In the first week of May, Anna (27), a PhD scholar at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, received an SOS call from two different relief camps in Manipur – her home state. Some families she knew in Hengbung and Senapati needed mattresses and blankets.
Up until that point, Anna had been feeling helpless in the face of the violence unfolding back home.
Being a Naga who grew up in Imphal, Anna herself had been part of an exodus in 2001. But the conflict that started two months ago was unprecedented. Anna tells The Quint,
“We saw a lot of destruction growing up in Manipur. Violence was not abnormal there. But the scale this time is horrific.”
So when Anna received those calls, she knew she had to help them out. But how? What was it that she could do?
Young Tribal Women’s Network: A Humanitarian Group Working For Relief Camps
The first thing that Anna decided to do was create a WhatsApp group. That is how Young Tribal Women’s Network was born in May this year.
She added people from the northeast, who were based in Delhi like her, to the group. She told them about the SOS calls and they all got to work.
By the end of the day, they had bought the mattresses through volunteers in Nagaland and booked a tempo to transport them to the relief camps in Hengbung.
Within 48 hours of the first SOS call, the mattresses and blankets had reached those who needed them.
Since then, neither Anna stopped, nor has the collective.
Young Tribal Women’s Network now has nearly 30 members, some based in Delhi, some in Manipur, who have been actively coordinating with relief camps to make sure that essential supplies reach those who have been displaced due to the conflict in the northeastern state.
What Exactly Is The Collective Doing?
Anna claims that the collective has raised a substantial amount in the past two months which has all gone into making sure that every day necessary items like water bottles, baby food, sanitary pads, ration, rice, pulses, medicines, etc reach those who have had to seek relief in government or army camps.
But how are they doing all this? The collective has taken three routes:
So far, the collective has organised two donation drives – one in Delhi and another in Nagaland’s Dimapur. Through the former, they were able to collect over 700 kgs of goods, claims Anna.
The latter was conducted with the help of the Manipur Baptist Convention and the Red Cross society in Dimapur who ensured that the donated items reached the relief camps in the Senapati district.
The collective has also been auctioning products made by small northeastern business owners and young tribal women who’ve volunteered their work. These auctions take place on their Instagram page.
Anna tells The Quint, “We are also collaborating with a music festival in Nagaland. They are doing a donation drive and all of their proceeds are going towards our relief fund.”
Not just that, Kim, a Delhi-based PhD scholar and a member of the collective, says that they’ve also been assisting displaced students get admitted to schools.
“A lot of displaced people are coming to Delhi, so through word of mouth, we’ve been reaching out to students and asking them if they’d want to be enrolled in Delhi government schools. People from the Delhi government are helping us with this and have been very cooperative. We send them lists of names of students who want to get enrolled and they take it ahead.”
But, she goes on to add, “We coordinate things but relief work has been possible only because of our field volunteers who understand the urgency of the situation and sometimes put themselves at risk too.”
Accessing Relief Camps in Manipur: What Goes Into Humanitarian Work During A Conflict
Anna too agrees with what Kim says. While the bulk of the coordination happens through the Delhi members of the collective, implementing things on ground is something that the volunteers have ample difficulties with.
A member of the collective based in Manipur’s Imphal, who spoke to The Quint, on the condition of anonymity, tells us,
“The relief camps are the army camps. Initially, we were not allowed to enter them. We were also afraid. Our families told us not to step outside in such volatile times, but we had to.”
Elaborating a little on her role in the collective, she says that the members based in Delhi keep sending them money back home. It is then her job to find:
Human ATMs- People who hoard cash in Manipur, since ATMs are not accessible to everyone
People who work in a bank and can help with cash
People who can lend her essential supplies on the promise that she’ll pay in a few days
Now that she’s been doing relief work for the past two months, she knows who to contact for what. It’s the steps after this that require more work. She tells The Quint,
“Once we get the money, we find wholesale shops and buy rations. We book tempos. We organise people who can help us distribute all the supplies in the relief camps.”
And how exactly do they know what is needed where? Well, for starters, most volunteers know someone or the other living in those relief camps.
But the collective is also coordinating with the Indian Red Cross Society in Senapati and the Manipur Baptist Convention, through which they receive emergency requests:
“500 more people have come to the relief camp, we need essential supplies for them.”
“2,000 more people have come to the relief camp. We need rice and drinking water.”
While they’ve been working tirelessly for the past two months to ensure that these things reach those affected, they are all now waiting for the day these calls stop and peace returns to the state.
(The people The Quint spoke to were only comfortable sharing their first names since surnames can be easy identifiers of one’s tribe in Manipur.)