Home » The Present Turmoil in Manipur: A Synopsisent Turmoil in Manipur: A Synopsis

The Present Turmoil in Manipur: A Synopsisent Turmoil in Manipur: A Synopsis

by Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
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In Manipur, a province / state in India’s northeast bordering Myanmar, for a long time a section of Meitei ethnie has been demanding for inclusion in India’s Schedule Tribe Lists. To become a Schedule Tribe (ST) has been a coveted dream for many indigenous peoples as it would give them special land rights and protections, economic packages, job opportunities and other facilities. As they persisted on demanding the ST status, the “Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India wrote a letter on May 29, 2013 addressed to the Government of Manipur asking it to submit “a specific recommendation along with the latest socio-economic survey and ethnographic report.” Since Manipur Government had not responded, a writ petition was filed in the High Court of Manipur. The High Court of Manipur vide its order dated March 27, 2023, directed the Government of Manipur to submit its recommendation to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs regarding Meitei’s demand for inclusion in the Schedule Tribes List. The All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM), an organisation of Kuki ethnic, do not want Meitei to become a ST. It resented the High Court order, decided for a protest march and called upon several tribal organisations to participate. Thus, on May 3, 2023, a “Tribal Solidary March” under the theme “Come now let us reason together,” was organised by ATSUM in all hill districts of Manipur. It was endorsed by Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), Joint Co-Ordination Committee on Tribal Rights Manipur (JCCOTR-M), and others. ATSUM’s march infuriated those Meitei who demanded ST status considering it to be the only solution to economic progress, prevent transfer of land to immigrants / outsiders, and defend Manipur’s integrity. Therefore, Meitei pro-ST activists organised a “counter-protest” in the adjoining border areas of Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts.
ATSUM’s protest march was very effective in Kuki dominated districts of Manipur, particularly in Churchandpur town. But Churachandpur on May 3 had not yet lifted the prohibition order under Section 2 of Section 144 of CrPC that was enforced on May 27 by the district administration. The question is how did the district administration allow the march to happen without lifting the prohibition order? Why were the organisers parading gun brandishing militants in combat dress at the march which was meant to be a peaceful one? Why didn’t the Director General of Police, who is a Kuki and ADGPs (2 out of 3 were Kuki) take up effective preemptive security measures against potential violence? What were the district administrators doing? Was there intelligence failure or deliberate support to violence? ATSUM’s march at Churachandpur, attended by several thousand people reportedly started around 10:30 a.m. Very early into the march, Kuki miscreants vandalized and burnt Forest Beat Offices at Bungmual village (10:30 a.m.), Mata Mualtam Village (12:30 p.m.), and Saikot Village, (13:30 p.m.). Two mortal bodies were found at Kangvai Village at around 13:30 p.m. At around 2:30 p.m., the concrete base of one of the iron poles of Kuki’s emotive “Centenary Gate: Anglo Kuki War 1917- 19” at Laisang village was reportedly set ablaze by some unidentified persons. The question is who did it? The “gate” is an unauthorised structure erected across the National Highway 2 which would have to be pulled down by a court’s direction sooner or later. Why would some people hurriedly place rubber tyres to set ablaze the concrete base? Who were they risking their lives in a Kuki dominated area? Other than provoking Kuki sentiment, burning tyre at the concrete base could not have any devastating impact on the entire structure as Kuki would discover it sooner and douse it. But Kuki blamed Meitei for it.
The rumour of Meitei destroying the Centenary Gate was viral. It added fuel to Kuki violence. A group of Kuki scuffled with a group of Meitei counter protesters. Both sides repeatedly retreated after having suffered some casualties. At around 3:00 p.m., Kuki militants possessing sophisticated guns attacked those Meitei counter protestors. They attacked innocent Meitei’s and destroyed their villages at Torbung, Bangla, Kangvai and Phougakchao Ikhai. Around 3:30 p.m., Meitei’s in Bishnupur district attacked churches. Around 4:30 pm, violence spread to Tengnoupal district with burning of Meitei houses by Kukis at Moreh town, bordering Myanmar. Around 5:00 pm, Kukis in Churachandpur vandalised and burnt Forest Beat Offices at Muallam and Singhat Mission Veng. Around 5:30 pm, they looted hundreds of arms and thousands of ammunitions from Singhat Police Station and the Meetei-owned Churchandpur Gun House. They vandalised and burnt Meitei village Khumjamba. From around this time onwards there were Kuki attacks on Meitei villages in Motbung in Kangpokpi district. To control the situation, Manipur government immediately imposed curfew under CrPC section 144 in several districts and suspended mobile phone data services for five days in the late afternoon. However, video clips, photos, and messages / information / rumours of Kuki’s armed attack on Meitei, killing, injuring, raping, and plundering, taking hostage, burning or destroying villages had already gone viral on social media. It added to pent-up communal resentment against Kuki that have been grooming up for some years. Meitei mobs retaliated. They attacked Kuki houses or neighbourhoods. Despite imposition of