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Yearning for Peace, Justice and Non-Violent Solutions

Reflection on Manipur Violence

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Yearning for Peace, Justice and Non-Violent Solutions Reflection on Manipur Violence

By: Jalun Haokip
Current Manipur violence:
Before delving into this evidence-backed article, focused on peace and solutions, I want to take a moment to honour the memory of those who have fallen victim to the tragic violence in Manipur, and to extend my deepest empathy to the survivors and their families. As I pen down these words, my heart aches for the ongoing turmoil that has plagued Manipur for the past one year since May 3, 2023. In the face of such senseless brutality, my fervent hope is for a future defined by peace, justice, and non-violent resolutions.
With the decline of insurgency movement activities in recent years, Manipur became relatively peaceful in the last five to ten years until the ongoing violence broke out on May 3, 2023, when mob violence occurred in the adjoining areas of Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts during or immediately after the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM) protest rallies and counter protest rallies over Scheduled Tribe (ST) demand by the Meitei community and opposition to this demand by the tribals of Manipur, particularly among the Zo tribal groups.
The tribals fear that granting the already dominant and majority Meitei community a scheduled tribe status would give the Meiteis the same rights as the Naga and Zo tribals to access lands in the hill districts, government job reservations, reservations in government educational institutions, development funding and schemes, and public offices such as Member of the Manipur State Assembly and Indian Parliament. The tribals are also concerned that they would become further marginalised and disadvantaged and would be at greater risk of losing their land rights and other rights to the Meiteis if the Meiteis are granted ST status. The Meiteis would become even more dominant, and the power imbalance will widen even more, the tribals are worried.
At present, Meiteis and other non-scheduled tribes, or non-tribals, cannot buy or own land in the hill districts, but the tribals can buy and own land in the valley districts. The Meiteis claim this is unfair and discriminatory, but the tribals say this is how they are lawfully protected by the Indian constitution from being discriminated against as they are the disadvantaged tribal people. Meiteis and other non-scheduled tribes can already buy and own land in some areas of hill districts like Moreh and some pockets in Churachandpur and Kangpokpi under Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reforms Act 1960 which was extended to some hill areas decades back.
Tribals also claim systemic discriminations and mistreatments from the state government, for example alleged control of the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) by the state government and non-extension or implementation of the 6th Schedule of the Indian constitution which the State Assembly had passed a resolution to do so in the 1970s with some local adjustments, but still not implemented till today. The 6th Schedule provides greater autonomy for the tribals in north-east Indian states with legislative, executive, and financial powers.
Regarding the Meitei ST demand, the Manipur High Court on April 19, 2023, issued a directive to the Manipur state government to “consider the case of the petitioners for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe list expeditiously, preferably within four weeks”. The matter was already in court following the High Court directive being challenged by a tribal group (All Manipur Tribal Union) in court. The Manipur state government had not discussed or taken any decision on Meitei ST demand or the Manipur High Court directive for recommendation in this matter.
The Supreme Court of India has clearly indicated that the court has no authority to grant a scheduled tribe status to a community, but the authority lies with the government only with the approval, by way of majority support, in both houses of the Indian parliament after completion of due process. Meanwhile, the Manipur High Court on May 13, 2023 had extended a period of one year for consideration of the March 27, 2023 order for inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list following a prayer by the Manipur state government for extension. The State government can only make recommendations in relation to grant, change or removal of scheduled tribe status to a community.
The violence eruption was partly a culmination of built-up anger on both sides over some unresolved contentious issues of land rights, reserved & protected forest, illegal immigrants, indigenousness, fuelled by widespread, communally charged inflammatory and provocative hate speeches on social media against each other community. In fact, there had been some violent incidents in Churachandpur in the preceding days leading up to the outbreak on May 3 last year. All of these problems should have been discussed at the Legislative Assembly and appropriate civic forums at government and community level to find a peaceful, non-violent solution.
