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Myanmar murders put spotlight on Manipur’s Tamil settlement

The victims — M. Iyarnar (in picture) and P. Mohan, who got married on June 9 — were killed on Tuesday.

The victims — M. Iyarnar (in picture) and P. Mohan, who got married on June 9 — were killed on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

GUWAHATI

The killing of two Indian men in Myanmar, said to be the outcome of a year-old military coup, has put the spotlight on the Tamils of Manipur, who settled in the border town of Moreh because of another coup six decades ago. 

The expansion of the British colony in the 19th century saw many Indians, the bulk of them from Tamil Nadu, migrate to Burma in search of greener pastures. The Tamils of Burma, renamed Myanmar in 1989, were primarily into farming and trade. 

The socio-economic condition of the Tamils, like most other settler communities, began declining after the British exited Burma in 1948. Life became tougher after General Ne Win overthrew the elected government of U Nu in 1962 and started the process of nationalising everything from shops to banks and factories. 

Many Tamils returned to Tamil Nadu while a few stayed back in Burma, mostly in the Yangon region. Some, unwilling to stay in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu, decided to go back to Burma via Manipur and not by the sea route. Burmese officials stopped them at the border town of Moreh. 

A few Tamils had settled down in Moreh during World War II in the 1940s, when thousands had trekked into India fearing a Japanese invasion of Burma.   

“Here we are, about 3,000 Manipuri Tamils living peacefully barring some phases of conflicts with local extremist groups,” a member of the Tamil Sangam Moreh said, declining to be quoted. The worst of these clashes was in 1992 when Kuki tribal extremist groups tried to impose heavy taxes on Tamil businesses. 

The Kuki community is the largest in Moreh, followed by the Meitei and Tamil communities. Moreh, which lies about 110 km from Manipur capital Imphal, is the most vibrant town in Tengnoupal district, with a population of almost 17,000 people. 

The Tamils of Moreh are primarily traders, their establishments in the vicinity of the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Gate through which people living along the border travel 16 km across either side of the border without visa restrictions. But the cross-border travel under the free movement agreement signed by the two countries has been restricted since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, followed by the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021. 

People in Moreh or visitors to the town usually travel to Tamu, a town in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division about 7 km from the international border. 

Fatal birthday party 

P. Mohan, 27, was from the Gamnom Veng locality in Moreh’s Ward No 2, and M. Iyarnar, 28, was from Phaicham Veng in Ward No. 4. Both were auto-rickshaw operators. 

Members of their families said they had gone to Tamu to celebrate the birthday of a common friend on Tuesday morning. Some Tamu locals later informed acquaintances in Moreh that the bodies of the two were found with bullet wounds near a school in the Myanmar town’s Ward No. 10. 

They were reportedly thrashed and then shot by members of the Pyu Shaw Htee, a pro-junta militia fighting the resistance force of Myanmar civilians. Some said the duo was shot by motorcycle-borne assailants around 10.30 a.m. 

The news of the killing stoked anger in Moreh, which shut down on Wednesday. An irate mob stepped across the border, burnt down an abandoned outpost of Myanmar security forces, and pelted stones on the houses of a few Myanmar locals near the “no man’s land”.

“Local leaders from both sides intervened to quieten tempers after the Myanmar residents retaliated with stones. We later carried out a protest rally, demanding the return of the bodies of our men,” a local Tamil leader said. 

“The members of the bereaved families are waiting for the bodies to perform the last rites. Mohan, one of the two slain men, had married less than a month ago,” V. Shekhar of the Tamil Sangam Moreh said. 

Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh, who holds the Home portfolio, said his government was trying its best to get the bodies of the two Tamil men belonging to a community that has been living in the State for generations. He also said the Tengnoupal district authority has been asked to take the matter to its Myanmar counterpart. 

Civil society leaders in Moreh said a letter from the Indian authorities has been handed over “unofficially” to some locals with the hope that they would relay it to “those who matter” in the Tamu area. 

“No one knows who is ruling Myanmar or the areas close to the border now as that country does not have any legitimate government. We are not sure if those heading the administration in Tamu will get the letter or whether they will respond,” a person close to one of the slain men said. 

Some locals had reportedly taken the two bullet-riddled men to a hospital, which hardly had any staff. Many have fled Tamu and adjoining villages since fierce clashes occur between the military and its militias and the local unit of the People’s Defence Force allied to the anti-junta National Unity Government, which calls itself the government-in-exile in Myanmar. 

On Wednesday, leaders of all ethnic groups in Moreh submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister through district officials seeking the return of the bodies and the payment of an ex-gratia to the bereaved families. 

(With inputs from Iboyaima Laithangbam) 


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Printable version | Aug 25, 2022 4:32:52 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/myanmar-murders-put-spotlight-on-manipurs-tamil-settlement/article65613045.ece