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Manipur: Severe Academic Disruption Feared, UGC Urged to Shift Students to Other Universities

With almost all quality institutions of learning concentrated in the valley, students from the hill areas are afraid of rejoining their classes.
image caption:  With almost all quality institutions of learning concentrated in the valley, students from the hill areas are afraid of rejoining their classes. | Representational image. Image courtesy: Manipur University website

With almost all quality institutions of learning concentrated in the valley, students from the hill areas are afraid of rejoining their classes. | Representational image. Image courtesy: Manipur University website.

Kolkata: Academic disruption in strife-torn Manipur may prove more damaging than that caused countrywide by COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021.

During COVID-19, a partial saving grace was online teaching. In Manipur, the immediate imposition of a ban on internet use, which is continuing, has ruled out online teaching and learning. This is the shared view of an overwhelming majority of panic-stricken students and teachers at this juncture, as after the summer vacation, institutions of learning are to reopen in a matter of days.

The disruption immediately followed widespread ethnic clashes on May 3. So far, over 150 lives have been lost, not to mention the damage to moveable and immovable property that has forced thousands of people, including many students, to take shelter in relief camps started by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) ministry.

Narrating the tragedy and the uncertain future that stares at the face of the students, the Kuki Students' Organisation (KSO) wrote a letter on July 19 to M Jagadesh Kumar, chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC). The organisation urged the UGC chairman to seriously consider relocation of students and scholars of Manipur University and Dhanamanjuri University to other Central universities and permit them to continue their education without a break.

KSO also demanded that original certificates be issued to all victims whose certificates were burnt/destroyed in the incidents of vandalism and arson that continued for days together since May 3. The letter bears the signature of KSO's education secretary, T Haokip, and general secretary, Seiboi Touthang.

If KSO's letter is an appeal to the UGC chairman, the statement of the Federation of Central Universities Teachers' Associations (FEDCUTA) sounds like an indictment of the Centre and the state government "for a palpable administrative and political failure" in a sensitive border state.

That it's a reflection on them is borne out by the fact that "the Supreme Court of India has taken suo motu cognisance and directed the authorities to submit an action taken report." The statement issued by FEDCUTA president DK Lobiyal and secretary Surender Singh referred to the "deeply disturbing" visuals of sexual assault and violence on women, which surfaced on July 19 after being under wraps since May 4, when the crimes were committed.

With educational institutions reopening after the summer break, students wanting to return are unable to do so in the absence of safe transport from out of the state. FEDCUTA has pledged solidarity with Kham Khan Suan Hausing, a scholar on the history and politics of the North-East and a faculty at the Central University of Hyderabad, "as individuals have the right to express their opinion on the complex situation in Manipur."

Lakhon Kma, a professor and president of the North Eastern Hill University Teachers' Association, believes that students' careers will be jeopardised unless the authorities show their determination to resolve the violent stand-off with a firm hand while showing much-needed humanitarian considerations.

With almost all quality institutions of learning concentrated in the valley, students from the hill areas are afraid of rejoining their classes. The violence and destruction of many buildings, including schools and colleges, threw academic activity out of gear since May 3.

Schools were ordered to be reopened some days back, but attendance remains low. With hundreds of students being forced to shift with their families to relief camps, where living conditions are less than ordinary, it will be tough ask if students have to attend classes in the prevailing abnormal circumstances, Kma told NewsClick from Shillong.

He strongly feels the situation would not have been as bad if the authorities had foresight and moved tactfully to diffuse the strident face-off. He suspects the role of 'non-state' actors in influencing decision-makers.

On Thursday, July 20, Imphal and other Manipur towns were witnesses to severe anger and scorn vented by a large number of organisations, including those run by women, over the barbaric attack perpetrated on the two women of the Kuki community allegedly by radicalised Meitei youths, who also killed the father and brother of the younger of the two women.

Police have since made some arrests. All the outfits, including the ones of the Meitei community, condemned the barbarism and called for the strictest possible action against the perpetrators.

The Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) said that the entire Meitei community is in "deep shame and anguish" over what is being shown on TV news channels.

"COCOMI firmly believes that those involved in the barbaric incident will not be spared by the community."

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum held on Thursday a rally at Churachandpur to back up their demand for a separate administration from the state of Manipur.

The same day, Mizoram chief minister and senior Mizo National Front leader Zoramthanga who made it to the July 18 BJP-led NDA meeting in New Delhi, told Central leaders in a tweet that "silence is not an option" in Manipur.

Political watchers said that Zoramthanga had in view Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been silent ever since, breaking it only on July 20, the 78th day.

The Mizoram government has been looking after about 12,000 people who fled from Manipur for safety. It recently sanctioned Rs 5 crore for meeting the expenses at the relief camps. The state reportedly has asked the Union government to lighten its burden with a grant of Rs 10 crore.

The other North-East politician who has called upon the Modi regime to carefully weigh its options in Manipur is Meghalaya chief minister and National Peoples Party (NPP) leader Conrad Sangma.

"It is a humanitarian crisis, and the Centre must recognise this reality," Sangma observed.

A point of import in the given context is the "considered decision of the leadership of the Nagas in Manipur to remain neutral, which simply means not taking any position in the Meitei-Kuki violent confrontation.

General Secretary of United Naga Council Vareiyo Shatsang confirmed the decision to NewsClick. Asked to explain, Shatsang said, "We do not have any idea about the agenda of either the Meiteis or the Kukis, so we thought it would be wise to stay neutral".

The Naga population spread over four-five hill districts, of which Senapati is well-known, is placed at several lakhs out of Manipur's 28.55 lakh people, according to the 2011 Census. Recent estimates put the figure higher, possibly because of infiltration from across the international border with Myanmar, where a military junta is in power and unfavourable conditions regularly trigger migration.

In this context, a seasoned state politician said, "You must have noticed that land and claim over it cause such troubles. In Manipur, an additional factor is the proposed National Register of Citizens, over which views are divergent. It's going to be a very contentious issue."

The writer is a Kolkata-based freelance journalist.

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