How Manipur Became a Warzone: A History of Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Northeast India

How Manipur Became a Warzone: A History of Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Northeast India

Land of Manipur is not less than warzone

Manipur, a state in northeastern India, has been witnessing violent clashes between different ethnic groups over the issue of granting Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the majority Meitei community. The state government has issued a “shoot at sight” order in “extreme cases” to contain the unrest, which has displaced over 9,000 people from their villages. Mobile internet services have been suspended and curfew has been imposed in at least eight districts.

What is the root cause of the conflict?

The conflict stems from a long-standing demand by some Meitei organisations for ST status, which they claim will protect them from “large-scale illegal immigration” from Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Meiteis, who dominate the Imphal Valley, account for 53 percent of the state’s population, while the tribals constitute about 40 percent. The tribals, mainly Nagas and Kukis, oppose the ST demand, fearing that it will erode their rights and privileges in the 10 hill districts of the state.

How did the violence escalate?

The violence erupted on Wednesday, May 3, when the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) organised a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ to protest against the ST demand by the Meiteis. The march was met with resistance by some Meitei groups, leading to clashes and arson in several areas of the state. The situation worsened overnight as counter-attacks were mounted by rival communities in retaliation to earlier attacks. The Army and paramilitary forces had to be deployed to contain the rioting and restore law and order.

What is the government doing to resolve the crisis?

The Manipur High Court had asked the state government last month to send a recommendation to the Centre within four weeks on the ST demand by the Meitei community. However, the state government has not taken any decision on the matter yet. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has spoken to Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh and taken stock of the situation in the state. He has also spoken to the chief ministers of Manipur's neighbouring states – Assam, Nagaland and Mizoram – in view of the situation in the violence-hit state. The Congress has hit out at the ruling BJP over the situation in Manipur, with Rahul Gandhi saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should focus on restoring peace in the state.

What is the way forward?

The violence in Manipur has exposed the deep-rooted ethnic divisions and mistrust among different communities in the state. The ST demand by the Meiteis has also raised questions about their identity and aspirations in a region where tribal autonomy and self-determination are key issues. The government needs to initiate a dialogue with all stakeholders and address their grievances and demands in a fair and transparent manner. The civil society and media also have a role to play in promoting peace and harmony among different groups and preventing misinformation and rumours from spreading. The people of Manipur deserve to live in a peaceful and prosperous state, where their rights and dignity are respected.
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