Beena Chettri is worried about the future of her 14-year-old daughter. A Class 10 student at a private school in Imphal West, she hasn't been to school in two months.
"This is a crucial year for my daughter. She is supposed to appear for her board exams next year. She hasn't gone to school, but due to the internet ban, there have not been any online classes either. Her exams are only 7-8 months away. Her future, along with that of lakhs of other kids in Manipur, is most likely ruined."Beena Chettri
After more than two months since the violence erupted in Manipur on 3 May, nearly 4,500 schools for Classes 1 to 8 reopened on 5 July.
According to education department officials, only 20 percent of students were in attendance on average owing to "violence-related issues, transportation and fear among parents and children."
But merely a day after classes reopened, on 6 July, a woman was allegedly shot dead by unidentified criminals outside a school in Imphal West, causing an already low attendance rate to see a further dip.
"I sent my daughter to school on 5 July. But when I heard about the woman being shot dead, I was scared. I have stopped sending my daughter to school for now."Beena Chettri
As the violence continues unabated in Manipur, the future of lakhs of students remains in the dark.
'Parents Scared To Send Children to School'
According to news agency Reuters, nearly all schools remained shut on the first day despite a government order to reopen them. The report added that even teachers and support staff did not show up to school in the morning.
A week later, things are no different. A principal of a school situated in Imphal East, who wished to remain anonymous, said the reason behind most schools registering low attendance is that parents are scared to send their children back.
"I have about 750 students enrolled in my school. But less than 100 students are turning up each day. Many parents have told me that they are scared to send their children as the situation is still tense. Many have said they want to withdraw their child's admission and have sought a refund. But if this continues, I will not have money to pay my staff," she added.
The Manipur government had earlier decided to reopen the schools on 21 June and 1 July, but could not. Meanwhile, at least 96 schools – mostly in the Kuki-dominated hilly districts of Churachandpur and Bishnupur – could not be opened as relief camps for the displaced people have been set up on their premises.
How Displacement Has Kept Children Out of Schools
Then there is also the factor of displacement. "I miss going to school and meeting my friends, joking with them, and playing with them," 13-year-old Mangtinnek Vaiphei told The Quint.
His family was forced to flee Sallom Patton, a village in Manipur's Kangpokpi district, after mobs ransacked their house. He and his family are now at a relief camp in Tengnoupal.
While, according to an official release, students displaced by the ethnic violence are allowed to get admission for free at a nearby school, Vaiphei's parents are yet to enroll him.
"We are still in a wait-and-watch mode, and still hope to return home one day. That is why we are not in a hurry to enroll our son in a school nearby. Moreover, ever since the violence broke out, our son has become withdrawn. Putting him in a new environment will add to his stress," Vaiphei's father Patrick Vaiphei told The Quint.
Thangtinlen Haokip, general secretary of the Kuki Students Organisation in Sadar Hills, told The Quint that most student bodies in the hills feel that it's not safe to open schools yet.
"There are still intermittent incidents of violence in these districts, and it's still not safe to venture out," he said, adding, "The future of lakhs of children are at stake."
Moreover, Classes 9 to 12 will only resume once the construction of pre-fabricated houses for the displaced people is completed, according to Chief Minister Biren Singh.
'Clashes Have Disrupted My Educational Plans'
However, it is not only school students who are suffering. The conflict has shattered the dreams of many who wanted to study outside the state.
"I may never get to go study in a city like Bengaluru or Delhi. I always wanted to go out of Manipur and wanted to explore what the world is like," Peter Kipgen, an 18-year-old resident of Moreh, told The Quint.
Kipgen just completed high school – and wanted to pursue his bachelor's degree from outside Manipur. However, the internet ban in the wake of the violence has derailed his plans.
"The violence broke out right when the board exam results were declared, and then the internet was shut down. I could not fill out forms for colleges in cities, and neither did my family have the means to make a safe passage to cities like Delhi, Bengaluru, or Kolkata. I don't know what I am going to do next. I don't know when the situation will become normal here," he added.