In Imphal, tribals stuck at Manipur Rifles camps looking to get out 

Many complained of a lack of proper facilities and fear of being at the mercy of State police

May 08, 2023 09:01 pm | Updated May 09, 2023 09:23 am IST - New Delhi

People are evacuated by the army to a temporary shelter as they flee ethnic violence that has hit Manipur, near Imphal on May 7, 2023.

People are evacuated by the army to a temporary shelter as they flee ethnic violence that has hit Manipur, near Imphal on May 7, 2023. | Photo Credit: AFP

Even as residents in Imphal said the first batch of tribals stranded in the Valley had been sent back to Churachandpur and Kangpokpi, many more tribals, mostly Kukis, stranded in camps run by the Manipur government are desperately trying to move into the camps run by the Centre — either Army camps or those run by the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF).

In the violence that began on May 3 between the Kuki community and the Meiteis over the demand for Scheduled Tribe status for the dominant Meitei community, several tribals (mostly Kukis) were stranded in the Imphal area whereas several Meitei people found themselves stranded in Churachandpur and the Hill districts. 

While security forces are trying to facilitate the rehabilitation of those stranded in Imphal and Churachandpur, several tribals who have lost their homes and belongings in the mob violence are finding shelter in community halls and wherever else they can. 

In Imphal, at least two of the security forces’ relief camps are on the Manipur Rifles (MR) compounds — which is under the protection of the State government. In addition to this, there are camps set up by the Army and the Central forces. 

Breakdown of trust

However, tribals who are being housed at the MR camps told The Hindu that they are trying their best to relocate to either Army-run or Centre-run camps — one, because they believe Army-run facilities will be better managed and two, because there is a complete breakdown of trust towards State government forces. 

“On Sunday night, a group of about 100 Kuki people were trying to get out of the MR 1st Battalion camp but the security personnel stopped them,” said Golan Naulak, an Imphal resident, who had to flee to the camp. 

Another resident, a researcher at a government institute, said, “When we first arrived at the MR camp three days ago, it was absolute chaos. There was no food, no proper drinking water, and the authorities were also caught by surprise,” adding that things have gotten only marginally better in the following days. 

“But we are constantly hearing about our colleagues and friends in the other MR camp complaining about poor management and lack of facilities,” he added, saying that locals trust the Army to better run such facilities. 

However, residents said the other fear tribals in the area have is of being at the mercy of State law enforcement officials. “Whether it is real or perceived, there is a lot of fear among those in the camps. There have been a lot of allegations of police complicity in the violence so far and that is a real concern for a lot of people,” the 45-year-old researcher said, adding that the MR 1 camp now has about 400-500 people.

But even as more of the people housed at the MR camps try to leave, those stranded there said the authorities are slowly rehabilitating them to their home towns in their respective districts. 

A few batches of the tribals have been sent back to Churachandpur and Kangpokpi on Monday morning and an activist coordinating the evacuation said, “We can only expect that as a good faith gesture, Meitei people will also be sent back to Imphal”. 

Manipur government officials did not respond to The Hindu’s questions about allaying fears of tribals being housed at their facilities. 

While Mr. Naulak said things are starting to look hopeful, other residents rued the fact that the situation had come to a point where “it is almost as if we are talking about some kind of a prisoner exchange”. 

CM’s tweet

Late on Monday night, Chief Minister N. Biren Singh tweeted that more than 20,000 people stranded in relief camps had been moved to safety and that 10,000 more would be transported to safety as soon as possible.

He added, “All those stranded at different locations are being provided best possible care and support.”

Mr. Singh said that Ministers Y. Khemchand, K. Govindas and Awangbow Newmai were in-charge of overseeing the transportation of stranded persons.

He also said that Superintendents of Police had been directed to ensure fool-proof security at vulnerable areas and protect land and property. Immediate action is to be taken against any attempt to loot or “occupy such land and property.”

The Chief Minister said the State government would be providing an ex gratia of ₹5 lakh to the families of the deceased, ₹2 lakh for grievous injuries, and ₹25,000 for non-grievous injuries, and up to ₹2 lakh as relief for families whose houses have been burnt, after assessment by the authorities. He said assistance would also be provided for rebuilding homes lost to the mobs.

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