It may be over two months since that night of May 3 but Chinglensana ‘Sana’ Singh still remembers the events vividly. His Hyderabad FC team had just lost on penalties in the AFC Cup playoff match against Mohun Bagan Super Giants in Kozhikode and Sana returned to the dressing room to find out his life was turned upside down.
“When I switched on my phone after the game, there were a lot of missed calls and messages from home in Churchandpur. The moment I got back to my mom on the phone, she was crying. She said there were attacks on the houses and that their lives were under threat. I was in shock and I didn’t know how to react. It was very scary. I thought I will lose all of them. There were gunshots, attacks, and burning of houses in the neighbourhood closeby, where we reside and the houses were burnt,” remembers Sana.
‘Good Samaritan Provides Shelter’
Violent clashes broke out earlier in the day in Manipur on the back of a High Court order which had asked the state’s government to include the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes list.
Sana stayed up the whole night, with his family at the other end of the line, hoping and praying for their safety. “I was on the line throughout the night and we all didn’t sleep. The next morning, my mom told me that there was the Army to vacate them from there in trucks. People from 300 houses were taken to relief camps in Moirang and were staying there. I went home after two-three days and was able to be with them,” he says.
While his family of 12 was able to come away unscathed, his family homes – his parents and his sister’s – were destroyed in the riots. The football turf, which Sana had put up for the children in the area, was also in ruins. His displaced family is now staying in the home of fellow footballer Salam Ranjan Singh in Bishnupur district for the last two months.
“We were looking for a place to rent but it’s very difficult to find houses for rent. Luckily my friend [Salam Ranjan] said that he had built a new house and that it is vacant. So our family shifted here. I now have to build a new house somewhere,” he says.
Stimac, AIFF show support
It’s not just his family home that he needs to resurrect. His football career was put on pause on that night. Sana, one of the first-choice center backs in the Indian national team with 11 caps to his name, had to pull out of the national camp set for May 15 ahead of the Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF Championships. He had paired with Rahul Bheke in the opening match win over Myanmar in the Tri-Nation series in March.
“I couldn’t leave my family behind to go to the camp, it would have been very difficult. I had to be here physically and be the strength for them and not by sitting on the phone. And mentally I would have been disturbed as well. If you go to play for the country, you have to be 110%. I had to look after them and be there for them. I spoke to coach Igor Stimac.
“He understood the situation perfectly and supported me. He told me family was important. And Shaji [Prabhakaran] sir also said the AIFF will support me and said they would do everything possible for me to come out of this stronger. They assured me that I have their support and allowed me to pull out of the camp,” he says.
Sana is waiting to hear from his club, Hyderabad, to go back to pre-season. While there are still curfews in place in the state, the 26-year-old says he has been able to go to the gym in the morning and a football pitch nearby to keep himself fit. “Where I live now, there are curfews, but we can move out with our IDs for the right reasons,” he adds.
Sana hopes he and his family can ‘restart, rebuild and regroup’ and have some semblance of normalcy back in their lives.
“I know what has happened is disheartening and heartbreaking on both sides. I am talking about all communities. I know it’s not easy but if peace is restored and if humanity is back… I don’t know… I hope we can believe that we can go back to Churchandpur and live there and we can co-exist together again peacefully.
“I hope the Government takes steps regarding that for us all to coexist peacefully. That is the best solution because we need them, they need us. Manipur is such that there are a lot of tribes. As a normal human being from the state, my belief is that we can coexist together peacefully and, as usual, we can happily live together. Sooner than later because a lot of people are struggling,” he says.
‘Keeping the dream alive’
Sana, who once had a dream to make it big from a small district in Churchandpur, remains optimistic about keeping that dream alive. He wants to continue to provide the children from his neighbourhood a platform to have a life-changing opportunity.
“All my assets and investments over there are destroyed. I built a football turf keeping in mind the talent in Churchandpur. I know a lot of them can’t afford a football school. There are a lot of football schools these days where you have to pay to play but I wanted to provide a school where they can come play,” he said.
“All I had to do was hire a coach and that was my idea so they can progress in life. If they become a professional footballer, their life changes, and not just them, the lives of the people around them changes too. That was one way that I thought of giving back to the sport but the war has meant that My vision has taken a step back.
“I will again want to build a turf and want to start again. It is my dream to provide a platform for the youngsters coming up and for the people who can’t afford it. That dream, I will not let go,” Sana says with some hope.
But to realise those ambitions, Sana needs to find a way back onto the field. He promises that he “will keep working hard and play at the top level. Even for the national team, I will keep fighting for my place and keep playing at the highest level as I can and fulfill all these dreams.”
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