The Widows of Manipur

by Shashwat Malik | Published: Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I had taken an auto-rickshaw to reach Gangarani Devi’s address, which, despite her guidance over the phone, I had some difficulty locating. When I reached her house in a quiet neighborhood in the city of Imphal, I found the door locked. Minutes later, draped in a winter shawl and phanek, I saw her walking towards me with long strides, her hands held by her boys, ages 13 and 8. Because of her poor eyesight, she needs their help whenever she leaves the house.

Imphal is the capital of Manipur, a small, predominantly hilly and heavily militarized state in the northeast of India. Gangarani and I sat on low plastic stools on her small porch. Behind us, a framed photograph of her late husband Deban hung on the outer wall of her home. It was adorned with a white plastic garland and another one made from dried marigold, drained of its color. In the photograph, taken in 2005, Deban stands proudly in front of his taxi van. “Born on: 01-12-1973 Expired on: 07-03-2008″ reads the small print at the bottom.

Gangarani is one of Manipur’s many widows. In 2008, her husband was hired as a driver for men he did not know were militants. The police claims that when they waived down the van at a checkpoint, shots were fired in their direction. They retaliated and everyone in the van was killed. According to Gangarani though, that’s not what happened. “The men were pulled out and killed. The commandos then fired on the van to ensure their version holds up,” she said.


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