Amid the ongoing ethnic conflict in Manipur, hundreds of people from Meitei organisations in Delhi held a demonstration on Sunday stressing that youth belonging to their community in the State should not be disarmed until and unless the government cancelled the Suspension of Operations (SoO) pact signed with Kuki insurgent groups in 2008.
Pressing on with the demand to cancel the SoO pact, a tripartite agreement between the State government, the Centre and the insurgent groups (out of which the State government withdrew earlier this year), the Meitei groups also demanded that the process for drawing up the National Register of Citizens (NRC) had become imperative now more than ever.
This comes even as security forces in Manipur struggle to get back the thousands of weapons looted from police armouries in the Imphal Valley area in the ongoing ethnic conflict between the dominant Meiteis and Scheduled Tribe Kuki-Zomi people
In Sunday’s protest, the Meitei groups had gathered under the banner of the Manipur Coordination Committee (Delhi), which included several CSOs like Meitei Heritage Organisation and some student associations as well. The rally saw several families and students dressed in white, raising slogans of “Long Live Manipur”, and condemning the violence, asking for restoration of peace in their home State.
“Many people are homeless, the terror keeps us all sleepless. I don’t know who is right or wrong, but we can’t give away our arms as we want to live,” said Mani Yumnan, a 24-year-old Meitei student studying in Dehradun, who had come to the Capital for the protest.
“We wanted to come together in solidarity and raise our demands; the arms won’t be used to harm common innocent people, but sadly, we need them for protection, houses are still being burnt. A civil war is occurring, however, the government is not looking into such substantial problems and is concise about the reservation issue,” said Professor Bhagat Oinam, who teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University and is also associated with the Delhi Manipuri Society.
In the ethnic clashes between the dominant Meitei people (mostly residing in the Imphal valley area) and the ST Kuki-Zomi people that began on May 3, more than hundred have been killed and scores of others have been injured, with over 35,000 people internally displaced.
The immediate trigger for the violence was a Manipur High Court order asking the State government to recommend the inclusion of Meiteis in the ST list. This led to protests from Naga and Kuki-Zomi groups. After one such protest march on May 3, the violence began, with Kuki-Zomi people saying it was started by radical Meitei groups and the Meitei community saying it was the Kuki-Zomi people who started it.
Since the violence has began, the Kuki-Zomi people have maintained that a separate administration for their people in the hill areas is the only solution to this conflict. They have said that they no longer trust the State government run by Chief Minister N. Biren Singh and that they want President’s Rule to be imposed in the State.
On the other hand, Meitei leaders in the State and outside have maintained that the violence was allegedly being perpetrated by Kuki militant groups, who, they claim, are being brought in from Myanmar illegally. They have also alleged that the violence was being orchestrated by “poppy cultivating drug lords”, who were against the State government’s policies to clear forest land.
Call for peace
In addition to calling for the NRC to be conducted as soon as possible to identify all foreigners who entered Manipur illegally after 1951, the Meitei groups on Sunday demanded for immediate peace, protection of all religious places (Hindu, Sanamahi, and Christian), and “constitutional protection” for all Meitei people in the State.
The groups also called for an end to poppy cultivation, “narco terrorism”, and illegal immigration into the State.
N. Shah Suradashan Singh, another student present at the rally on Sunday, said, “We want peace; we are not here to seek the rights of any particular tribe; there are victims in both communities. I am worried about the development of my State and the people.”