Life as an army wife is sometimes so versatile, from absolute peace you are forced into situations of total chaos. Suddenly from enjoying the beautiful environment in Liemakhong military station, Imphal, Manipur, you end up being caught in a situation unimagined. Thousands of people seeking refuge in the Cantonment. Arriving in hoards. Old, women and children walking in, driving in, having left their men folk behind. Later I found out that the men were protecting their property and in tribal culture their tribal respect. If the army wouldn’t be around these women and kids would have moved to the hills, hidden there endlessly till the situation turned better.
When my husband told me come, we need your help. These are all women, most won’t talk to us. I rushed to find them absolutely stoic. No expression on their faces, the kids had no clue why they were even here. As soon as they saw an army play area and park, the kids got on to the swings and the slides. The women sat together hurdled and talking.
The soldiers trying to make sense of how to go about looking after them. They needed food, water, shelter, toilet facilities and most of all security. Handling local women wasn’t this camouflage clad young boys forte. Nowhere in his training manuals was there anything written on how to deal with this. But yet these boys were courteous and welcoming.
I walked up to a group and asked them, about their well being. One answered angrily, Humara khatara hai. Woh log ghar jalayega. I assured her that won’t be the case because the army has been deployed. One said, army kahan kahan rahega, yeh bahut sara log hai. Then another said, hamara Aadmi log ladega. The anger on their faces was visible. There was no fear, only an expression of solidarity with their men.
The rumours that they had listened to I was told were all fake. When I tried to tell them and reason with them, they didn’t argue but remained silent. Not willing to make any more conversations. Their sudden change in attitude made me realise that they didn’t want me around. As I left that group they started chattering in their local language. I saw some kids playing and went up to them and started talking to them. They were happy, one asked humko jalebi milega. I called my husband and told him that they were hungry. Within 30 minutes hot puri and alloo subzi was made available. I requested for some jalebis and they came, hot, dipped in extra sugar and colour. Suddenly I was back in their midst. They wanted to talk to me and share. Even in this crisis, they were well dressed, some wore makeup and adidas and Nike their favourite brands clearly displayed.
I knew the problem was in their acceptance of an outsider. Suddenly I was one of them. When I showed them pictures of the cakes I had crafted, they grew even more interested, the icing on the cake was when I told them that as a mother of two girls 21 and 18 years old, I was in the final 20 of Mrs India Legacy and the competition was scheduled for May 23rd, they went crazy and I became a star. The selfies and the pictures brought in a new found friendship. I am sure when the Internet opens up, I will have a lot of followers on my Instagram page. They told me that they were tribals, from the Kuki tribes. The hill lands belonged to them. The plain people wanted to grab their land and they wouldn’t allow it. Then I met another group of women, they told me that they were Meitie from the plains, that this state was theirs and the Kuki people wanted a separate state, that’s why they were against that. Then I met a third set of people, they said they were Manipuris, by now I was totally confused. When later I managed to talk to my husband for a few minutes (in the last three days) and asked him what about the villages to the north on the hills. He told me they were Nagas and not involved in the skirmish. Without any internet I couldn’t even Google to find out more.
Liemakhong military station didn’t sleep for at-least 04 nights. My husband and the other officers hardly came home, maybe to change and bathe. 3000 people and more coming, over and above that, army columns moving in and out. Saving people from all over. Managing the humanitarian crisis was something we are good at, but here in this refuge situation there were hardly any men, only women and kids. This is the time the men needed us the most. The women power. We involved and evolved into counsellors, administrators, psychologists, nurses, doctors and teachers. Visiting every place of stay, talking to maximum people, planning activities so that they all had something to do and not sit idle and gossip. In some units where they were staying, the older women by themselves started cleaning the premises. Some offered to help make food. Some sat and sang hymns in their local language. Some wanted to do pooja at the mandir. It was just wonderful cause they didn’t distinguish caste, religion and creed here.
The food was getting over fast, drinking water was never enough, the toilets were clogging up, everyone had some problems coming up. Just when I thought the management would get harder. The army the way it is, would come up with miracles. The engineers created makeshift shelters and toilets. The men in camouflage were everywhere, some wielding guns and bullet proof vests, some with tools to restore plumbing, some along with the people cleaning premises. All with a smile. Jai hind memsahib would always be loud and full of respect.
This experience has been one of a kind. The strength of these women is something that I hadn’t seen before. Here I was experiencing tribal pride. People who believed in their roots and were sure of their processes. I am not even sure when they will go back home. They haven’t seen their men in 05 days now. My husband told me that since the army has been deployed along their villages, they will be slowly weaned off from the Cantonment and told to go home. He also said many of them are here cause there is no food outside since the system has collapsed. The army is the best place to be for them. My husbands eyes were craving sleep. For the first time I saw in him a man that was finding his salvation in his service. The other officers were tired but yet the glint in their eyes exhibited satisfaction.
I am praying this beautiful land and these beautiful people heal. I guess I was here at this time to fulfil a greater need. In service of the locals. An experience that cannot be described in words. I thought I was very strong, until I saw these women. Absolute JHANSI KI RANIs, resolute and formidable.
But for me my pride is the INDIAN ARMY. Selfless, working towards the greater good. Unbiased without malice or contempt. Not distinguishing and discriminating, just in the act of maintaining peace, avoiding conflict, using minimum force and yet being effective and most of all providing the people with confidence that they are being protected. The men in olive greens are a breed apart. In times like these you can only thank your stars that you married a HERO. Not the make believe kinds, or the Bollywood actor kinds. A real man, who fired his rifle for effect and yet has tears in his eyes to see people afflicted.
Do you still want to ask us what Indian Army wives do? Next time you ever have a doubt, come wear our shoes. You will know. We are queens because our valiant men treat us like a queen. But when the need be, we are standing beside them bearing their stance. Silently working in keeping the morale high, mentoring the families and in a crisis like this, being present to take care of emerging situations. HOLDING THE FORT is a term that was coined for the army wife, what they forgot to add, was holding the fort LIKE A QUEEN.
Author - Enid John
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)
For more defence related content, follow us on Twitter: @MVictoryIndia and Facebook: @MissionVictoryIndia