In the name of the dead

Vivek Singh | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on September 09, 2016

Meet some of the people who have kept the Churachandpur movement alive for a year now

With your 8th Schedule, your armed militants and your fishing net/ You suck the life out of the Zo people like a leech;/ Yet you still smile away nonchalantly!/Brave Zomi patriots, bold like a pride of lions/ Are prepared and ready to take the head of Zonamkhandaal!/The vultures you have set to feed on us (Zo people) will feed on you instead, you Zonamkhandaal!/ Had I a six-round pistol, oh, how I’d love to shoot at your smeared forehead!/ This is what I want, what I want to do to you most while you show me your crafty and ‘innocent’ smile!/ Go to hell, you Zonamkhandaal!/ Perish, you Zonamkhandaal!

A tribal Paite number called ‘Zonamkhandaal’ — which means ‘someone who hinders the progress of the Zo people’ — has been the most played song in Churachandpur in recent months. The song illustrates the deep-seated mistrust of the tribals living in the hills of Manipur towards the dominant Meitei community. The song is poetic, almost, but it is its deep-thrash metallic tone and politically provocative lyrics which inspire the young men involved in a public movement over the past year.

On the afternoon of September 4, around 30 such men danced to this song blaring from a portable speaker they had carried up a hill overlooking the Khuga dam, a symbol of state failure among the people of Churachandpur district. It was a day of relaxation for the volunteers of a little-known struggle in India’s eastern corner. The day arrived after more than a week’s hectic planning for the first anniversary of nine deaths in Churachandpur town. (The nine fell to bullets the police fired to quell a protest against the passage of three land bills in the State Assembly.) I made these portraits later that evening.

Vivek Singh is a documentary photographer and journalist based in Delhi

Published on September 09, 2016