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KOLKATA, India – Helena Kshetri has seen her fruit sales plummet since ethnic conflict erupted in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur in early May. "Even after months of violence due to the standoff and lockdown, we are often forced to close our shops," said a 50-year-old hawker who works at Mother Market or Ima Keitel in the state capital Imphal.
Daily trading volume fell from 30,000 to 40,000 rupees ($360-480) to just 4,000 rupees ($48). “I deal with fruits and if they rot, I cannot keep them for long and I have to sell them even at a loss. The government needs to control the situation so that we can run our businesses,” said Kshetri. The violence on May 3 damaged businesses large and small on both sides and plunged the country into ethnic conflict. So far, about 180 people, including women and children, have been killed, several homes, businesses, and places of worship have been burned, and thousands have been left homeless, many of whom have fled to other states. The retail inflation rate rose to 11.63% and the internet was shut down for a long time, affecting businesses and residents.
"We are going through very difficult times and the situation is worse than riots, demonetization, and COVID-19," said Haorokcham Anil, general secretary of the Manipur Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "The company is destroyed and it's tough to predict when things will return to normal."
Manipur is home to several communities and tribal groups, including Meiteis, Nagas and Kukis. The dominant Meitei community is predominantly Hindu and lives in the Imphal Valley, while the predominantly Christian Naga and Kuki tribes live predominantly in the hills. The Meites make up 51% of Manipur's 2.3 million people, but are concentrated in the plains and own only 10% of the land. The Kukis and Nagas, who make up 40% of the population, occupy 90% of the country as they are mostly located in the hills that dominate the state's landscape. Due to their large numbers, the Meiteis have a large presence in politics and state legislatures.
Tensions between the Meitei community and the Kuki tribe started for some time but surfaced in the first week of May after the Manipur High Court directed the state government to send a petition dated April 14 to me. . letter. A proposal to the federal government to grant tribal status to the Meita. The court order was strongly opposed by the Kukis, who argued that it would further strengthen the already dominant Meita community.
Community members with tribal status are given reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. On May 3, the Manipur Tribal Students Union gathered in all the hill districts of the state to protest against the court order. The protests turned violent, and the next day the violence spread to the capital Imphal, leading to clashes between two groups. The situation remains tense and the journalist was detained for nearly two hours by members of a group while giving an interview in the state last month.
"It must be completely closed."
The violence has devastated the state's economy and left businesses in dire straits with no signs of recovery anytime soon. Some business owners said their businesses have suffered losses of more than 70 percent and are struggling to cover day-to-day expenses, forcing them to take cost-cutting measures, including cutting staff.
Thangjam Joy Kumar Singh of Likla, one of the largest consumer packaged goods (FMCG) brands in the state that sells fruit juices, pickles, bakery products and bottled water, admitted that he had to lay off 200 employees. employed. We have 900 employees. "At first I ignored the situation and thought everything would be back to normal in a week, but I was wrong. It was something I had never seen before. “Since bottled water was an essential raw material, we had to shut down the factory completely for the first 15 days before we could start producing bottled water,” he said.
Fearing violence, Singh closed his bakery for nearly three months and shut down bakeries in cake-dominated areas. "Right now we're only running at 50 percent capacity and we can run the show," he said.
Racial tensions divided the two communities into different regions. As a result, neither side can enter the other's territory to conduct business or engage in activities for fear of being attacked or even killed.
Meesham Ranjan Singh, who runs a modular furniture showroom in the Kuki-dominated Churachandpur district, about 60 km from Imphal, said he lost about 8 million rupees ($96,000) in the chaos after opening a shop there . I complained. The fire broke out on May 16. “We also had cake workers but they lost their livelihood due to the riots,” he said.
The Imphal project was no exception. Dinesh Kapoor, 59, a sound engineer who runs a sound system store in the state capital, has seen sales plummet as customers flock to the rooftops.
Compared to the 1 million rupees ($12,029) a day Kapoor earned selling sound systems during the festive season, his store's sales fell to 15,000 rupees ($180) a day. “November to March is a good time for business as we celebrate Christmas, New Year, Holi as well as the state's biggest festival, Tabal Chongba. But violence destroyed everything. Because our sales are low, it's hard to even pay the rent for the store. The market in Imphal depends a lot on the hill people and their absence has affected us a lot,” said Singh. Kanjavam Shubra Devi, 55, founder of Meira Foods, a packaged food company that employs mostly women, fears that the loss of sales could lead to domestic violence in the families of her employees.
“Women ... are often in a position of financial stress due to loss of income. "There are concerns that domestic violence will increase after the current situation," he told Voice of Urdu.
Guki businessmen also felt the brunt of the violence. Man Misao, 40, runs a gas agency in Imphal. His office and home were destroyed in an attack on May 4, and about 1,200 gas cylinders and two commercial vehicles were looted. Misao and his extended family of 20 lived in a three-story building near his office. "We were afraid of violence, so we took refuge in a neighbor's house and were later rescued by soldiers," Misao told Voice of Urdu. In July, a mob torched three of his trucks parked at an LPG filling station on the outskirts of Imphal.
The family has since split up. Some migrated to Kuki-dominated areas, while others fled to nearby states for several months. “We have been running the agency for the past 40 years and we have never faced a situation like this before,” Misao said. "I was in a dilemma whether to continue my business or not. Everything was lost."
Tourism was also affected
The tourism sector of Manipur cannot be missed. According to the state tourism department, about 160,000 tourists, including 5,400 foreigners, visited Manipur in the fiscal year ending March 2023. However, from April to November, the number of visitors fell to 19,908, including 1,144 visitors foreigners. “We witnessed one of the best moments since the G20 meeting in February, followed by the Miss India pageant in April,” said Kerdananda P., Deputy Director, Department of Tourism, Manipur. “After years of insurgency (demand for a separate state), everyone was optimistic that Manipur would become the next destination for business and tourism. But the violence changed the whole scenario and brought us to zero."
As a result, the restaurant industry is facing difficulties. Veteran businessman Tanjam Dabali Singh, who runs the Classic Grand Hotel, a resort and three hotels in Imphal, the only four-star hotel in Manipur, said occupancy rates for his 370 rooms have dropped to 30% from opening. Violence ensued. “The year  has had a strong start to business thanks to several high-profile events, including the G20, with around 70% of our rooms occupied. But now the situation is very bad," he told Voice of Urdu. Prime Minister Singh said he had not laid off any of his 600 employees, but that work was gradually falling due to falling visitor numbers, adding: "The tourism sector has witnessed its worst crisis."
According to Chinglen Maisnam, professor of economics at Manipur University, the country is heading for economic recession and collapse. He added: "The growth rate is expected to decline sharply due to slowing investment growth and weakening consumer demand." According to him, the government should assess the extent of the economic damage caused by the conflict and provide compensation and livelihoods to those affected.
A senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said it was too early to estimate the economic damage caused by the violence. "The situation remains unstable. A detailed survey of the entire state is needed to determine the extent of the damage, but it is dangerous to enter areas with high levels of violence."