How A Women’s Collective In Delhi Is Aiding Displaced Communities In Manipur

The violence in Manipur has displaced thousands of people who are now staying in refugee camps. A tribal women’s collective from the north east is spearheading relief operations out of Delhi

By the time the first batch of relief material arrived in the town of Saikul in Manipur’s Kangpokpi district, one of the worst affected in the ongoing strife, the state had already seen two weeks of horrific violence. The very first gunny bags full of medicines, baby food, diapers, sanitary napkins, and clothes that arrived in Saikul had been collected and dispatched from Delhi by a collective of women from the tribal communities of the north east. Dry ration had been taken to the village by the collective’s volunteers through funds raised online. 

Manipur has been wracked by violence over the past two months, the strife sparked by the Manipur high court’s request to the state government to consider granting Scheduled Tribe status to the majority Meitei community in the state. The violence has displaced 50,000 people and resulted in over 100 fatalities. Around 350 relief camps have been established for those affected. 

Amidst this chaos, a small network of tribal women students from Manipur based in Delhi have been coordinating relief operations for areas most affected by the crisis. 

In a cramped JNU hostel room, this collective of women, who call themselves the Young Tribal Women’s Network, is once again in action, coordinating the despatch of another round of relief items to Manipur. When we meet Anna, one of the members of the network, in her hostel room in JNU, she is in-between calls coordinating the pickup of seven large sacks of clothes and boxes of essential supplies that include sanitary napkins, medicines, and baby food. The collective, with the help of Civil Lines’ Zeme Church and the Zeliangrong Christian Fellowship, recently led a large donation drive, the proceeds of which will now go to several affected villages of Manipur. 

The collective has been spearheading relief operations in Manipur primarily by raising funds through its Instagram page, and by leading donation drives with other civil society organisations. Their work reaches the needy villages of Manipur through some quick coordination with friends and volunteers based in Nagaland’s Dimapur and Kohima districts.

“We hear from our families and friends that several communities in the foothills of Manipur are not receiving any relief supplies. We are trying to ensure essential supplies reach the most affected in these areas,” says Anna*. 

Gunny sacks and relief packages containing clothes, baby food, sanitary napkins and medicine supplies. 

Need For A Collective

In the first week of May, when fresh violence broke out in Imphal, the capital of her home state, Anna, a PhD student in JNU , recalls feeling utterly helpless. “It was all over the news – I was restless and just couldn’t read it anymore. So I started a WhatsApp group”. The group soon mushroomed into a collective of over 25 women from various tribal communities of the north-east.

The Young Tribal Women’s Network now has a strong presence on Instagram, five of its members are in Delhi, and the others spread across the north east. “We haven’t even met some of them,” says Nao, another member of the collective. The collective wants their work to reach all who are affected, irrespective of ethnicity.

Despite the extensive coverage of the strife in Manipur, the travails of displaced people in smaller villages such as Saparmaina, Motbung and Kangla Tongbi remain unreported, say the women. These villages, less than 30 minutes away from the nearest relief camp in Kangpokpi, a hill district in north Manipur, have not been able to access the relief camp due to the violence in the area. 

“At the peak of the strife, it took the villagers here weeks to reach Kangpokpi. Some had to take refuge in nearby Naga villages, and they arrived there exhausted, some fainting and many women pregnant. The Naga communities cooked for them, and created transit camps,” says Anna.

While Anna oversees the relief packages, Kim, Nao, and Priscilla (name changed) are scouting the markets of Munirka to look for needles and strings. Soon the team is busy sewing up the gunny bags. “It looked so easy when the courier guy did this the last time we sent material,” says Kim as she sews her gunny bag. There is both a sense of urgency and camaraderie, as the women swiftly work.

Disrupted Schooling

Besides the relief work and collaborations with on-ground civil society organisations, primarily through their Instagram page, the collective has also been helping displaced children from Manipur in Delhi resume their studies in the capital. The effort is to place them in Delhi’s government schools. According to official records, around 4700 school children have been displaced by the violence in Manipur. The collective members say they are in talks with over 500 parents for schooling assistance.

“We are in touch with the Delhi government’s education department – it allows non-planned admissions which has been helpful,” says Kim. “For children in classes 1-8, the admission process has been easier due to the Right to Education Act. However, students in grades 9-12 are facing issues. Most of them don’t have their admission documents with them which schools sometimes insist on. We are trying to help their parents find ways to enrol their children in schools.”

Apart from this, the collective is trying to start after-school programmes for displaced children with The Bridge School Project, a volunteer-based organisation in Manipur that provides children access to basic education. 

“The language of instruction in Delhi is mostly Hindi, and many of the students from Manipur don’t have a command over it,” says Kim. “We are trying to create a programme to teach basic Hindi to these students. We also want to work towards providing trauma care to these kids. Many of them are so young they don’t understand what happened and why they can’t go back to their homes.”

Kim also tells Behanbox how the violence has affected many older students who are enrolled in institutes of higher education in Imphal. “We keep getting calls from college students back home. Most tribal students are either first or second generation learners entering higher educational spaces. Because villages have few such institutions, students flock to Imphal to study. But with the crisis, many can’t go back to universities. Most give up their education,” she says.

The crisis has also affected the academic lives of these young students. Kim, a PhD scholar in JNU has had to change her thesis topic due to the ongoing crisis. “I first intended to work on how the current situation of peacebuilding in Manipur is not going to last. Before I could begin my work, my point was proven. Since I cannot go back to Imphal anymore to conduct field research, I will have to change my thesis topic,” says Kim, who is unsure when she will head back home again.

“When the crisis first erupted it was very hard to concentrate on anything. While our professors sympathised, there was no real reduction in our coursework. It felt very dystopian to be expected to read academic essays and write response papers,” says Nao, who is in her final year of PhD in JNU. 

Rest And Women-Led Spaces

Do they find the time to rest amidst this work and the pressure of academics? “We sometimes keep on working till 4 in the morning. Sometimes we don’t sleep,” says Anna. “The last time I did something other than this was doing my laundry and I was so happy,” adds Kim. “It’s just that there’s so much work. We don’t think too much, we just do. And if we didn’t do this, we would feel a lot worse,” says Anna. 

The women lug the gunny sacks filled with relief items to be despatched to several villages in Manipur

The collective works smoothly despite the distances and the different backgrounds of the members. “We are very quick to make decisions. Everyone is responsive on the WhatsApp group and things just get done speedily. We sometimes joke among ourselves that we are the fastest organisation in the world,” says Nao.

Priscilla thinks women’s networks work well and deliver. “I think the nature of a space changes substantially if it’s women-led. There are no hierarchies, no ego clashes, no toxicity,” she says. 

Back in the relief hub, Anna has been calling her male friends to help lift the gunny bags into the truck. But the boys do not respond fast enough. And it turns out, the women could manage just fine.

(* The members of the collective chose to go with only their first names.)

(If you want to help the Young Tribal Women’s Collective to  help them raise funds, head to their Instagram page for all the details on how you can help.)


  • Ankita Dhar is a reporter with Behanbox. She is also a digital artist whose artwork has documented political prisoners in India.

Malini Nair (Editor)

Malini Nair is a consulting editor with Behanbox. She is a culture writer with a keen interest in gender.

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