The Manipur Government on August 7 ordered the replacement of Assam Rifles from one of the several check posts on the Churachandpur-Bishnupur boundary, an area that has seen frequent clashes and violence between the Kuki and Meitei communities, the latest one on August 5 when five persons were killed.
Bishnupur district, dominated by people of the Meitei community, borders Churachandpur district to the south, which is dominated by the Kuki-Zomi people.
This is the same area that saw tensions escalate between personnel of the State police and Central forces days ago as well; even as Meitei groups accuse Central forces of siding with Kuki-Zomi people and the Kuki-Zomi people resist the presence of State police, citing equally deep mistrust.
After the violence on August 5, BJP legislator Rajkumar Imo Singh, Chief Minister N. Biren Singh’s son-in-law, also questioned the role of Central security forces. “How on earth did the militants come to the valley locality and kill innocent people who were sleeping? What is the role of the security forces? Urge MHA to remove/replace the Units on duty and take action against the officers on duty,” he had posted on X (formerly known as Twitter).
The order issued by the Manipur police department on August 7 said that the checkpoint along the road from Bishnupur to Kangvai, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Moirang police station, would now be manned by the Civil Police and the 128th Battalion of the CRPF instead of the 9th AR. Assam Rifles is the oldest paramilitary force in the country.
Even as the Kuki-Zomi people have been blocking attempts to send a fresh company of the State police to Moreh in Tengnoupal for over a week now, a video has started to go viral on social media, showing a group of Meitei women checking ID cards of army personnel.
The video in question was from July 17, when a convoy was trying to move towards Churachandpur. The women had stopped the forces at multiple points and at one of these checkpoints, the ID was checked because a rumour had been floated that the convoy was carrying Kuki women, defence services sources told The Hindu, adding that the rumour-mongering appeared organised and that there were other instances of the same as well.
Amid this growing mistrust, they said that it was becoming increasingly difficult for personnel on the ground to deal with Meira Paibis, who have now “started to contradict themselves”.
They added that on August 3, when tensions were building again along the Churachandpur-Bishnupur border, some forces were being moved out from relatively incident-free areas. While there are already photos of Kuki-Zomi women pleading with the forces to stay back at the time, the sources added that even Meitei women’s groups had done the same that day in Wangoo Sabal, a village in Bishnupur district, requesting the forces to stay back to protect them.
“On the one hand, they say they do not need Central forces in their areas. On the other, there are such instances where they say they need them to stay back,” one source said.
Meanwhile, there is no sign of the stand-off at Tengnoupal resolving any time soon. Around 300-400 women from the Kuki-Zo community continue their sit-in blockade along National Highway-102, with the Manipur Rifles/IRB company stationed at the 20th AR camp in the district — awaiting orders from the Manipur government on next steps.
Thangboi Lhungdim of the Kuki Students’ Organisation told The Hindu, “We are fed up of talking to them. Every time they say they have no orders to move out of the area.” The protesters have been surviving on donated ration with some of the materials also coming from the office of Tengnoupal MLA Letpao Haokip, who is with the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mr. Lhungdim said.
The protest in Tengnoupal was triggered when the company of MR/IRB was being sent to Moreh as reinforcements, a day after the bordertown had seen a fresh spate of arson on empty Meitei homes and brief gunfire.