Like many men in Manipur, Thoithoiba’s father was a rice farmer. With a younger brother and sister, Thoithoiba was the oldest sibling in a happy, content family living in rural Manipur. His parents instilled the importance of education in their children, especially since they were illiterate themselves. When Thoithoiba was seven, the life that he loved would forever be changed. While he was at school one day, his father was bitten by a cobra when he was in the fields. He was dead in minutes.
Thoithoiba standng in front of an electric station where he once worked as a security guard
Since then, Thoithoiba has faced constant adversity. His mother, a weaver, could barely afford the household expenses in the months after her husband's death. Extended family was not keen to help - they had their own needs. Days went by without food to feed his infant sister or toddler brother. Over the years, Thoithoiba tried very hard to educate himself but it kept getting interrupted. Financial issues have been dogging his family and he has left his house voluntarily several times to save on expenses.
The last time he left was in 2008, when he dropped out of school and went to Imphal. He joined the army. He was 14, and lived with them underage. He trained with them for almost four years. But suddenly in 2012, the army started demanding money from his family in return for staying there. Thoithoiba dejectedly returned home. He remembers his time in the army as full love and brotherhood - a kinship he hasn’t felt elsewhere.
Thoithoiba, in the blue jacket, standing with three others as they celebrate a birthday
“If I had the money, I’d go back to school”
Thoithoiba’s family didn’t have enough money for him to re-enrol in school. Determined, Thoithoiba joined a pharmacy as an assistant, earning Rs 3,000 a month. He was now the highest earner in the family. His mother, sick with an illness and unable to generate a lot of income, also began to be plagued by her late husband's family. Having ignored the plight of his brother's family for years, Thoithoiba’s uncle moved his family into their house. He demanded his late brother's property and land, especially the rice plantations his younger brother died on. This has led to a feud that hasn’t been resolved to this day.
“We are a very poor family and there is no one to help us: Not the government, not the army, nothing.”
After working at the pharmacy for a while, his mother insisted Thoithoithaba return to school. With a sparse educational experience, there were gaping holes in his learning experience. He had had several false starts with his education. He was unsure where he could start again. But despite the odds, Thoithoiba, at the age of 21, completed his tenth standard last year.
Yet again, financial issues forced him to leave school. This time, it was to become a security guard. He now earns Rs 5,500 a month, most of it going to his family’s house. Even now the highest earner, Thoithoiba realises they're stuck in the cycle of poverty. His younger brother has now left school too. He is 18, and only finished ninth standard. His sister is 13 and is in the sixth standard, the only one on course of a normal education. He wants to keep it that way.
Thoithoiba, second from left, stands with three fellow security guards at YVU
With admission fees at Rs 3,500 and Rs 300 for a month of school, Thoithoiba is intent on ensuring his younger siblings get an education. He doesn’t want them to follow his path. He hopes to enrich their lives through his hard work, determination and grit. With his mother’s illness and his uncle’s demands, Thoithoiba knows he holds the weight of his family’s issues on his shoulders. But he’s not giving up any time soon.
He wouldn’t let me sponsor a donation. Nor would he [or his family] apply for a loan from YVU, Milaap’s partner. Afraid that they wouldn’t be able to pay it back, they’ve decided to keep persevering and defying the odds of what can be done. Thoithoiba’s determination in the face of adversity is one we can all aspire to mirror.
Thoithoiba and Nakhimba, his best friend in Thoubal, and fellow security guard