During his speech at the ‘Anti-Terrorism Day’ in Imphal on May 21, 2023 the Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh admitted lapses in security and intelligence measures over the outbreak of the violence. Given that the situation was already very tense immediately before and escalating after the violence outbreak, the high chance of eruption of a large-scale ethnic violence and further escalation could have been anticipated by government security and intelligence agencies and timely preventive measures should have been taken.
The unprecedented mob violence that started in Churachandpur (Lamka) on May 3, 2023 spread like wildfire to other parts of the state. On the same day there had been large scale attacks and retaliatory attacks between members of the two communities that went out of control. By the morning of May 4, an approximate 500-strong Meitei mob came to burn down my village, Haokip Veng, situated in the heart of Imphal. On that day, my family members, including my brother’s one-month-old new-born baby and two little children, had to flee with just themselves as there was no time to take anything else with them.
Soon my family home and the entire village, including about 70 homes and two churches, were destroyed in flames. But the many memories and stories connected to the village where I was born and lived for many years, and still called it home, cannot be destroyed. As they were fleeing, my family and other residents looked back and saw their homes in flames. They had to take shelter in a safer place for a few days until they could get the next available flights or security vehicles to get out of the city or the state. My family were finally able to fly out to Delhi where they have since been staying, starting a new life in a city where they had never been before.
After my family home and the entire village was destroyed and all residents had fled, I prayed and thought the violence would stop there and not linger or escalate. But unfortunately, that had not been the case. Even till today there is lack of interest from both the warring communities to engage in meaningful dialogue to end the violence and restore peace and harmony. There are many people on both sides who want violence to end and peace to return, but they are scared to speak up for fear of deadly reprisals from angry, violent mobs from within their own communities who threaten to kill and burn down homes of whoever talks about peace. In fact, there have been instances of people being attacked or abused by members of their own community for talking about peace and reconciliation.
The violence prolonged and expanded with no end in sight although there had been quiet times in between. Youths from both communities have been armed with deadly weapons, thousands have undergone arms and combat military training getting ready for direct combat actions or confrontations, attacking each other in their neighbouring or fringe areas, particularly in Churachandpur, Bishnupur and Kangpokpi districts.
Thousands of homes and properties of the Zo tribal people in their settlements in the Meitei-dominated valley have been burned down or destroyed by the Meitei mobs except for some abandoned Zo tribal villages in Imphal, that are still standing till today, thanks to the protection from government security forces. Similarly, thousands of homes and properties of the Meiteis in their settlements in the hill areas of Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and the Indo-Myanmar border town Moreh have been burnt down or destroyed by the rival mobs.
About 300 people have lost their lives, tens of thousands of people have been displaced and their lives turned upside down. Hundreds of relief camps have been set up at different locations both in the hill areas as well as in the valley with support from the government, churches, and civil society organisations. While many people stay in relief camps with government support, many others stay elsewhere with no access to government relief support. About 12,000 displaced Zo tribals have been staying in Mizoram, and several thousands in Delhi, Guwahati, Nagaland and other parts of the country.
There have also been reports of many incidents of violation of human rights, innocent children killed mercilessly, and women sexually assaulted or killed, for instance, the viral video of the two Zo tribal women being paraded naked and allegedly assaulted that received widespread condemnations and the attention of the whole country (India) and the world.  The European Parliament on July 13, 2023 issued a strongly-worded resolution on Manipur violence – it was strongly condemned by the Indian government, maintaining that it was an unacceptable interference in India’s internal affairs. Some UN agencies have expressed serious concerns, and many national and international media outlets have reported and run stories on the ongoing Manipur violence.
Competing and opposing demands of the Meitei, Zo and Naga groups:
The main demand of the Zo tribals, supposedly including the incumbent 10 Zo tribal MLAs of Manipur State Legislative Assembly, is a Separate Administration in the form of a Union Territory for Zo-inhabited areas of Manipur. The main demands of the Meiteis are protection of the territorial integrity of Manipur state, opposition to the demand for separate administration, abrogation of Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement with Zo militant groups and implementation of National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Meitei insurgents fight for Manipur independence. Nagas of Manipur have their own political demand for Naga integration under one single political administration for decades since India’s independence. However, clarifying their position on the ongoing conflict, Naga MLAs of Manipur have maintained that they have no new separate political demand for the Naga people but support the Naga Framework Agreement, that was signed on August 3, 2015 after 18 years of ceasefire and peace talks between Government of India and the NSCN that began in 1997 at Indian prime ministerial level, and the peace process between the Indian government and the NSCN. The NSCN fought for Naga independent country to be comprised of all the contagious Naga inhabited areas of Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Naga-inhabited areas in Myanmar, however their demand had come down to Naga integration within India Republic, or what they say, ‘shared sovereignty’ (with Naga flag and constitution), with not much practical progress even as the Naga peace talks have been going on for many years.
