New Delhi: Almost two weeks have passed since Vungzagin Valte, the BJP MLA from Manipur who was brutally assaulted by a mob in Imphal early May, was discharged from Delhi’s Apollo Hospital.
Valte, who belongs to the Kuki-Zomi tribal community, is in stable condition, but a full recovery is a long way off. He is mostly bedridden, can barely speak, and needs help to do the most basic tasks like bathing, eating, and going to the washroom. His movements have slowed, and his voice, reduced to a whisper.
A three-time MLA from Thanlon in Pherzawl district and former tribal affairs minister, Valte was attacked when the ethnic clashes had just begun in Manipur. He was on his way home from a meeting called by Chief Minister N. Biren Singh on 4 May, when his car was stopped by a mob, allegedly comprising members of the non-tribal Meitei community.
Valte sustained multiple injuries in the attack, one half of his face was crushed and his left eye was damaged. He had to be airlifted to Delhi the next day. Post the attack, he spent weeks on the ventilator with a feeding tube.
Though the feeding tube and other contraptions have been removed, the assault left him paralysed from the left side.
At times, he gets impatient lying in bed for hours, and signals to his son, who helps him get up, turn sideways, and lie down again.
His medical bills having crossed Rs 1 crore, Valte’s family members have been left to fend for themselves in the national capital. No state or central government representative has visited Valte since he was discharged.
Seated in a cramped apartment in Kalkaji Extension that they have rented for Rs 30,000, his wife Moinu Valte tells ThePrint going back to Manipur is not a safe option anymore. “Where do we go? There is no way we can return to Imphal in the prevailing circumstances.”
Her eyes welling up with tears, Moinu says she never imagined that things back home would deteriorate so quickly. “We won’t go back till there is a separate administration.”
Valte’s son Joseph says the left side of the MLA’s was smashed beyond recognition, leaving a part of his skull crushed. “My father had to undergo very complicated surgical procedures. In over three months that he was in hospital, he underwent plastic surgery for reconstruction of his face. The doctor had to also insert a titanium plate. The left side of his body is paralysed because of the damage to his skull. Someone has to be with him 24×7.”
“He takes over half a dozen medicines throughout the day. It’s painful to see him in this condition,” Joseph adds.
The unprecedented ethnic clashes in Manipur have so far claimed at least 150 lives, left around 300 injured and more than 40,000 displaced. Properties belonging to both sides were destroyed as civilians were forced to flee to relief camps set up by the security forces and civil groups.
While the Meiteis’ demand for Scheduled Tribe status is considered the immediate trigger for the violence, old resentments — suspicions among Meiteis about ‘demographic changes’ in the Hills and their potential consequences, and among Kukis, a perception that they are being targeted by the government of Biren Singh, a Meitei — served as fuel.
‘Living a nightmare’
The MLA’s family feels betrayed by the Biren Singh-led Manipur government. “There has been no help, financial or otherwise, from the state government. The CM called me once on 5 May when my husband was in the ICU. He told me not to worry and that my husband will be okay. That was the only time Biren Singh called,” says Moinu.
She adds that only after media reports highlighted that nobody from the BJP or Manipur government visited Valte in the hospital did Manipur Education Minister Th Basantakumar Singh and state BJP president Sharda Devi come to see him. “A number of Kuki MLAs had come back then. A central minister and some central BJP leaders also visited my husband. But nobody has bothered to check after that.”
Joseph says their lives changed overnight on the day his father was attacked. They had to leave their home in Imphal with nothing but their clothes, he recalls. “My uncle’s house was ransacked…we are living a nightmare,” Joseph told ThePrint.
Joseph has now got his three young sons admitted to schools in Delhi. “Every month, we are spending more than a lakh on my father’s treatment. The doctor has told us that they are hopeful he will recover fully but it will take time. Our expenses have shot through the roof,” he says.
“We have left everything to god. I just hope we are able to return to Manipur with my husband. That’s the only thing I dream of these days,” says Moinu.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)