I'm sorry the pic above is not related to me. I was Googling for a suitable image and this came up from e-pao, an online news portal from Manipur. But 'the pic' is of a Manipuri actress Bala who's on a cycle rally to save Loktak lake.
Now, getting back to where I was supposed to start... I don't remember the exact date, but I know that my whole body cramped and I suffered the worst sun burns of my life on this day.
I remember it was a cycle-rally within Imphal. Actually, it was covering a bit more than that. Me and some of my friends from Lamphel joined the Cycle-rally that was organized to safeguard the territorial integrity of Manipur. A show of support and reaffirmation that we were opposed to the state of Manipur being broken up and... being part of different geographic colors on the map.
In 2001, Imphal valley was burning, the issue at that time was the territorial integrity of Manipur. NSCN-IM, the mother of all insurgency operations in the North-East of India had an ongoing cease-fire agreement with the Government of India and they had recently extended the cease-fire to outside of Nagaland, including Manipur.
Geographically Manipur is a valley surrounded by hills on all sides. The Valley which comprises 1/10th the total size is the most populous and is home mostly to the Meiteis who are the majority community. The hills are majorly inhabited by different tribes of which Tankhul-Naga happen to be a sizable chunk.
Extending the cease-fire to Manipur was seen by many as essentially a step towards integrating the Naga dominated areas in Manipur with the Greater-Nagaland agenda. And this move was opposed tooth-and-nail by all.
So, as advised by our local YPA (Young Paite Association) me and my friends took out our cycles wearing our traditional scarfs and rode for practically the whole day, not knowing when the stop will come. Leikai(Village) after Leikai, we were met with people who provided us drinking water and shouts of support. In fact I stopped over a pharmacy and asked for Glucon-D and the shopkeeper was happy to give it for free. I even met an old school mate Mahesh who was a bit shocked to see me on the cycle, but happily supporting the movement. Eventually, towards evening, we reached the Polo Ground right in the heart of Imphal where there was some formal program organized. We were completely drained and after deliberating for sometime, we decided to go back home. It was time for rest, bath and relating our experiences to others.
The other events that came out of the unrest in Manipur is too well documented in media. But it was one scary time to be in Imphal. I remember the war like situation with smoke bellowing and buildings burning all around Imphal city. The local cable TV was streaming live the whole turmoil as it unfolds. Protestors fighting with police, tear gas and lathi charge, government establishments being burnt - including the MLA building, ministers quarters attacked, roads blocked, vehicles damaged, curfew all over.... It ended with 13 young lives killed in police shooting as they were trying to scale the main gate of the Chief Minister's Quarter.
These events happened on 18th June 2001. And post that there were continued disturbances and curfews in and around Imphal. End result - the territorial integrity of Manipur continues to stand to this day. The day is now know as the Great June Uprising and every year it would be a day of remembering those who died and the sacrifices they made.