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Manipur: School poised for 25 years celebrations, now abandoned, out-of-bound for Kuki owners

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Imphal/Churachandpur, May 12 (PTI) Razed buildings and burnt furniture. These are what remain of the St. Peter's School in Manipur's Imphal after a year of violence in the state between Kuki and Meitei ethnic groups. "We were preparing to celebrate its silver jubilee year in 2023. But then the clashes broke out. They burnt everything," said principal Khupkhoman, a Kuki who has since moved to Churachandpur from the Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley region.

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Now an abandoned structure, the Manipur Board-affiliated St. Peter's School had more than 800 students till Class 10 pre-May 3, 2023, the day reports of incidents of clashes started pouring in from many parts of the northeastern state, prompting the closure of educational institutions, offices and businesses.

"Its one day at a time for us. The situation remains unpredictable and we don't plan anymore. The crisis continues, and there is nothing to look forward to or look back upon," Khupkhoman, 62, who moved with her family to the hills of Churachandpur, said.

The school, built by Khupkhoman and her late husband over 25 years, also had her residence on its premises. She now lives with her family in a rented accommodation, displaced like more than 60,000 others from both communities.

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But Khupkhoman has not stopped calling families living around the school to take updates about her Meitei students, the Kuki's have moved out. "They have joined other schools, some have dropped out," she told PTI.

Recalling the preparations for the silver jubilee year celebrations, Khupkhoman said practice for dance and singing performances were underway. There was a lot of activity but then, within a night, it was all over, she said with tears in her eyes.

The institution was attacked in the early hours of May 4 by a mob.

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"The school was everything we had, we had built it step by step, it was where we lived for years... Over 800 students had their hopes attached with our vision and within a night everything was gone. At first, I had thought that this will be over in a week's time and I was already making plans about what all needs to be done before we resume classes again," Khupkhoman said.

"Suddenly, I was left jobless, homeless, hopeless...lost everything," she said.

Unsure about the school's future, its management had moved the Supreme Court in November last year, seeking a direction to the Manipur government to compensate for the losses suffered and the state's failure to launch an investigation to arrest the perpetrators.

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"On May 4 last year, the school, its buildings, its legacy and its mission were burnt, destroyed and lost forever. A day before, some families rushed to the school for safety when a violent mob began attacking churches, homes and other establishments of Kuki-Zo tribals," Khupkhoman's daughter-in-law Niangthianvung, 37, said.

"By midnight, about 34 people were inside the school complex (to seek shelter). To make matters worse, electricity to the school and its nearby areas was cut off...a mob then entered the school complex and burnt down classrooms, offices, hostels and residences. The school's football turf was also set ablaze," she added.

On May 5 last year, Niangthianvung, took a flight to Guwahati in Assam with her two sons while Khupkhoman stayed in a relief camp for a week. Her husband, a banker, was in Hyderabad for training then.

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Later, they all travelled to Churachandpur using different routes, first living with relatives and then renting an accommodation for themselves.

This PTI reporter visited the school in the Imphal Valley and the family in the hills of Churachandpur earlier this month. The two regions since May 3 last year stand divided with Kukis residing in the hills and Meiteis in the valley. Clashes have claimed more than 200 lives.

Niangthianvung said, "We have no such information about students. We keep getting calls and that is how we know (about them)." "When we realised there is no going back, we called a few neighbours to request if they could keep some of our belongings. Many of them were afraid to be seen as being in touch with us while few who went (to the school) said there is nothing left," Niangthianvung said.

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Niangthianvung's sons, 7 and 5 years old, were students of St. Peter's School. Now they study in a school in Churachandpur.

"It does not feel the same, they often complain about the school, the house and everything, but they are too young to understand, and maybe by the time they grow up, they will have no memory about how their home once looked like," she said.

In their submission in the Supreme Court, the school's management has put the loss of movable and immovable properties at an estimated Rs 14 crore. The amount includes loans and personal borrowing by the family to improve the school's infrastructure, including construction of a new library and a recreational room.

Having experienced the "horrors of the carnage", the family has also demanded compensation for mental trauma. PTI GJS ANB ANB

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