The SoO agreement with Zo militant groups was first signed between some of the Zo armed groups and Indian Army in 2005 and then with the Government of India and the State Government of Manipur in August 2008 when all the Zo armed militant groups had become party to the agreement. The SoO agreement has several ground-rules including a clause ‘The insurgent signatories shall abide by the Constitution of India, the laws of the land and the territorial integrity of Manipur.’ Government of India, irrespective of which political party is in power, have consistently maintained till today that the territorial integrity of Manipur state will not be disturbed while continuing to engage the Naga and Zo militant groups in talks separately for some kind of political settlement with some kind of greater autonomy or territorial council for tribals without breaking up the present Manipur territory.
There are competing and opposing demands by both sides of the warring groups. There are often conflicting narratives and media stories in favour of or against one group or community, pitting one community against another. Leaders of both sides have rejected the peace committee formed by the Indian government following a three-day visit by India’s home minister Amit Shah to the state at the end of May, 2023, that is, after nearly a month since the outbreak of the violence. Both sides rejected the peace proposal, with each side claiming some members of the committee were responsible for the violence.
There have been claims and counterclaims, propaganda and counterpropaganda, both sides sticking to their own narratives and positions without a willingness to come together and talk with each other. Who suffers more or who started the violence is a hotly contested topic, often contributing to escalation of the violence, but the fact is there are victims on both sides – more on the Zo side. Many people have been fed and brainwashed with the notion that violence is the way to get their demands and openly declaring ‘we need war to bring peace’ – a very dangerous trend.
The Zo SoO groups claim that their political demand has now changed to a separate administration from Manipur state in response to the current situation and demand of their people, and that the tripartite agreement or talks was now already bipartite with the Indian government only. The Government of India has not commented on this claim, but the SoO agreement which expired on February 29, 2024 has not been renewed following Manipur Assembly’s unanimous resolution to urge the Indian government to abrogate the agreement with all the militant groups. The Manipur state government had on March 10, 2023 withdrawn from the SoO pact with the KNO/KNA, KNO/KRA and ZRO/ZRA. Meanwhile, the Government of India remains adamant that political solutions will come only after there is peace while asking all parties to end violence and to engage in the peace process.
The Manipur government had previously announced its readiness to give some kinds of greater autonomy to the existing district councils in the hill districts. However, the Zo groups, including the SoO groups, all the MLAs and the civil society organisations, maintain they will not agree to anything less than total separate administration from Manipur. They say separation administration is the only solution. However, in what appears to be contradictory to the stated demand for a Separate Administration (outside of Manipur state administration), so far, the Manipur State administration is still functioning in the Zo tribal-dominated districts, with all the important state government offices, employees and the 10 Zo tribal MLAs still functioning and performing their duties under Manipur Assembly and the state government. Only time will tell what happens. During the height of Manipur protest over the issue of Inner Line Permit System (ILPS) and Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, I wrote an article titled ‘ILPS for valley, 6th Schedule for tribals’ (published in the Sangai Express in June 2016) as a compromise formula for solution.
Issues of illegal immigrants, indigenous people, and demand for NRC in Manipur:
The issues of illegal immigrants, refugees, indigenous people, and demand for National Register of Citizens (NRC) often rocks Manipur and have been getting louder, with several Naga and Meitei organisations flagging ‘Kuki refugees’ or ‘illegal Kuki immigrants’ and demanding immediate implementation of NRC against the backdrop of this accusation and labelling to identify illegal immigrants or non-Indian citizens living in Manipur. These are some of the factors of the current crisis and they need to be addressed.
