How a train of thought eliminated the fog of misunderstanding and intolerance in the hills of Manipur


What are awkward questions? They are the ones we are too afraid to ask, but have the potential to break barriers that disintegrate our society.  Look at our friends and their habits. Do we have a homogenous set of friends, who have similar eating habits, who belong to the same religious community and pray in the same language? I know most of you would have a no to this answer. But then, why countless inflammable barriers and apprenhensions still exist amongst us? Are we missing something?

A young Hindu girl from the beautiful, undulating hills of Manipur had similar inhibitions about her Christian friend, who even ate beef. This young girl asked these questions boldly and found a friend on the other side of the answers. She now visits her friend’s home, sometimes goes with her to the church and most importantly understands her.

Young minds ask many more such questions that are allowed to flow unrestricted in the form of Samjho Toh Express, which chugs along, carrying different cultures and flavors. In its journey to the northeastern parts of the country, this train of thoughts stopped at the Manipur station, in the hilly town of Saikul. Hejang Misao from InSide NorthEast, a partner organisation of the Communtiny Youth Collective, was the station master and around 65 young minds like that of the girl above made a journey of discovery through it.

Manipur, though a small state with its eastern border abutting Myanmar, is home to a large number of communities hailing from different religions speaking about 27 different dialects and languages. The communities and tribes include Kuki, Naga, Meitei, Nepali, Bihari etc., each of which reside in a different part of the hilly terrain and have vastly different customs. Such diversity, often, creates a gap in inter-community relations. Misinformation, low tolerance and clashes, create a hostile sentiment, especially amongst the youngsters of the community. Samjho Toh Express, the 9 month long campaign initiated in 14 states by Commutiny -The Youth Collective which broke religious and social stereotypes amongst thousands of youngsters from diverse social, economic and religious backgrounds, came as a boon.

Cracks in the walls of differences first appeared prominently when the 65 youngsters met each other to have a discussion. It was after this session, that the participants started to gel. According to Hejang, many youngsters of Manipur grow up in a tense environment afflicted entangled with militancy and hardly know about other communities. To tackle the influence such a harsh environment, Inside NorthEast introduced the element of Sports and Games. Because of the exuberance and energy involved in sports, the youngsters started interactions showcasing a deep understanding between them. This followed by activities like wall painting at public spots, exchanging letters between pairs, short walks in the neighborhood etc.

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All these activities might sound simple in their nature. But, it as this simplicity that gave a shattering blow to dense communal conflicts. Just like the simple, soft gust of wind of the valley dissipates the fog, Samjho Toh too cleared the fog of misunderstanding and intolerance and moved itself slowly in the young minds of Manipur to make them realize, that after all we are human beings who have just been brought up in different circumstances.

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