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Faye D'Souza Talks to The Quint Journo Who Reported on Manipur From Ground Zero

This is the first collaboration between The Quint & news app Beatroot, owned by independent journalist Faye D'Souza.

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"I have never come across a story like that – and I hope that I never do again," The Quint's Assistant Editor Saptarshi Basak tells Faye D'Souza, independent journalist and founder of Beatroot news app, as he shares his experience of covering the murder of seven-year-old Tonsing Hansing in the conflict-torn state of Manipur.

In what is the first collaboration between The Quint and Beatroot news app, Faye D'Souza delves deep into the former's coverage on the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur, which broke out over two months ago.

This collab is the first of many to come, in which The Quint and Beatroot news app will bring you in-depth interviews of our reporters with Faye D'Souza on their stories from the ground.

Download the Beatroot news app for all the latest updates from around the world.

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Here are the edited excerpts of the interview:

Faye D'Souza: Is the police doing enough to stop the mobs in Manipur? Were the police fighting the mobs? Were they with the mobs?

Saptarshi Basak: There is enough evidence to show that the police and the armed forces might be taking sides. The police officers that I spoke to when I was doing my story on how security forces are partitioned along ethnic lines, Kuki police officers told me that their Meitei colleagues asked them to flee, because they can't control the mobs. And I understand that. How do 20 police officers take on a 5,000-strong mob?

Faye D'Souza: Are things under control in Manipur?

Saptarshi Basak: Things are not under control at all. There are official reports of murders or houses being burnt every day. We don't even know how many attacks don't make it to the news because there is no internet. People still feel extremely unsafe. They are very unhappy about the "no work no pay" circular. Kukis, for instance, who work in government services, cannot go back to Imphal right now.

I think it is a combination of an incompetent government with extreme levels of polarisation – a level of polarisation where nobody is willing to look out for the people from the other community. This has made it even harder for the central and state governments to do anything about the violence.
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Faye D'Souza: What is the situation of relief camps in Manipur?

Saptarshi Basak: Nobody believes that they can go back to the lives they were living before 3 May. That's a completely different world compared to what they are living in right now. I visited camps where people from both communities are suffering the same way. They are cramped and overcrowded with 300-400 people living in a huge hall.

For Kukis, the camps are being organised by churches. For Meiteis, there are some government relief camps, and some set up by civil societies. But there are hardly any toilets, schools, or jobs. When I ask people what they do all day, they say they just try to talk to each other about what they have lost... people and houses that they have lost.

I even met a 13 or 14-year-old Kuki girl, who used to study in school, and she is still supposed to be in school. But in a relief camp, she was maintaining a catalogue of all the Kukis who have entered the camp today, yesterday, last week, what they lost, whether they are rape victims, or if they need hospitalisation, among other things. She was sitting on the floor of a camp and making tables on a sheet of paper, like an excel sheet. That is just what life has become for boys, girls, men, women, and old people."

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Faye D'Souza: How were police weapons looted in Manipur?

Saptarshi Basak: It's very hard to tell you what the absolute truth is. I can only give you the main narratives that are floating around – and all of them sound like conspiracy theories. The Kuki narrative is that the Assam Rifles and the police stations were not looted at all. The government handed these weapons to the militants so that they could attack, while the media was told that these weapons were looted and the government had no control over the situation.

The narrative that comes from the Meitei side is one that involves SoO [suspension of operations] camp. For context, the SoO pact was signed in 2008, a tripartite agreement between 25 Kuki insurgent groups, the Government of India, and the state of Manipur.

According to the agreement, state and central security forces, including state and central forces, would not launch military operations against the insurgent groups, and the latter would also maintain peace with the primary objective of engaging in dialogue.

However, in March earlier this year, the BJP-led Manipur government decided to withdraw from the agreement. The Meiteis say that the SoO agreement has turned into a bonhomie between the Kukis and the army, and the Kukis are the ones "looting" the stations for weapons to conduct attacks on the Meiteis. So, these are narratives that are extremely hard to verify, especially due to the lack of internet. As a reporter, all I can do is provide narratives from both sides and find out as many facts as I can.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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