While there may have been some people from Myanmar crossing the India-Myanmar border into Manipur territory, there is no evidence of mass influx of immigrants except those who have been identified by government authorities. Even though there has been no formal announcement of NRC and its operational details of how it is going to be conducted and implemented in Manipur, the Indian home minister Amit Shah during his Manipur visit in May 2023 had agreed to NRC demand. He even commented that it had already started. The Manipur Assembly as well as the State Government had agreed to make 1961 as the base year for NRC in Manipur.
There are some sections of Manipur people who are worried about the base year and criteria, having apprehensions that the proposed NRC exercise is a ploy to target and drive them out or exclude them from being Indian citizens or native people of Manipur. Also, there are people who have legitimate concerns in terms of whether they can produce required documents to prove their citizenship or residency. All these and any other concerns need to be addressed by the government in the event of NRC happening in Manipur.
Significantly, the Thadou Students’ Association (TSA) in their statement on August 31, 2023 asserted the Indianness, Indian citizenship or nationality and indigenousness of Thadou and other kindred tribal communities who have been living in Manipur since time immemorial and duly recognised as scheduled tribes of Manipur way back in 1956. They also stated that Thadous are not afraid of the much-hyped NRC if it is guaranteed to be conducted fairly and without any bias to include all Indian citizens in Manipur. They further stated that no community should be targeted as illegal immigrants. NRC should not be used as a political slogan or tool to target or provoke any community. The TSA statement should be appreciated in the context of an assertion of the indigenousness of Thadou tribe and their legitimate rights as Indian citizens and being an indigenous people of Manipur.
During a discussion on Manipur violence in the Indian Parliament on August 9, 2023 India’s union home minister, Amit Shah, stated the violence was triggered by an influx of ‘Kukis’ from Myanmar into Manipur, which “created insecurities among Meiteis” as he was explaining the causes of the violence. Interestingly, Kuki is not a recognised name of ethnic people in Myanmar. The union home minister’s statement, that drew flak from Mizoram MP in the parliament as well as Manipur-based Zo MLAs and organisations, remains a mystery as the union home minister has not clarified or specified as to exactly whom he referred to as ‘Myanmar Kuki refugees’. Significantly, the union home minister on January 20, 2024 announced to fence the India-Myanmar border and to end the Free Movement Regime (FMR) with Myanmar.
Who is an indigenous person of Manipur?
The Manipur Gazette No. 309 – Notification (Manipur Government – Home Department) dated 23rd September 2022 clause 2A (ii) of Manipur Inner Line Permit (Amendment) Guidelines, 2022 states “Indigenous Person” means, for the purpose of this guidelines, read with the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, a person shall be deemed to be an indigenous Person if he/she belongs to the following communities: Meitei/Meetei, Meitei Pangal, anyone of the recognised scheduled Tribes of Manipur and if he/she, or either or both of his/her parents, grandparents or great-grandparents, was/were continuously and permanently residing in the State of Manipur, not later than 31st December 1961 to be supported by Record of residence in the State of Manipur. Clause 2A (i) of the gazette states “a person shall be deemed to be a Permanent Resident of State of Manipur if he/she, or either or both of his/her parents or grandparents or great-grandparents, was/were continuously and permanently residing in the State of Manipur since not later than 31st December 1961 to be supported by Record of residence in the State of Manipur.
The indigenous tribal population of Manipur is broadly divided into Naga, about 20%, and non-Naga, or Zo, about 20%. The 29 indigenous tribes of Manipur listed in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes Lists (Modification) Order, 1956 are: Aimol, Anal, Angami, Chiru, Chothe, Gangte, Hmar, Kabui (Rongmei), Kacha Naga, Khoirao, Koireng, Kom, Lamgang, Any Mizo (Lushai), Maram, Maring, Mao, Monsang, Moyon, Paite, Purum, Ralte, Sema, Simte, Suhte, Tangkhul, Thadou, Vaiphei, and Zou. Some new tribes were added later on after 2000, including the controversial ‘Any Kuki tribes’ that came to exist in 2003 only.
