kapiti community gets together to raise funds for india's manipur
About 100 music fans gathered in Paekakariki on the Kapiti Coast on Sunday to raise funds for the victims of ethnic violence that has plagued the northeastern Indian state of Manipur since May.
The event saw musicians Barry Saunders and Bill Lake, accompanied by Caroline Easther and Steve Hemmens, entertain the crowd through the evening. Indian curries and a Manipur-style chilli salsa was served to the attendees.
Kapiti Mayor Janet Holborow was also present and played cello to a solidarity song that was being sung at rallies across Manipur.
"We have raised over $2000, which will be sent to the Hmar Youth Association of Churachandpur, a tribal welfare group working in Manipur," said Helen Keivom, organiser of the event, who herself is from Manipur. "I am from the Hmar sub-tribe of the Kuki-Mizo-Chin tribe. I came to New Zealand in 1984 when my father, Lalthlamuong Keivom, a career diplomat and an Indian Foreign Service officer, was posted in the Indian High Commission in Wellington. I completed my studies, got married, started a family and have stayed here ever since."
Keivom is a former two-term community board member. The Kapiti Coast District Council awarded her with a civic award in 2021.
"During the Covid-19 lockdown Helen worked tirelessly to keep the Paekakariki community safe and connected. The people of Paekakariki valued Helen's mahi so much, they deemed her an 'essential worker'," the citation read.
In terms of fund-raising, she has organised numerous events for victims of the Ukraine war and Myanmar unrest in recent years.
"Having previously helped with fundraisers for similar conflicts, it is devastating to now find myself needing to support people in relief camps based in my own hometown (of Churachandpur)," Keivom said.
Kapiti Mayor Janet Holborow. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver
As has been widely reported, the hilly northeastern Indian state, which borders Bangladesh and Myanmar and has a population of 3.3 million, has seen violent clashes between the two largest groups - the majority Meitei and the minority Kuki.
Meitei who mostly live in Imphal - capital city of Manipur - are predominantly Hindus, while Kuki who mostly live in the surrounding hills, are mostly Christians.
"(But) this time, the conflict is strictly rooted in ethnicity, not religion," Dhiren A. Sadokpam, editor of The Frontier Manipur, told the British Broadcasting Corporation in July.
The trigger for the clashes was a court order on 3 May ordering Manipur's state government to consider extending economic benefits and job quotas enjoyed by the minority Kukis to the Meitei as well. Other reasons that are believed to have fuelled the conflict include illegal migration from Myanmar and prevalent drug trading in the state.
"More than 100 have been killed and thousands displaced as a result of what is happening in my home state," Keivom said. "Armouries have been looted, churches and temples have been ruined, and entire villages are destroyed. Every one of my immediate and extended family members who are in Manipur have been affected directly or indirectly by the ongoing conflict."
Keivom said the violence had disproportionately affected the indigenous hill tribes.
The issue attracted international attention in July after a video emerged showing two women reportedly paraded naked and assaulted on a Manipur street.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had been criticised by opposition parties for not taking action to end the unrest, condemned the alleged assault by calling it "shameful" and promised to take tough action against the perpetrators.
"The law will take its strongest steps, with all its might," he said in July. "What happened to the daughters of Manipur can never be forgiven."
However, Keivom hopes to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
"My hope is the Indian central government takes over the state administration now and negotiates a peace treaty between Meitei and Kuki," she said. "What we need now is a healing touch."