Unveiling the Unrest: Understanding the Manipur Violence Crisis
Manipur Civil Violence 2023- An Overview
May 3rd, 2023, saw a series of communal clashes erupting in the state of Manipur following a tribal solidarity march organized to protest the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
At least 70 people were killed in the clashes. The following week encountered a major shift of location for the locals of the violence-hit Manipur. Around 6520 people were moved to Mizoram, while about 1400 sought shelter in Assam. Residents belonging mainly to the Chin, Kuki, and Mizo communities, have been lodged at temporary relief camps across six districts in the state.
“The violence elevated after the All-Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) organized a “tribal solidarity rally” against the alleged move to include the Meiteis in the ST list.”
Aspects of Manipur: Geographical, Historical, and Demographic
Manipur, a North-eastern state in India, with Imphal as its capital connects the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia to Southeast Asia, East Asia, Siberia, regions in the Arctic, Micronesia, and Polynesia enabling migration of people, cultures, and religions.
Geographically bounded by Nagaland from the north, Mizoram from the south, and Assam from the west, it also shares borders with Myanmar. The state covers an area of about 22,327 km2. The official and most widely spoken language is the Meitei language (officially known as the Manipuri language).
After independence, the Manipur State Constitution Act of 1947 established a democratic form of government, with the Maharaja continuing as the head of state. in October 1949 Manipur became part of India. It was made a Union Territory in 1956 and a fully-fledged State in 1972 by the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act of 1971.
According to the 2021 census, the projected population of Manipur is about 35.08 lakhs. Of this, around 57% live in the valley districts, while the rest 43% are settled in the hill districts.
Ethnic Composition of Manipur
As coined by Dr. Pukhrambam Lalitkumar Singh, Manipur is a ‘Flower on the lofty heights,’ comprising a diversified ethnicity of people.
The Meiteis contribute to the major population in the state, residing mainly in the valley region. They account for about 64% of the state’s number, capitulating around 40 MLAs for the state.
The rest 36% of the population comprises the Nagas, the Kukis, and some smaller tribal- groups, inhabiting the hills.
The Meiteis are further classified as majorly Hindus, then Muslims, followed by some Christian Nagas and Kukis.
History of Civil Violence in Manipur
Manipur has had a long history of insurgency and inter-ethnic violence.
Since the days of the monarchy, there has been ethnic enmity between the Meiteis and the hill people (Naga & Kuki).
- Insurgency between the Meiteis and the Kuki-Zomi sparked the Naga independence movement in the 1950s.
- The first armed opposition group in Manipur, the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), founded in 1964, declared that it wanted independence from India and the creation of Manipur as a new country.
- To demand a state in India called “Kukiland”, the Kuki-Zomi factions militarized in the 1990s.
- In 1993, the Hindu Meiteis came to blows with the Pangalas, leading to a terrible massacre and eviction of thousands from their homes.
Over time, many more groups formed in Manipur, each with different goals and drawing support from various ethnic groups in Manipur.
What Drove the Recent (May-2023) Unrest?
The clash started in the Churachandpur district during the “Tribal Solidarity March“. The protest was organized by the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) to oppose the granting of reservations to the majority Meitei community.
- In 2020, when the Center began the first delimitation process in the state since 1973, the Meitei community claimed that the census data used in the exercise did not accurately reflect the population breakdown. Tribal groups (Kuki and Nagas), on the other hand, claimed that they have grown to 40% of the state’s population and are under-represented in the assembly.
- A coup in Myanmar in February 2021 led to a refugee crisis in northeast India. Meitei leaders claim that there has been a sudden increase in villages in the Churachandpur district.
- Some tribal groups with vested interests are trying to suppress the government’s anti-drug crusade which was started by destroying the poppy fields.
- In February 2023, the BJP state government started evictions in Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, and Tengnoupal districts and declared the forest dwellers encroachers, which were considered anti-tribals.
