Escape from Imphal – Hangzo Family Series 1
As told to me by my sister M Hangzo
Day 1 , May 3rd, 2023 8 pm
Three gypsy jeeps full of police personnel were on Tiddim Road in front of our house. We felt safe, protected. Clank, clank, clank , the abrasive sound of metal against metal, iron rod hitting an electric pole, disturbed the air. Shortly after, we heard the mob screaming, and barging into our neighborhood. “Hao hatsek”, “kill Tribals”. Our lights were off, we huddled in the dark in Mama’s room, crouching – Biak, Junia, Julie’s brother, toddler Muanthang,mum, Michael and his two dogs, and I, praying fervently.
The mob started pelting stones, window panes shattered and the incessant thud of stones hitting our concrete roof assaulted our ears.YPA called and said our church was burning. Rosie the neighbor,called and said her house was on fire. We heard the boom of tear gas and the crowd left toward Sangaiprou.
Thinking we were safe, Biak and I crept out, and we saw our neighbor Khaimeng’s shops burning. We knew then this was no ordinary agitation, and we were no longer safe. We heard the crowd return, and Biak and I rushed back inside. They pushed and shook the gate (pictured below)
We had to get to Lalpu’s house, it was rented by a Meitei man who ran it as a hotel. We called and found out my brother Lian’s family was already there.
When trouble struck, we were about to retire for the night, and were in our night clothes. Mum repeatedly struggled to wear her shoes, I forcibly pushed her feet and dragged her and Junia, both empty handed, through grounds littered with broken glass to the connecting door between U Lian and Lalpu’s house. Three men pulled mummy and Junia through. I did not have time to grab anything but my purse.
At the hotel, we watched the crowd on CCTV. The police personnel were outnumbered by the mob. The hotel proprietor (angel #1) said he won’t be able to save thirteen of us and he’ll find us safe passage. He and the hotel employees also wanted to leave. He negotiated with the police, who agreed to take us to the police station. God was looking out for us and provided us angels to help us along the way.
Our rag-tag party left the hotel – 86 yr old mum with her walking stick, Junia stumbling on unsteady legs, three children carried by their mother, grandmother and father. Many in the mob were from neighboring locality (Konjeng and Thounajam leikai,) they recognized us, and allowed us to leave. We lived in Paite Veng for 58 years and our neighbors, most of whom were delivered by my mother (who used to be a nurse), drove us out of our homes. In the melee, Julie Biak’s wife and her brother were taken away by the mob.
To our surprise there were many women in the mob, and they were worse than the men. They were protesting and objecting when we were let off, without harm. At one point they were so unruly, the Meitei woman Police officer(angel#2) held them back, as they hurled abuses and asked repeatedly. “Kari jati no?(Which tribe are you?)”. The officer stopped at our neighbor Dr. A’s house and asked if they could shelter us at their house. His son refused and closed the door. We were terrified and couldn’t think straight.
We rested at the shop, near Thuamnu’s house and realized Siam (nephew)was not with us. Frantic, Minthang called and we found out he was safe at Lee Faith School (Siam’s story is a separate series). Mummy had lost one of her shoes and I found out I was wearing different colored slippers.
The police took us to the police station at the secretariat. They gave us tea, Michael (another nephew) left with his mum without a word to us. The CO said we could not stay with the police. I called a Meitei family friend, but he could not help as we were too many. The police took us to a Kuki lady’s house in old Lambulane. Old Lambulane was not attacked, the lady told me it was Emo’s constituency and he ordered it untouched. By then, it was midnight. We were too tired and frightened to sleep.
Biak was frantic with worry about his wife Julie. He could not reach her on the phone. We had no idea what happened to her and her brother. About 2 am, we got a call from Julie. She told us to come to an army camp where she was being sheltered. When the mob separated them from us, a woman snatched her bag that contained diapers, phone and her certificates. They slapped her, pulled her hair and beat up her brother. The police rescued them and took them to the police station at Kwakeithel. The crowd demanded their release but the police kept them safe until the army came. Her brother had his phone and they called a cousin, a Lt. Colonel in the army. He sent the army to pick them up.
The Army came to pick us up. But before we could set off, they found out the tire was flat. We waited in the cold, shivering. Mom was shoeless by then and the lady gave her a pair of slippers. Another truck came shortly after. Mum and Junia needed help getting in. The soldiers pushed and our brother pulled them in. They drove very fast and in a matter of twenty minutes, we arrived at the small army base at the hIll in Singjamei.
The army gave us one room, with an attached bath and four blankets for 18 of us. Apart from our family, five Paite Veng neighbors were also rescued. There was a bed without a mattress and mama slept on it. We laid down on the blankets, facing the walls, the door, tucked against each other.