The Naga tribes are: 1. Lamgang/Lamkang 2. Mao 3. Maram 4. Maring 5. Monsang 6. Moyon 7. Purum 8. Sema 9. Aimol 10. Anal 11. Angami 12. Chiru 13. Chothe 14. Kabui 15. Inpui 16. Rongmei 17. Paomei 18. Koireng 19. Tarao 20. Thangal 21. Kharam 22. Kom
Tribes under the broader Zo community: 1. Thadou 2. Gangte 3. Simte 4. Suhte (Tedim) 5. Vaiphei 6. Zou 7. Paite 8. Hmar 9. Mizo 10. Kom 11. Aimol. It is to be noted that while some Koms, Aimols and Chirus identify either with Naga or Zo groups, the Kom Union Manipur has stated they do not belong to either group, but just Kom.
Whereas Naga tribes have different distinct languages and most of their languages have no similarity, the Zo tribes have distinct languages, customs, and culture but they are similar, and they can communicate and understand each other when speaking in their own languages or dialects. The Zo tribal communities are collectively known as Chin in Myanmar, whereas in India they have no collective nomenclature but the term Zo seems to be the most acceptable for all the individual Zo tribes. In Myanmar, where there is no such thing as scheduled tribe, the Chin ethnic group consists of 53 sub-groups including the various Zo tribes, and, interestingly, Naga and Meithei (Meitei; Kathe) are included under the same Chin group in Myanmar.
Kuki is not a recognised ethnicity name under any group of ethnic people in Myanmar. The Zo kindred tribes are still in search of a common collective terminology/nomenclature, but it is still a controversial subject, often leading to fights and strong disagreements among members of the communities. Given the complex nature of the use of terminology in this context, I will use here the most inclusive term ‘Zo’ to refer to the broader community of these tribes.
I am from Thadou community, Manipur’s largest tribe with a population of 2,15,923 in Manipur alone, per 2011 census. Thadous are spread across all parts of the state. Unfortunately, Thadous have been the most impacted community-wise in the ongoing Manipur violence and they remain the most vulnerable as many of them also lived in the Meitei-dominated Imphal valley, in the periphery areas between the valley and the hills, and in some places, they are sandwiched between Meitei and Naga areas.
Whereas the Manipur valley, which forms about 10% of the total geographical area of the state, is dominated by the Meiteis, the hill areas or hill districts, covering about 90% of the state’s total geographical area, is dominated by the tribals. Almost all the tribal population are Christian. Vast majority of the Meitei population are Hindu, but a significant percentage (8-10%) of them are followers of the Meitei traditional religion called Sanamahi and a small percentage follow Christianity.
People should stop being alarmed or panicked over the issue of illegal immigrants and the influx of outsiders into the state. Since January 1, 2020, there has been the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system – a legal system to check the movement of non-local Indian citizens who entered the state of Manipur. The Manipur government, with the approval or knowledge of the Indian government, has already set up camps at the border town, Moreh, where about 3000 people who fled the unrest across the border in Myanmar are being sheltered and monitored until they can safely return to their homes in Myanmar in view of the unrest since the military coup in the country.
All the recognised ethnic indigenous communities and tribes of Manipur who call Manipur home should stop fighting over who is indigenous and who is not and learn to live together with a sense of mutual respect and understanding. No community should be treated more or less indigenous, or Manipuri, or Indian, than another. Just as there are Meiteis, or Nagas, or for that matter any community, living in different countries or states, the same thing is with the Zo tribal people who are legal citizens or permanent residents in their respective places of residence.
Moreover, it should be remembered that Manipur indigenous tribes such as Thadou, Vaiphei, Paite, Simte, Gangte, Aimol, Kom, Mizo, Hmar had been duly recognised by Indian and Manipur governments in 1956, simultaneously with all the other indigenous tribes of Manipur, including the Naga tribes like Tangkhul, Kabui, Mao, Sema, Maring, Anal etc. The general grouping of tribes of Manipur into ‘Any Naga’, ‘Any Kuki’ and ‘Any Mizo’ between 1951-1956 was only a temporary arrangement before the completion of the linguistic survey for the purpose of scheduling of tribes of Manipur. The Any Kuki tribe and Any Naga tribe then ceased to exist with the reorganisation and scheduling of tribes of Manipur in 1956 while the Any Mizo was renamed Any Mizo (Lushai) on account of Mizo or Lushai being a proper distinct tribe on its own.
