As Manipur Stays on Edge, Imphal Streets Lie Bare on Christmas Eve

Manipuri Nagas stranded in Imphal cannot return home because of the counter-blockade.

2 min read
Angry mobs set vehicles on fire in Imphal East district on Sunday in protest against the United Naga Council (UNC)‘s indefinite economic blockade. (Photo: PTI)

On Christmas Eve this year, the streets of Imphal City lie bare and morose as the economic blockade has spiralled into weeks of uncertainty for the Nagas living in the city.

There’s some activity as young and old head to the Tangkhul Lane Community Centre where volunteers have promised to help them make their way back to Ukhrul district – their home – for Christmas.

This promise, however, is not easy to deliver. The road to Ukhrul has been blocked to keep Manipur’s Naga population stranded in Imphal City. This is in response to the blockade put in place by the United Naga Council over the recent creation of new districts, which it sees as dividing the Naga people.

Those stranded in Imphal have turned to the Tangkhul Lane Community Centre for shelter. But by Friday morning, the centre had to close its doors as it could accommodate no more, reported The Indian Express.

Convoys leaving for Ukhrul have had to leave in the dead of the night after 22 vehicles – under police protection – were stopped and set on fire on Saturday.

The following Friday, one such convoy carrying 1,000 stranded residents had to come back as it failed to cross over to Ukhrul.

A volunteer at the centre, Ngasan Shokwungnao, told The Indian Express that usually at this time of the year, celebrations are in full swing.

By now, there should have been carol singing in colonies with groups moving from house to house. We are not doing it this year because of the trouble.

The Nagas seem to be stranded, unable to return home for Christmas. But even the churches in Imphal have been shaken by the attack on Saturday.

The city’s second largest church Tangkhul Baptist Church has put up some decorations, but the lights strung on the church steeple will remain unlit this year for safety measures. The Indian Express report describes a stack of hay in the church compound, waiting to be converted into a snowman with cotton and white talcum powder – an annual practice.

Imphal’s largest church, the Manipur Baptist Church, is even quieter. A mob of stone-pelters attacked the church on Saturday, and while no damage was done other than a few windows, the church authorities want to take no chances.

“This is the first time Christmas will be barely celebrated by any church in Imphal,” says Reverend SR Onesima.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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