The artist and writer Beldan Sezen first visited Manipur in November 2019, during the Sangai Festival—a week-long yearly cultural celebration, and an occasion when outsiders can enter the state without raising too much official suspicion. Besides attending the festival, she met with numerous people deeply affected by Manipur’s long history of insurgency and counter-insurgency, of violence and injustice. She documented story after story about death, loss and survival, and photographed everything that caught her eye. One constant, she recalled, were the security personnel present wherever she went—a constant reminder that, under the watch of the Indian government, Manipur has one of the highest concentrations of security forces of anywhere in the world.
It took Sezen several months to process in her own mind everything that she witnessed. Instead of words, she said, what surfaced first were images. Sezen put them down in pages of drawings, and later added text to tell the stories that she had been told.
Sezen recalled that even at the Sangai Festival, it was impossible to escape the feeling of an occupation; the event is organised by the state tourism department, but, when she was there, the large majority of visitors were not tourists but security personnel.
This work was originally published by Front Line Defenders, an international human-rights organisation.