‘Don’t forget Manipur’: Dheeraj Singh appeals for peace



Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem is only 23 years old, but he already has a remarkable career: starting goalkeeper for India at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup; First Indian named in official AFC Champions League squad; Aiming for India in the recent Asian Games. He records these moments and other highlights on his Instagram feed. Four days ago, though, there was a very different image, a very different message: Dheeraj holding a placard that basically read, Save Manipur.

For five months and eleven days, Manipur – the home state of Dheeraj and many other big names in the Indian football system – has been the scene of unprecedented violence. Official figures put the death toll at 175 and about 5,000 houses burned; But that was a month ago, and they are conservative numbers. According to news portal The Wire, more than 70,000 people have been displaced from their homes and are currently in refugee camps. This is a major humanitarian crisis, and there is no end in sight. Almost as bad, and this is the main reason for Dheeraj’s message, the crisis has faded from the front pages of national papers and from the conversations of TV channels.

“It’s not normal,” said Dheeraj, who was speaking to ESPN hours before attending his club FC Goa’s daily training session. “I can’t imagine what’s going on at home. It’s so hard to keep our focus, to concentrate on what I’m doing here. [true] For all the people – students, employees – who live away from their families… it’s not a normal feeling. You never know what is going to happen in the next moment. And it’s been five months.” “It’s pretty hard when you see [what’s happening]. Look at Sana [Chinglensana Singh, Hyderabad FC and India centre-back] The situation – his house was burnt down, he was called up to the national team and he was left out because he was not in the right mental place… No matter what we do, [we need mental peace, first]”

Chinglensana hails from Charchandpur, where the violence erupted on the evening of May 2. Dheeraj says it was Salam Ranjan Singh, another fellow footballer, who sheltered Sana and her family at his home. “His family is still there,” said Dheeraj.

Sana was in China, representing India in the Asiad with Dhiraj, and they – and the other Manipuri players in the squad – made it a point to get it together and talk about it every day. “All of them [at a loss on what to do]. We have been asking for help for the last four-five months, we really need help to solve this problem.”

Dhiraj hails from Moirang, a village bordering Charchandpur. His parents went out every day, every night, guarding their house, guarding their village. “This is happening to both communities across Manipur. When you think about it, ‘kisi ka kisi ka bacha to hoga hi’ (they are all somebody’s children).”

“I was there the last week of May, I could literally see the burning house from my building, I could hear gunshots every morning, evening. It’s not normal…”

A Meite named Dhiraj studied in Charchandpur, a Kuki-dominated area. He will not understand what is happening in less than a decade. “A year ago, we organized our first international football match in Imphal,” says Dheeraj. “After that, we organized Miss India. When all this was happening, I felt proud. But now the situation…”

A sense of helplessness in his voice. He desperately wants to do something, but what? So, he speaks. Hope someone listens.

“I am not speaking politically,” Dheeraj said. “I am an athlete, but at the end of the day, I am a human being. I have my family, my relatives, my friends. If I have an opportunity, a platform where I can express what is happening, I will definitely do it. “It. It is my responsibility to raise my voice to draw the attention of the government or anyone else.”

“It’s been five months.”

It’s a number he repeats often. “I’ve always wondered Ki acha ho jayega, good ho jayega (It will get better) But, it’s getting worse and worse…”

“Even in the last few days I have seen a lot of attention [being given to] What is happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Of course I am not against [those who speak up on that conflict]”My heart goes out to everyone who is suffering anywhere, but we must not forget our own state Manipur.”

After playing for India last fortnight, Dheeraj made a simple plea, “While we are representing our country, please make us feel that our families are safe back home.”

He appealed to the powers that be with the central government to help come up with a solution. He does not take sides, or justify anyone. He just wants everyone to gather around a table and talk. “I am talking about both communities, it is very important to stand up and accept things and take responsibility,” said Dheeraj

As much as the present scares him, his biggest fear is when he thinks about what lies ahead.

“Violence is not a solution to any problem,” said Dheeraj. “It instills hatred, and I don’t know how long we will have this hatred in ourselves. Certainly this young generation will carry this hatred for the rest of their lives if we don’t solve this problem as soon as possible.”

“Many people have been affected and traumatized by these events,” he said. “So, I don’t know how we’re going to heal this, how we’re going to come back after going through so much. The younger generation… it’s going to affect their mentality in a different way. It’s really bad. “And it’s really sad.”

For now, all he can do is get down and continue his work. “I have to do my job,” says Dheeraj. “I can’t make excuses or anything but at the end of the day when I get back to my room…” He takes a long pause here, collecting himself. “When I see the videos and the violence going on, it’s really ridiculous, the amount it’s escalated to. It’s really hard, it’s really hard.”

“I just want to ask two questions,” he said. “Are we happy with the situation in Manipur? No. Do we really want to bring peace to Manipur? Yes, of course. Then there must be a solution.”



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