Games bring relief to troubled society
Sporting festival distracts locals from fears of army presence
Children forget their region's problems as they play games
All eyes are upon Idevi Okram as the referee whistles for a penalty shoot. A loud cheer goes up as the mother of two scores a goal.
Her teammates run up to embrace the star player in the soccer match between spinsters and married women.
Women’s soccer is among many games played in Imphal, capital of Manipur state, during Yaoshang, a five-day festival in March.
The festival brings people of every class, caste and creed together in the insurgency-ravaged northeastern Indian state, says Kasung Maram, secretary of a local club.
Maram, 68, said the constant and overwhelming presence of the army in Imphal reminds its residents that “things will never return to normal.”
“The common man has now learnt to accept this reality as part of his life and has learnt to live with it,” he told ucanews.com.
Mohmad Sarwar Mazid, a shopkeeper, says insecurity and “excessive violence” have forced his many cousins to move out to cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. The father of two said he chose to stay back “in the land of my birth” despite all hardships.
Father Stephen Touthang, secretary to the local Catholic archbishop says people are scared primarily because of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that gives security forces a wide range of powers.
There have been “innumerable cases of violations of human rights. Many innocent people have been killed” in this “conflict of interests.”
What is the Church doing to keep for its 90,000 members?
Father Touthang says the archdiocesan social service society organizes regular “peace orientation camps” in its 42 parishes throughout the year.
The camps spread “the message of peace” and most importantly champions “Christ’s message of forgiveness,” the priest explained. People are made aware that “living in the past” will not help “heal the wounds,” he added.
The camps also stress “sharing and caring” that help people “get a lot of burdens off their chest.”
Father Jacob Pamei, who directs the archdiocese’s youth commission, points out the most affected are the young people. Many are jobless and poor and hooked on “substance abuse.”
The young priest says his commission hears “the same story, in every house” as it travels from village to village.
As an answer, the archdiocese designed a few years ago a special program, Students’ Holistic Awareness and Response Program (SHARP) targeting students from tenth grade to bachelors course.
A special team visits schools, colleges, parishes and other institutions to counsel young people and offers various options for higher education according to each one’s special needs.
Father Pamei claimed many students have benefited from the program that guides youngsters along the right path. The only hitch is that large numbers of young people have migrated to other states.
Johnson Thoudam, a father of two girls studying in New Delhi, says people sent their children out to study worried about their future.
The 53-year-old businessman is “very unhappy” that his children stay unsupervised in “an alien city” that has “an alarming high crime rate against women.”
Pamei says although the Church and its various groups are “trying their best” it would be a “very long way” before Manipur returns to normalcy.
Kasung Maram, 14, sees hope in youth camps, skill trainings and leadership animation courses the Church organizes “even though their outreach is limited.”
Others find relief in games during the festival. Local clubs organize songs, dance, sports and other entertainments.
As the football match ends, a student sings in the local language, of his dreams that one day the laughter of Manipur children will fill open fields and birds fly in clear blue skies.
“There will be no sound of bullets as the dusk advances and darkness slowly falls,” he ended.