Those who have listed themselves under the highly controversial ‘Any Kuki tribes’ in 2011 census should have no reason for concern, for they can go back to their original tribe if they are not illegal immigrants or foreigners but indeed belong to one of the indigenous tribes of Manipur and/or are Indian citizens. If there are genuine concerns about illegal immigrants, then competent government authorities must deal with it on a case-by-case basis as per established laws, but people should not jump to conclusions before and without this. And, it should not be allowed to become an issue over ethnic or community lines.
Significantly, a recent publication (published in various Manipur-based newspapers in February 2024) of Indian census records/figures for Manipur from the first census in 1881 to the last census in 2011 clearly shows Thadou tribe having been recorded in all the censuses from beginning to the last. Other tribes and communities have had census records from very early on, except for the controversial ‘Any Kuki tribes’ or simply called ‘Kuki tribe’ that had a census record for the first time and only in 2011 with a population of 28,342 given it came to existence only in 2003.
Generally, regardless of ethnicity, people who have lived in a country as bona fide citizens would naturally not want to leave their homeland or country to move to another country. Communities that are native to Manipur state and have been consistently recorded in censuses for the last many decades cannot and should not be labelled illegal immigrant or foreigner unless some specific individual cases are found to be so after due identification and verification under applicable and established rules and laws.
Socio-economic impacts:
Any large-scale ethnic violence is a death knell for a weak economy like Manipur society, that had not fully recovered from the impacts of previous ethnic or communal conflicts and many years of insurgency-related violence, instability and other problems. The socio-economic impact the current violence has caused is beyond any imagination, with thousands of families having lost their homes, properties, incomes, employment, businesses and livelihoods. The financial value of the loss of homes and properties alone would be estimated in terms of thousands of crores of rupees (billions of dollars).
There has been a spike in the number of drug and alcohol misuse, poverty, educational breakdown, mental and physical health problems, theft, burglary, extortions, many other types of crimes and socio-economic problems since the violence started. Many youths on both sides have taken up arms and combat training, and insurgency is likely to rise significantly with armed militant groups taking advantage of the situation to recruit new members into their outfits. The effects and impacts of this conflict are too costly and simply not worth it, even if at all it benefits or satisfies some people.
Neither party is the winner in this situation. It affects all parties, but the innocent helpless victims have been and will continue to be the worst affected. Sadly, loss of precious lives and some other losses will never be recovered, and it will take decades or even generations to recover the lost trust and other material or economic loss that occurred overnight in this conflict. The longer it lingers the greater the devastating impacts would be, especially on the more vulnerable population, the Zo tribals. The impoverished society of Manipur does not need to become poorer.
Broken peace amid dark clouds of violence and despair:
There were positive stories of the two communities having a peace deal at a local level and the peace being able to be maintained until they were broken. One such example is a mixed-population area called Pallel, located at the meeting point of the hills (Tengnoupal district) and the valley (Kakching district). Pallel remained unaffected and calm until the morning of September 8, 2023 when large numbers of armed Meitei militants and thousands of Meitei mobs, including the womenfolk, from outside of Pallel areas attacked the area, breaking the four-month-old peace. Thanks to the renewed peace efforts, there has since been no incident of violence at Pallel, and hopefully there will be lasting peace in the area.
Sugnu/Serou area, another locality of mixed population is where there was a peace deal at a local level after the violence broke out. However, the peace deal was sabotaged on May 28, 2023 when some people from a different area came in and started attacking and burning the homes and properties belonging to the ‘rival’ community. At least one thousand homes belonging to both communities were burnt down and about 12 people were killed in a couple of days of relentless fierce confrontations and counterattacks between members of the two communities, reportedly involving armed militants from both sides. There is a need for more peace agreements and to preserve them.
