Displaced by riots, India's champion footballer languishes in relief camp

Ngamgouhou Mate and Vumlenlal Hangshing
Ngamgouhou Mate and Vumlenlal Hangshing during a felicitation ceremony.

Kolkata: When India's Under-16 football team captain Ngamgouhou Mate returned to his home state Manipur after winning the SAFF Championship in Thimphu, Bhutan, his parents were awaiting him at a relief camp in Kangpokpi district. The star footballer is currently living in the cramped makeshift relief camp along with several other victims of Manipur's three-month-long ethnic strife. Ngamgouhou's family was displaced after their house in Khongsai Veng on the outskirts of state capital Imphal was burned down by a group of armed miscreants. 

A prolonged clash between two ethnic groups - Kukis and Meiteis - has led to widespread violence, death and displacement in Manipur over the last few months. The 15-year-old Ngamgouhou, who plays as a midfielder, belongs to the Kuki community. He personifies the young Manipuris who are intensely passionate about the beautiful game. 

Ngamgouhou's house was torched by the rival group during the initial days of the unrest. His parents fled in fear and took shelter at a relief camp in the Kuki-dominated Kangpokpi. For the last four months, they have been living in the camp. 

Interestingly, 16 of the 23-member victorious Indian squad were Manipuris. Among them, there were 11 Meitis, 4 Kukis, and one Meitei Pangal (Manipuri Muslim). The violence back home did not dampen their spirits as they worked as a single unit to make the country proud. 

Although Kukis and Meiteis have been fighting one another, Ngamgouhou is deeply indebted to former Indian senior team captain Renedy Singh, a Meiti, for his success. "He has had full faith in our capabilities. He has always been a pillar of strength," Ngamgouhou, a product of the Imphal-based Classic Football Academy, said.

Due to safety concerns, the return of the Kuki players in the Indian squad to Manipur was kept confidential by the authorities concerned. A special vehicle was deployed to shift Ngamgouhou and Vumlenlal Hangshing, another Kuki player, to Kangpokpi from Imphal. Midfielder Levis Jangminlun Haokip, who scored the second goal in India's 2-0 win over Bangladesh in the final, was taken to the strife-torn Churachandpur on the south-west part of Manipur. 

"I believe peace and normalcy will return to Manipur. I'm sad that I have no house to live in. However, I will stay focused and improve my game. I will continue to strive hard to bring laurels to the country," Ngamgouhou said. 

Ngamgouhou hails from Pallel area of Manipur's Tengnoupal district along the India-Myanmar border where two persons were killed in two different firing incidents last week. 

A couple of years ago, Ngamgouhou's eight-member family moved to Imphal to provide him with a better football opportunity.

Over 200 people have been killed since ethnic violence broke out in Manipur on May 3, after a 'Tribal Solidarity March' was organised in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community's demand for Scheduled Tribe status.

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