May 4, 5, 6th:
We stayed at the camp for 3 nights and two days. The next day, four more people joined us in the room. These were Kuki people on the way to Moreh in an ambulance, with the dead body of their father who had passed. The mob stopped the ambulance, threw the corpse on the road, dragged them out and beat them. Fortunately, the army was patrolling and saved them. The dead body was taken to the morgue. More people arrived; the newcomers were given a second room.
The camp was surrounded by Meitei homes, so we were told to stay quiet. The people were hostile and all riled up. If they found out the army was harboring us, they could breach the small camp. However, staying quiet was impossible with little kids. Vunglom( 1yr in April) would cry and yell suddenly, Khanhoih(4yrs) would scream for no reason and Muanthang (2yrs) would suddenly sing in his squeaky, shrill voice “Eya eya oh, old macdonald had a farm, eya, eya oh”. It was chaotic. I kept getting calls and U Muan (sis in law)would hush me. She was agitated, as did not have her BP pills.
Minthang’s Meitei friend (angel#3) sent cartons of snacks, biscuits and soft drinks. Junia became sick, she slept all day. We received the care package you arranged through a Naga officer – two phaneks for mama,diapers, ORS and medicine. On the third day, the army moved us to the MR camp at Mantripukhri.
Transported out of camp for their safety
They got word the locals were suspicious and could attack the camp. Once again, we were herded into trucks for our safety and moved camp.
May 6th, Manipur Rifle Camp, Mantripukhri:
At the MR Camp, we were taken aback by the number of people, packed like sardines. There was over ~4000 people and no room for us. Many had luggages, blankets and some even had mosquito nets while we had nothing, not even a toothbrush. We realized how blessed we were at the other camp. There was no running water, they had a water tank outside. No drinking water either, just that one tank. They served dal and rice. We didn’t even have plates, besides, nobody wanted to eat.
They found us a place at the corner, next to the dustbin. We scrounged some plastic bags, and lined the floor. I called the camp coordinator, who happened to be my friend’s brother and asked for blankets. He sent his men to buy and they came back with four thin, new brightly colored blankets. Here are pictures of some members of the Hangzo family, including the ex-member of the Schedule Tribe commission and interim Chairman.
The toilet was filthy, and we held back from going to the bathroom. Except poor Junia, who started to have diarrhea. She crapped in her pants. It was awful, I ran back and forth for water. Threw her underwear and washed her pants. Luckily, we had the extra phanek (sarong), which she changed into. That night, it rained. I took Junia outside and made her do her business at the drain, two, three times. Mama also peed twice. That night Michael came to the camp with Diana and their daughter.
May 7th To Airport and escape to safety:
7am The next morning, we finally left for the airport in a bus arranged by the army. Other people also joined us but not all could get in as the bus was small. We were a sorry lot, the Meitei Press took many pictures of Junia and mama as we disembarked at the airport. We were dirty and we stank; Junia was sick and looked awful. Mama could barely walk.
Though Junia and mama didn’t have their aadhar card, I had the copies on my phone but the phone battery was dying. A Kuki man gave me his charger and I used it till had about 20%. I showed the copies of our ID from my phone and requested Security to let us in. Perhaps, seeing the pathetic state of Junia and mummy, the good man (angel #4) let us in.
The Indigo staff were all Meitei and they were very rude and short with us. The man at the counter had such a disgusted face while he printed our tickets. No basic courtesy for paying customers, who paid dearly for overpriced tickets.
We washed our faces and used the toilet. Even the toilet cleaner bullied us. Told us to use the Indian pot. I was incensed. I raised my voice, told her mama cannot squat and she used western toilet at home. We had a two story home with seven rooms, three baths and western toilets, a home you people destroyed, looted and drove us out from. She looked chastened for a moment,”Ishing wat pagi hai banida” (I was just saying because we are short of water.)
I bought coffee at the cost of Rs.100 a cup for mama to have her medicine!
Until we boarded the plane, we were afraid we would be stopped and transferred back to camp or attacked by the mob. It was a great relief to be on the plane. Even the kids were calm.
Hangzo Family Houses and Church before May 3rd, 2023
All dressed at their Sunday best for Church
Mom with two of her granddaughters who love Manipur and beg their mom to visit pi Dumti every year. We have no home to visit anymore.
Sisters at mom’s house during happier time
After May 3rd, 2023
Thangkhanlian Hangzo’s family home
Mom’s house after May 3rd
Hangzo Compound after the carnage
List of damages
- Two floors, each floor is 3 bedrooms, 2 baths (burned). Everything in the house including jewelry
- Car and scooter
- Two shops
Mum, Biak and Tara’s House
- Two story five bedroom, 3 bathrooms . Everything in the house including Mama and chin’s jewelry collection.
- Three cars and scooty
- Cars: TVS Jupiter maroon MNO1AJ 7046, I 20 HYUNDAI black ASO1AM 9611, TATa Tiago, Scooty)
Renu’s house – Two storey ,2 bed, 2 bath -completely looted
- Five bedroom and two baths – lost everything in it (burned)
- 4 shops
- Car (Ciaz)