In a classroom of a private school in Churachandpur, also known as Lamka, Mary is trying to calm down the hyperactive children studying in kindergarten.

This is the Young Pillar School, which started only a few months ago, and offers nursery and kindergarten classes. Manipur, especially the tribal regions, have witnessed a major setback in education as violence continues to grip the state.

At the Young Pillar School, Mary is running after a small group of children, there are 10 in a class now. Mary said the number of admissions has come down drastically due to the ongoing aggression. “Each class had at least 30 to 40 students before the aggression; it has been reduced by half. All Meitei students who were part of the school have left,” school’s principal Samuel Hoakip told The Citizen.

The schools in Manipur, especially the hill district had suffered almost a four-month shutdown of both classes and the internet. The classes resumed in August-September 2023.

Mary and her colleague told The Citizen how difficult it had become to come back to a feeling of normalcy. “There is still no normalcy. We are just waiting for all this to get over,” Mary said.

Students in Young Pillar School attend classes in Churachandpur. Photo: Nikita Jain

While the Education Department of Manipur is set to conduct the Teachers’ Induction Training under School Fagathansi Mission’s STAR Education program, many teachers have lost their jobs due to the ongoing violence.

Hoakip explained that no government funds have been released for the schools and as the demand for separate administration increases, there is a situation of chaos.

“We have cut down the 100 percent fee in our schools for all classes. This is what we are trying to do right now. But we ourselves are struggling as we have no funding and the government has not shown any interest to improve the situation,” Hoakip said.

The young principal, who is also pursuing his PhD degree, said that although there have been no salary cuts for the staff, they had to let go many people.

“We had to cut down staff, although we tried our best to not cut anyone’s salary or let people go. But with no funding or fees, it is becoming difficult to do anything,” Hoakip added.

Mary, who is also a resident of Lamka said that not everyone is privileged enough to get education as many children stay displaced.

“So many kids are not even getting education as they are displaced and there is no way for them to pay admission fees. What about the children of parents who are living hand to mouth? Young children forget things and need to revise lessons, but in these nine months so much must have been lost,” Mary told The Citizen.

As an educator, Mary had tears in her eyes as she explained the situation. She was at a loss of words for the disparity one can see amidst the people due to their financial condition.

Hoakip said that there has been a 100 percent fee cut for the students who were already a part of the school. He added that students who are to sit for the board examinations will also be helped .

With an unofficial separate administration working in the valley, and the hills, there is a tension as all the official academic work takes place in Imphal.

“The problem is all the papers are checked in Imphal and we cannot go there on duty. This puts students at a disadvantage as we have come to know that many tribal students were failed,” Hoakip claimed.

As the schools’ struggle with chaos amidst the violence, Kim wishes her children could go to school. Displaced from her village in Salam Pong she is worried about their education.

“My house was burnt and my child has no home, so school is a far-fetched idea right now,” she said. In a relief camp, children played in groups as the sun shone brightly.There is some hope that talks between the two warring communities will yield results.

Meanwhile, in Lamka protests are still reportedly taking place against the disaffiliation of 25 schools from CBSE after the Manipur government order. The Citizen had covered a massive rally in Lamka, which was joined by thousands of students and teachers. The rally was also organised to protest against the suspension of three Tribal zonal officers in the district.

In Moreh, which has been witnessing intense clashes everyday, a large number of school students took to the streets on January 27, staging a sit-in, demanding resumption of regular classes.

Moreh lies along the India–Myanmar border in Tengnoupal district, and has been gripped with intense violence since the past few weeks.

The ongoing aggression has resulted in the destruction of thousands of homes and shops, thousands of people fleeing the border town, and many deaths, casualties and injuries of both residents and deployed security forces.

Expressing their concern over the impact of the ongoing conflict on their education, the students—predominantly from the non-Meitei communities, particularly the Kuki tribes—took to the streets with placards bearing slogans such as "Education is our birthright. We want re-opening of schools" and "Remove police commando so that we can go to school".

Meanwhile, photos of students studying amidst rubble in Moreh have gone viral. Despite the destruction and taking education as an important need for students, the principal of Bethsaida Academy School in Moreh, has taken it upon himself to continue teaching his students even after his school was burned to ashes on January 17.

In a press conference on Monday in Delhi the Kuki Students Organisation demanded the immediate and complete withdrawal of security forces from Moreh.

“We want removal of all Army officers from Manipur to ensure neutrality and impartiality of central forces and replacement by Non-Manipuri officers,” the organisation demanded.

However, it is not just the school students who are suffering, college students are desperate to find solutions now.

Merci and Mang (names changed on request) were students at Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal. In their second year of MBBS, the students had to run away on May 3 when violence broke out.

Merci said that she was sent to a relief camp by the Assam Rifles straight from her college. A resident of Kangpokpi, Merci, who belongs to the Yavpei tribe has not been home since the violence broke out.

“We stayed there for a few months. But as the buffer zone was created between Imphal and Churachandpur, it became impossible for us to commute and I have not been able to go home ever since,” she said.

Students of all communities have suffered in the violence. But efforts are being made by Professors and educational institutions to rise above factionalism. For instance arrangements have been made for the students who passed NEET and were allotted colleges. “We have Meitei and other professors who are taking classes online now. As these are government colleges this is the only way for us to have classes,” Mang said.

The Citizen spoke to many students in Lamka, Imphal and Delhi who are trying to figure out the college situation as the unofficial separation divides the state of Manipur.

“I regret taking a college in Manipur. I wish I had gone somewhere else. Becoming a doctor is a lifelong dream and this violence has snatched all of that from us,” Merci said, sipping tea in a small dhaba in Lamka.

In November, several medical students, who were displaced because of the ethnic unrest in Manipur, staged a protest in Churachandpur district claiming they were barred from taking their first-year examination even as they completed all the required formalities.

27 MBBS students, seeking Manipur governor Anusuiya Uikey's intervention, have alleged that they were barred despite depositing the fees and filling up their examination forms.

The students claimed the National Medical Commission or NMC had stated that it had no objection if they appeared from the parent college or from a different college. After this, the displaced students were attending classes at the Churachandpur Medical College (CMC).

“We just want to study and become doctors but it feels like we have gone so many years back. All of this is just going to affect our education as our peers in different states thrive,” Merci said.

Every morning one can see students dressed up to go to school, however the management, lack of funds and so many students dropping out, education has become a victim of the violence. The Manipur government has ordered all the schools to start functioning but the high number of displaced families is making this difficult.

“There are hundreds of horrific stories from both sides. Children from both sides are being deprived of education,” Nandkumar Singh, a resident of Imphal said.

An Imphal based activist who did not want to be named said that dialogues need to happen between both the communities for a solution. “Till the time the opposite community does not empathise with each other, a solution is not going to come easily. What is happening is there is a lot of trauma on both sides. You empathise with the suffering of your own people, but you tend to ignore the sufferings of others and demonise the other. I think the same thing is happening here,” the activist said.

Singh said that the situation is tense and only the people, especially those who have been displaced are suffering the most. “We know who to blame but we do not know where to go for a solution,” he said.

“I think it is important to make the sufferings of both sides the basis of one’s activism only then some kind of peace building and reconciliation is possible. Unfortunately, we are now turning a complete blind eye to the other side’s suffering,” the activist added.