Army helping children to usher in waves of change in state
THOUBAL (MANIPUR), 6th Nov: Langpoklakpam Pushparani Devi wants to be an actor, quite like her neighbour Ranjita, who aspires to be a singer, but the two teenaged girls harbour a fear that they might be pushed into the vortex of Manipur's armed conflicts.
Goroba Meitei, Pushparani's friend, is making preparations to become an army officer and join the forces to dispel their anxieties and restore peace in the state.
Manipur has had an umbilical connection with insurgency, but the starry-eyed children here dare to dream of a change that would ensure a bright future for them and the generations to come.
Their hopes and aspirations are being supported by the Army officers here, who have been making efforts for the past few years to alienate local people from insurgents.
Major General V K Mishra, GOC, 57 Mountain Division of the Army, said their initiative has borne fruit in parts of the state.
"That we are reaching out to them, helping them to join mainstream only goes on to show that the insurgents are no longer able to influence them," he said.
People have started approaching the forces for education assistance and vocational training, Mishra asserted.
"A few years ago, it was difficult to find children for such training programmes, but now they are reposing faith in us. Many schools are approaching us for national integration tours," said the GOC of 57 Mountain Division, which spearheads anti-insurgency operations in the state along with Assam Rifles.
Md Edrish, an athlete from a village in Bishnupur district, said he won a bronze medal representing Manipur in the national U-18 athletics in Patna this year. He is currently training at the SAI facility in Imphal.
Stating that he runs 800 metres, 1500 metres and 3,000 metres, Edrish told PTI, "I want to represent the country in the Asian Games." Golka Singh, a Class 12 student in Kakching town, also nurtures the dream of joining the Indian Army
"It is the discipline that which attracts me to the Army. I want to be like them," he said.
Mishra noted that the demand for joining the forces have increased over the years.
"Children are being taken to metros and other cities and encouraged to join the forces. The demand for joining the Army or other forces is pretty high," he said.
The 57 Mountain Division also runs a hostel, 'Disha', for destitute children at Leimakhong in Kangkokpi district.
"There are 24 children at present at 'Disha', studying in Classes 5 to 12 at Army Kendriya Vidyalaya. They are also given private tuitions. Of the 24 inmates at the neatly maintained hostel, 10 do not have parents," an officer of 57 Mountain Division, also known as 'Red Shields' division, said.
One of the former residents at Disha is now an engineer, another studying MBBS in Delhi, and seven have joined the Army, an administrator at the hostel told a visiting group of journalists recently.
An officer of the Assam Rifles said Manipur would benefit from a railway service, work for which is underway along Jiribam-Imphal line.
"Altogether, 22 students from Thoubal recently boarded a train from Dimapur in Nagaland to reach Delhi, and then to Pune. As Manipur is yet to have a railway service, most of the children rode a train for the first time," the officer said.
Assam Rifles is also providing pre-recruitment educational training to 16 boys, who would appear for a written test, having cleared physical and medical exams.
"We are tapping them to get them to follow the right path. The relatives of some of these students are insurgents," said the officer.
The boys also prepare for police forces and other related jobs, he said.
"Some of these boys are targeted by insurgents to fill their ranks. But they have started coming to us voluntarily and spontaneously. My company has 40 per cent personnel from the north-east," the officer added.