As violence-hit Manipur largely remained incident-free on May 9, a Rajya Sabha member from Mizoram wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that a ‘joint parliamentary team’ which includes Christian members of Parliament be constituted and sent to the affected areas to carry out an independent investigation.
Meanwhile, two civil society groups of Manipuri people, representing the State’s Meitei community, on Tuesday held a press conference in New Delhi, saying that the narrative around the violence that broke out in Manipur needed to be corrected from one that solely blamed Meitei people for it.
The authorities in four districts of Manipur relaxed curfew for four hours on Tuesday as personnel of the Army and Central paramilitary forces continued strict vigil in the sensitive and vulnerable areas. Sixty-five people were killed and around 35,000 were displaced. But mobile Internet services, suspended on May 3, would continue till May 13, officials said.
Citing an improved situation aided by the deployment of the armed forces, the authorities of Churachandpur, Imphal West, Jiribam, and Thoubal districts relaxed curfew for four hours to enable the people to procure essentials and medicines.
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) said on Tuesday more than 100 truckloads of essential commodities were safely brought inside Manipur by securing the National Highway 37. “Around 300 stranded civilians were also evacuated to safer places,” the CRPF said in a tweet. It added that security forces recovered eight weapons including carbine, self-loading rifles, machine guns and 275 rounds of ammunition from Pormpat, Imphal East. “@crpfindia alongwith sister agencies carrying out intensive operations for maintaining peace in Manipur,” the tweet said. The Central force said, ”Today, on receiving a distress call regarding activities of miscreants attempting to burn down houses of civilians in Gwaltabi under PS Yeinganpokpi, Imphal East, @crpfindia troops alongwith Police rushed to the spot & saved their houses from getting burnt.”
K. Vanlalvena, a Rajya Sabha member from the Mizo National Front (MNF), said that on May 3, the first day of the violence, angry mobs went on a rampage in Imphal area and houses, shops, vehicles belonging to the non-Meitei communities were set on fire. “In addition to these, it needs to be pointed out that not less than 42 churches were set on fire and amongst these, six churches belonging to the local Meitei Christian community were also not spared,” the letter stated. He said it was evident that the seemingly random act of violence perpetrated on that fateful day was not a spontaneous burst of outrage by one community against another but rather “a calculated and pre-meditated move on the part of the perpetrators to specifically target the Christian community, including the local Meitei Christian Community of Imphal.” He said there was a strong possibility of the recurrence of such violence.
Violence and arson broke out across parts of Manipur after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ on May 3 called by the All Tribal Students’ Union of Manipur to oppose the demand for inclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe category.
High Court order
Amid rising tensions between the State government and Kuki people over the former’s drive to clear forests of “encroachers”, a Manipur High Court order had directed the State government to recommend Meiteis’ inclusion in the ST list. This fuelled protests by existing STs, including by Kuki groups.
Now, as State and Union government security forces try to bring normalcy in the region, the People’s Alliance for Peace and Progress Manipur (PAPPM), a Manipur-based civil society group and the Delhi Manipuri Society (DMS), came together at the Press Club of India on Tuesday to “set the record straight”.
They insisted that the violence was started by Kuki militants who were part of the protest rally and that whatever happened after that was completely reactionary.
For immediate action, the PAPPM and the DMS have asked that peace be restored and those affected by the violence be taken care of and rehabilitated. However, in the aftermath of the violence, the demand for “verifying” the ancestry of Kukis in the State has only been emboldened.
Professor Bhagat Oinam, a teacher at the JNU and a member of the DMS, said the violence needed to be seen in the context of events that preceded it. Bobby Meetei of the PAPPM led a presentation, insisting that the violence that erupted on May 3, was rooted in the Kukis’ opposition to the government’s “war on drugs”.
Mr. Meetei said that even before the Manipur High Court order of March 27 on ST status for Meiteis, Kuki groups were opposing the government’s drive to clear forest land and poppy cultivation.
The groups alleged that militants had infiltrated the solidarity march of tribals on May 3, and began burning Meitei villages first. “If you see how it began, you can see it started with attacks on offices and posts of the forest departments. They burned forest land records. Why so if the protest was against demand for ST status?” Professor Oinam asked.
“We have seen Kuki villages grow innumerably in the last 20 years. New settlements have come up, forests have been cleared and poppy cultivation has begun. How are they growing in number so fast? It is because of Kukis from Myanmar coming in illegally and occupying land for poppy cultivation,” Mr. Meetei alleged, while showing satellite pictures of villages growing in forested areas.
‘War on drugs’
As a “way forward”, the groups strongly suggested that the “war on drugs” should continue with the support of the Union government, and that encroachers should be evicted from forests. It went on to suggest, “Identify all the foreigners who entered Manipur after 1949, identify the roots/ancestral origin of recruited high ranking Kuki officials,” before calling for the Union and State governments to abrogate the Suspension of Operations agreements signed with Kuki and Zomi militant outfits.
But professor Oinam maintained that they are not painting all Kuki people of Manipur with the same colour. “There are many Kuki people who have been living in Manipur for centuries and we are not saying all Kukis are illegal immigrants. But the illegal immigration is happening and something needs to be done to stop it,” he said.
Further, members of the PAPPM said the conflict in Manipur was currently chiefly between the Kukis and Meiteis. “There is anger of ST status demand as well. Naga tribes also protested this. But we did not see violence in any of the Hill Districts that they are staying in. Why so?” Professor Oinam questioned.
Meanwhile, the PAPPM and DMS said they are now trying to coordinate public messaging with Kuki groups in Manipur and are calling for an end to all kinds of violence. “Ministers of State government are ensuring dialogue between the two communities. Also, MPs in Delhi are organising discussions with Manipuris here to find a peaceful way ahead,” Mr. Meetei said.
(With inputs from Rahul Karmakar)