Loss of life and property has not been the only tragic outcomes of the communal violence in Manipur over the last six months. More than 60,000 people have also experienced internal displacement. This forced relocation has led to loss of livelihood, which cannot be measured easily. For many, a loss of livelihood has meant becoming bereft of traditional forms of employment and sophisticated systems of work they have been accustomed to. How do you measure the loss of an entire way of life?
Many of the internally displaced have been cast into poverty, whereas earlier they had sustainable livelihoods. They are faced by the formidable challenge of starting anew and establishing themselves again. Recurring curfews and Internet outages have made the process of economic recovery and normal functioning even more difficult. Undeterred, several civil society groups in the state have taken up the cause of assisting the internally displaced to become self-reliant again and reduce the dependence on relief.
Civil society efforts to revive livelihood prospects
One such initiative has been that of Matai Society, a woman, queer and trans-led registered society based in Moirang town in the Bishnupur district of Manipur. Matai Society works with youth on SOGIESC, education, health, livelihood, and environmental issues. In a collaborative effort with Manipuri Weddings and Urep, Matai Society started with training a group of people from more than 10 relief camps in Bishnupur district and others affected by the conflict to make school bags for children and tote bags for college goers. The learners are also being trained to mobilize and train more of the internally displaced people to create a cascading impact.
A key aspect of Matai Society’s work has been to identify and mobilize people who are willing and able to quickly take up production work. Providing them extensive training has not been possible so far because of minimal resources. However, Manipur is blessed with natural resources like forests and grasslands, and the state has many skilled craft persons who have been able to take up activities like bag-making quite fast. There is also easy availability of production inputs like plastic and metal wires for making craftwork.
Matai Society and its partner agencies have managed to finance and guide the first lot of learners in completing the first cycle of production and marketing. Other than school bags, they are also making and selling incense sticks, moras (bamboo ottomans), kauna phaks (water reed mats), and metal ware.
Overcoming barriers in the production cycle
As expected, significant hurdles have come up. The primary hitch is in the supply of raw material to the learners in more relief camps. Second, the relief camps where production is taking place are far away from the potential buyers, most of whom are in cities like Imphal or outside the state. The camp nearest to Imphal is 45 km away in Bishnupur district. As of now, Matai Society’s volunteers are transporting the finished products and are constantly on the lookout for drop locations, stall displays and street markets to sell the products. All this work is being done with the minimal funds that Matai Society has. Success so far has come in terms of the products being displayed at two Hope Fest events organized by the Rise Up Foundation. A few social enterprise networks in the state and beyond have also participated in these events to help the internally displaced get jobs. So far, these networks have helped 20 people find jobs.
Ultimately, the success of these skilling, reskilling and livelihood initiatives will depend on how fast each production cycle is completed – beginning with sourcing and supplying the raw materials to the learners, training activities, production of goods (including packaging), marketing, and finally the earnings reaching the learners. Matai Society has planned to support these processes for at least a year, after which the hope is that the learners will be able to invest in them and carry them forward on their own.
The more prolonged the communal tension in the state, the longer will it take for normalcy to return in Manipur. This is where livelihood initiatives can play a crucial role because they help prioritize issues of survival and economic sustenance. Livelihood initiatives like those of Matai Society hold out the hope for a much larger process of self-reliance, recovery and healing in the state. This means that agencies like Matai Society and their partner organizations also need to sustain themselves.
How to extend support for relief and livelihood initiatives in Bishnupur and adjoining districts
Monetary donations can be sent to Matai Society via Octave Foundation (see inset above on the work being done by the two agencies). Donations in kind can be couriered or dropped off at the Matai Society premises in Moirang.
Matai Society is also in touch with other civil society groups carrying out relief work in different districts of Manipur, and can connect interested donors to these groups.
For more details on how to send your contributions, please contact Kumam Davidson, Founder, Matai Society at 0091 70054 15573.
Visit this page for more details on the Varta Community Reporters Training and Citizen Journalism Programme – Editor.
About the main photo: Tote bags made by internally displaced people trained as part of the livelihood initiative of Matai Society and their partner organizations. All photo credits: Matai Society