The Way Forward:
Challenging as it is, conflict resolution and peace is the need of the hour. The divide and trust-deficit between the two communities seem to have been too wide and deep, and it appears like both sides have reached the point of no return. The idea of peaceful co-existence is seeming to have disappeared, and the future of Manipur society seems so bleak.
What has happened in the past and what is happening now in India’s multi-ethnic Manipur society is already too bad, too devastating in terms of the loss of many precious lives and livelihoods, properties, and the trauma suffered by the victims. Feelings naturally run high in a time like this, and the sentiments of people and why there is a resistance or mistrust to peace initiatives can be absolutely appreciated as the violence continues and justice is not served yet. It is true there can be no peace until violence stops. Conversely, it is also true violence cannot or will not stop without peace efforts. The current situation of the violence continuing even after more than ten months signals that it is unlikely to stop until there is a peace agreement, or at least an agreement to cease violence without any preconditions.
The continuation of the violence and flare ups despite the active deployment and actions of overwhelmingly large numbers of government security forces, including the Central security forces, Indian Army, paramilitary forces (reportedly over 60,000 personnels deployed in the state) in all at-high risk and vulnerable places, is a strong indication of the urgent need for dialogues and peace initiatives and process at the highest government, civil society and community level.
The violence has already taken a heavy toll, but many people on both sides say there will be peace only when the other side stops the violence. Maybe this is exactly the reason for the cycle of violence. We cannot wait for violence to stop on its own. We cannot say violence will stop when it stops and leave it at that while allowing continuation or worsening of the suffering of the people, the innocent people. Actions and steps with a clear road map must be taken. This must be the top priority of the government, community leaders and all concerned persons. Political and social problems must be solved through non-violence and political or democratic means. Significantly, Mizoram chief minister Pu Lalduhoma stated in January 2024 “There has to be a solution between the tribal leaders and the state government…. We have nothing to do, except to look after the people who are staying there (referring to displaced persons from Manipur taking shelter in Mizoram)”. He also pointed out that the political demand of Mizo (Zo) people of Manipur was ‘not clear’.
There is a need to shift away from problem-focused approach to solution-focused approach. Otherwise, there can be fresh violence causing many more deaths, bloodshed, homes burnt, forced separation and displacements, hunger, loss of livelihoods, land and properties and many other losses, problems and sufferings. So, it is high time to stop the hatred and refrain from making provocative statements and rhetoric against one group in favour of another, but build on every improvement in the situation, and to help the many affected people who are in dire need of immediate and long-term relief and rehabilitation support. Also, it is high time to spread the message of love, reconciliation and peace while also calling for justice to all the victims of this horrible violence and crimes.
It is important the world knows what is happening in Manipur and they will hopefully help bring peace and justice. And of course, it is important that government authorities concerned take urgent actions to stop the violence or prevent further escalation and deliver justice or else be held accountable for their actions or inactions. But what is ultimately most important is for the conflicting, affected parties or communities to agree to end the violence and to make peace with each other, based on mutual understanding, respect and humanity. Government authorities need to take stronger actions and efforts with political will to end the violence and bring lasting peace with the confidence and involvement of the community leaders and all stakeholders with a healing touch.
As observed in the 5-year-long Kuki-Naga conflict during the 1990s, there was no official agreement between the two communities to resolve the violence. One needs to learn from history to avoid repeating the same old mistakes. It is pertinent to note that whether separated or not in whatever way, the two communities need to co-exist or accommodate each other. The symbiotic relationship is there to stay whether in cordial or in spiteful nature and it is going to impact all the communities of Manipur as a whole. It is the moral responsibility of all the communities and like-minded people to find ways and make the situation conducive for peace dialogue and solutions for all the people. It is for the people to explore ways to move ahead. Ignoring and turning a blind eye to the conflict is not going to solve the problem; rather it will open up a passage for some vested interest people. People must stand up for peace and justice. Silence is not an affordable commodity now as the price paid is too costly. Silence is not always golden as Plato was famously quoted as saying “Silence gives consent”.