curfew, attack on either Meitei or Kuki neighbourhoods/ villages continued throughout the night and the following day. News was widespread among Meitei about armed aggression by Kuki militants backed by Indian armed forces. Meitei lost trust in security forces for their safety. They looted arms and ammunitions from police stations, security forces, built defensive posts and repulsed Kuki aggressors up to certain strategic distances. The situation became volatile. Manipur government suspended internet broad band services and authorised the civil authority to shoot at those who defy the law. The responsibility of the overall command to restore normalcy was transferred from DGP to a non-local retired IPS officer by appointing the later as Advisor (Security). It also opened up helpline and relief centres for victims. Government of India deployed additional military and paramilitary forces. But normalcy could not be restored even now. Kuki militants continued with armed aggression on vulnerable Meitei villages. In all these hundreds of Meitei and Kuki have lost lives or suffered casualties. Thousands have been forced to disappear, rendered homeless, impoverished, and physically and psychologically affected.
Violence occurred on the occasion of protest against Meitei ST demand. But resentment against Meitei ST Demand was not the main cause. If they were purely against the High Court order of March 27, why would they attack forest beat offices and Meitei. They had other larger issues that they might have decided to settle violently.” While solidarity statements by other non-Kuki tribal organisations exclusively focussed on opposing Meitei ST demand, Kuki statements were beyond it. For instance, on May 1, Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum warned, “No individual or organisation within the district [Churachandpur] should voice anything against the ongoing movement for our rights… The ongoing fight for our rights and the protest against Manipur Government’s unlawful exertion of power be continued in full vigour until our demands are met.” Joint Co-ordination Committee on Tribal Rights Manipur asserted to stand against “the step motherly treatment of the tribals by the BJP led Government of Manipur, underestimating the tribal rights including demolition of Churches, making more than 500 tribal villages overlapping to valley districts, illegally evicting tribal villages and cancellation of village gazettes where the list is unaccountable. “Tribal Churches Leaders’ Forum, Manipur asserted, “this Solidarity March … is to collectively protect the social, political, and religious interests of the tribal people of Manipur.” On May 2, Joint U-NAU Delhi Tribal Students’ Forum stated, “We are also extremely dismayed by the highly discriminatory policies adopted and being implemented by the Government of Manipur under the guise of lawless laws and legal processes, including through the declaration of constitutionally protected tribal lands as protected forests, reserved forests, or wetlands.” The above texts exemplify multiplicity of vexed issues that they had decided to settle violently. The nature of violence and target explains that the solidarity marches in Kuki dominated areas were not meant to be peaceful. They seemed to be for an ethnic violent show down. They violently agitated on March 10, and April 27–29. Kuki Independent Army’s huge arms loot on April 8 was for violence. The “solidarity march” in all the hill districts was designed to portray it in a larger frame of all tribal manifestation, to gather solidarities by concealing diabolically premediated violent agenda. They launched ethnic cleansing of minority Meitei from Kuki dominated districts. The retaliations by Meitei mobs were equally communal.
Kuki’s dream to create Zalen’gam (Kuki homeland) or Zogam (Zomi homeland where Kuki homeland would be a part) has always been active. To achieve it, they have adopted two correlated strategies; (a) Armed insurrection, and (b) Manipulate governance to their advantage. For the second strategy, Kuki elites are part of the collusion of forces across communities that collaborate with kleptocratic regime and extract maximum benefit for personal gain and communal agenda. They are amongst the powerful legislatures, bureaucrats, communal elites, and agents who work in collusion for gain at the cost of the general masses. While in the collusion, they work with the hidden agenda of manipulating administration to covertly carry forth the agenda of Zalen’gam or Zogam. Within the system, they trumped up tribal or minority victimhood cards both as bargaining mechanism to extract maximum share of gain for themselves and for communal mobilisation. This is how a section of them could promote foreigner infiltration, transplantation of settler colonialists, cross-border narcoterrorism, poppy plantation, etc. without effective obstruction by Government for many years. The recent initiatives by the Government to check cross-border infiltration, population survey, war on drugs, destruction of poppy, afforestation measures, eviction of encroachers in Protected and Reserved forests, have threatened both the two correlated strategies mentioned above. They challenged the genuine demand from indigenous communities to arrest illegal infiltration and to regulate unrestraint migration. They therefore, play aggressive communal politics to obstruct the Government from the actions that affected Kuki elites’ vested individual opportunism and chauvinist communal interests. Kuki militants are confident in a surprise armed aggression on Meitei. They are confident because taking advantage of SoO they have built up strength and arms power.
(Writer can be reached at:[email protected])

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