Woes of Tipaimukh

Published on April 25, 2008

By Elf Hmar

Yet again, Tipaimukh (a village in the state of Manipur in India) is in the media not for good but for all the dark events taking place over there. It seems as though good things are a scarcity in this god-forsaken region since 2006. First, in 2006 it was the mass rape, molestation of Hmar women and torture and planting of IEDs by proscribed UNLF and KCP militants.

Second, in 2007 the focus was on diverted and mismanaged PDS and an impending famine due to gregarious bamboo flowering. And then now in 2008, even when all of the said events are yet to be addressed, the serious issue that is now plaguing the region is the mass death of infants killed by a “mysterious disease”.

In this neglected region where such serious issues are battled everyday by the deprived villagers, such things are not new to them. All of these sad happenings could have been contained if only proactive government intervention had been in place.

To add to the woes of Tipaimukh villagers and the Hmar community, there was this insensible and disgusting editorial written in one of Manipur’s reputed newspapers, Imphal Free Press (IFP), though one or two of the argument can be said to be digestible. The editorial was titled “Tipaimukh Epidemic” and it was carried in the paper on April 21, 2008.

The said editorial argued, “…there is the tendency among those involved in advocacy campaigns to paint the worst possible scenario even at the cost of accuracy of information so as to attract attention”.  Not contented, it further adds, “Those who are making the allegations try to inflate the number …” it also goes on to play down on the numbers of infants’ death and the seriousness of the issue that the marginalised Tipaimukh people are combating themselves.

The confronted case of mass infants’ death was first reported in March 16, 2008 but not by print, radio or television media. Rather, the credit goes to SinlengNews, an SMS news service in Hmar, the first for NE-based communities in the world. SinlengNews now has 8500 subscribers and the list is still increasing.

Unfortunately, ever since the reported case, the infants’ death also increased likewise. With the increasing death, the Hmar community in other parts of country got more concerned, knowing there no medical facilities in the area to control the “mysterious disease”.

The death of infants was first reported in Manipur newspaper IFP on 4 April, 2008. But it was not detailed but that can be understandable as communication to the area is not a laughing matter. Then, the same paper added that the name of the deceased children could not be immediately available due to communication gap.

On the same day, i.e., 4 April 2008, the Delhi Hmar Welfare Association (DHWA) reported the matter to A. Ramadoss, Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Government of India. In its letter, the DHWA inform the Minister of the symptoms of the “mysterious disease”. It said,

“The nails of the victims turn blue and they complain of stomach pain, chest pain, nausea and their urine is yellow in colour and their bodies also take on a yellowish tinge. Their private parts also turn dark after their death. The temperature on the dead bodies remains warm for a certain period of two to three hours.”

Requesting it to take note of the serious situation, it asked the Health Ministry to direct the State Government through its concerned department to thoroughly investigate the outbreak and to take immediate steps to control the outbreak of disease.

According to data collected as of 18 April 2008 from concerned Village Authorities by the DHWA, the total number of infants who died of the disease has reached 28, with many others seriously afflicted. The DHWA also added a note saying that it was unable to obtain data from adjoining villages due to non-availability of telecommunication.

Probably, the “number game” as the IFP editorial clubbed it, can be rectified and rightly confirmed once the editor, fellow colleagues and other medical staffs visit all the villages in the sub-division and after proper telecommunication system is in place in the region.

The callous stance and scepticism of the editorial in rebuking the reported numbers of death is a disgrace to the media fraternity in the State. Perhaps, an appropriate introspection is the need of the hour for highlighting the multiple tragedies the hill people are repeatedly facing, instead of merely ridiculing them with false propaganda. Such communal and humiliating approach only assists in the widening of the divide.