- In March 2023, five people were injured in a violent clash at Thomas Ground in Kangpokpi District, where protesters had gathered to hold a rally against “encroachment on tribal land in the name of reserved forests, protected forests, and nature reserves”.
- Followed by the withdrawal of the Manipur Cabinet from the Suspension of the Operation ceasefire agreement with the Kuki National Army and the Zomi Revolutionary Army.
- In April, three churches were razed to the ground as “illegal structures” on government land, in Imphal.
- On 20 April 2023, a judge of the Manipur High Court ordered the state government to “consider the application of the Meitei community for inclusion in the list of Scheduled Tribes (STs)”.
- The Kukis fear that ST status would allow the Meiteis to buy land in the restricted hilly areas.
“Disputes over land and illegal immigration were the primary root of the tension that existed for decades.”
“According to conflict analyst Jaideep Saikia, the rapid Christianization of Manipur’s tribal population has contributed to the socio-cultural divide between the two groups in the state.”
Why are the other tribal groups against granting ‘ST status’ to Meiteis?
- The Meiteis, who are largely Hindu and makeup 64% of the population, are barred from settling in the hilly areas of the state.
- The tribal population, consisting of the Kukis and Nagas, who form about 36% of the state’s population, reside in the reserved and protected hilly areas comprising the state’s 90% land.
- The Manipur Land Reforms Act, limits the Meiteis to reside in the Imphal Valley, which is 10% state land, while, the tribal population is not prohibited from settling in the valley.
- The Meiteis suspect that there has been a huge increase in the tribal population in the state which “cannot be explained by natural birth”. They requested the application of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state to identify illegal immigrants from Myanmar.
- The Kuki tribe believes that illegal immigration is a pretext for the Meitei population to drive the tribal population out of their lands.
- While the Kukis dominate land ownership, the Meiteis dominate political power in the Manipur legislature.
- Out of 60 seats, 19 seats are reserved for STs i.e., Naga or Kukis while 40 are unreserved general constituencies out of which 39 seats were won by Meitei candidates in the last elections.
Reactions and Political View Point!
- Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh said the riots were sparked by a “prevailing misunderstanding between the two communities” and called for normalcy to be restored.
- Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor called for President’s rule and accused the BJP-led government of failing to run the state,
- Peter Machado, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Bangalore, expressed concern that the Christian community felt insecure, adding that “seventeen churches are either vandalized, desecrated or defiled.”
- Olympic medalist Mary Kom, a native of Manipur, tweeted a plea for help for her home state.
- Union home minister Amit Shah canceled his campaign programs for the Karnataka elections and held meetings with Biren Singh, who was monitoring the situation in Manipur.
- BJP MLA, Dinganglung Gangmei, petitioned the Supreme Court of India against the Supreme Court’s recommendation to the state government to add the Meitei people to the ST list.
On 12 May, all 10 Kuki MLAs, including eight from the Bharatiya Janata Party, issued a statement demanding the creation of a separate body to govern their community under the Constitution of India in the wake of violent ethnic clashes. They alleged that the violence was “tacitly encouraged” by the BJP-led state government and that living under a Meitei majority rule after the violence would be “like death” for their community.
- To improve the human rights record in the region, the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 must be repealed.
- To prevent the security forces from abusing their powers, the government should ensure that the judicial system is fair and open.
- The criteria for providing ST status for Meiteis should be thoroughly examined based on several committee reports like the Lokur Committee (1965), and the Bhuria Commission (2004) etc.
- Better surveillance along the border areas to prevent the incursion of migrants from Myanmar is needed along with the strengthening of economic and diplomatic ties with neighboring countries can help enhance regional stability and security.
- There is a growing need to preserve the identity of people along border areas to identify local residences.
- Peace agreements with local rebel groups should be signed to maintain peace in the region.
Disclaimer: the above article is based on the following sources of information: The Hindustan Times and Wikipedia.