This village floats between non-existence and a hard reality, made worse by Covid

Angana Chakrabarti and Yimkumla Longkumer
Champu Khangpok (Bishnupur) : Forty nine-year-old Khwairakpam Deven Singh lives in a Manipur village that does not exist on Government records, save the 2011 Census.
The Champu Khangpok village was struck off the electoral records in the 1980s; years later its residents were declared encroachers, a tag they continue to hold to this day.
But Champu Khangpok is no ordinary village. It may not be present on paper but it continues to float — quite literally.
Deven Singh and the 300 odd residents of this floating village live in temporary and fragile huts that do not rest on solid earth. They stand delicately on four to ten feet thick spongy mats of aquatic plants, organic debris and soil, called phumdis, in the middle of the largest freshwater lake in the Northeast Region, the Loktak Lake.
“In the late 1980s, the polling booth in Karang village (the nearest village) was closed without our knowledge and consent … Our voting rights were moved to the place of our relatives and other family members (in the surrounding areas),” said Deven from outside his 23 by 14 feet sized hut. Deven’s family has been in the floating village for two generations. Yet, there are no records of their existence here.
The troubles of their precarious existence have been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic — from the lack of access to ration through the Public Distribution System (PDS) and healthcare to a space crunch, a problem unique to this ecosystem.
“Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are in a lot of trouble. We are not getting whatever the Prime Minister and the local MLA are giving … if they say today they will give PDS, it will only last for one or two days,” Deven said, adding, “On the shore, if someone runs out of salt in their houses, they can walk and get it even if no shops are open. But here if we don’t have salt, we have to go and come back for at least three hours.”
The Print contacted Loktak Development Authority Director, Longjam Bhagaton, via phone but he didn’t wish to comment on the status of Covid-19 relief being provided to the villagers “since they are illegally residing in the lake as per the (Loktak Protection) Act”.
The Covid-19 troubles
For decades now, the 383 residents of the village have been living this transient life, staying afloat, navigating Government apathy, the changing ecology of Loktak lake and the changing political-economy’s desire to turn their waters into a resource that everyone else, but they can harvest. Then came the Covid-19 pandemic, which has made them learn more acutely what it means to exist off the record.
For one, there is a lack of well-equipped public health centres in the area, which means that the villagers have to travel all the way to the district headquarters in Bishnupur — a journey which involves an hour-long boat ride and then a 30-minute-long car ride.
The only silver lining is that Champu Khangpok has remained Covid-19 free.
But the pandemic has exposed another major problem — lack of space. Unable to accommodate their children in the small huts, many of the residents send them out to the nearby cities such as Imphal for education.
(To be contd)