’s where it all came from. And then we say it’s going to be played on the original Manipuri pony, and then we tell them that it is on the world’s oldest living polo ground. It’s a fairly irresistible invitation,” Roy adds. (IANS)