In what can be said to be the coming of light at the end of the tunnel, peace and normalcy seem to be returning quietly and slowly as more and more people get tired of the violence and realise the futility of violence. Hopefully it will get better and better. To quote the great Mahatma Gandhi, “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” Already too much destruction and loss in the past one year of violence. Few years down the line, even many of those who did not like the idea of peace would only regret that peace and normalcy had not happened sooner.
Unfortunately, different community-based organisations on both sides have called to observe May 3 (the day the Manipur violence broke out in 2023) in different ways that are antagonistic to each other’s community. Even as I acknowledge the rights of different people to commemorate the day in whatever way they want, if I were given a chance, I would like to propose May 3 to be observed as ‘Peace Day’ for all, including members of both parties or communities, to come together to collectively denounce war and violence and promote peace and understanding in larger interest, rather than different opposing groups observing the day in a manner that is detrimental to peace, reconciliation and positive solutions. Calls for justice is absolutely right, and in fact, justice must be sought, pursued and served, however the concept of justice should not become anti-peace or be an impediment to, or be at the cost of, peace or peace process.
If August 6, the day of the most horrific bombing of the Japanese city, Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945 during WW II can be observed by the Japanese as ‘Hiroshima Peace Day’ and ‘Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony’ is held every year to remember the victims of the atomic bombs and to promote world peace, then why not observe May 3 in a similar or the same way? It is truly heartening to learn of the wisdom and courage of the leadership of Thadou Students’ Association and Thadou thinkers in making a highly appreciable, noble public appeal on May 2, 2024 for the people of the state to observe May 3 as ‘Manipur Peace Day’ in remembrance of all victims of the violence and to denounce violence, to seek justice and non-violent solutions and to promote peace.
Martin Luther King, Jr, American Baptist Minister and the great civil rights activist and champion of non-violent resistance said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” King also said “It is not enough to say ‘We must not wage war.’ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but the positive affirmation of peace.”
Let peace be given a chance and it will happen. Manipur needs more nonviolent peacemakers with a firm commitment. Let us be a messenger of peace, love and reconciliation. As we stand in solidarity with the people of Manipur, I pay my respect to all those innocent people who lost their lives in this conflict, and I share the pain and grief endured by the affected individuals and families. Let there be justice served to all the victims. Let there be peace and reconciliation in Manipur once again.

Note:
* The term ‘Zo’ is used in this article to refer to all the Zo cognate tribes of Manipur as it is the most inclusive and acceptable term to all the non-Naga, Zo tribal communities of Manipur.
* The purpose of this peace-focused, evidence-based article, written in a factual, truth-telling, and non-political manner, is to shed some light on Manipur and the ongoing violence with an aim to contribute to bringing peace, justice, and long-lasting peaceful solutions.
* The views or opinions expressed in this article are that of the writer as an advocate for peace, justice, and non-violent solutions, and they do not represent the view or position of any other person, group, organisation, or community.
* This article was first written in August 2023 for presentation at the prayer vigil for peace in Manipur at St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, Australia on August 26, 2023 that was organised by the Victorian Council of Churches and participated by the writer and other members of the Melbourne Thadou Baptist Church, among hundreds of others. This was updated for publication in ‘Sinkhup’ – the souvenir booklet of Hun – Thadou Cultural Festival 2024 at New Delhi on April 7, 2024.
The writer is a Melbourne, Australia-based social worker from Manipur with experiences of working with mainstream and Indigenous Australians in various settings, and currently working within a family violence service under the Victorian State government. Born and bred in Imphal, the capital city of Manipur, the writer came to Australia in 2008 to study for a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree at Flinders University, Adelaide. After completing his studies in 2010 and working as a social worker in different parts of Australia for several years, including Adelaide & the APY Lands/Coober Pedy in South Australia, and the Pilbara (Port Hedland) & Perth in Western Australia, he now lives in Melbourne with his wife and three little children since 2020. They attend the Melbourne Thadou Baptist Church together with their fellow Thadou community members in Melbourne, Australia.
(The author can be contacted via email: [email protected].)

 

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