Set up SIT to probe atrocities on tribals by Meitei community, Manipur Tribal Forum urges SC  

Tensions over the issue of granting Scheduled Tribe status to the Meitei community have escalated to violence since May 3

May 06, 2023 11:00 pm | Updated May 07, 2023 07:57 am IST - New Delhi

Army and Assam Rifles personnel conduct a flag march in an area following violence that broke out during the ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ called by the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) in the Torbung area of Churachandpur to protest the demand of Meiteis, who dominate the Imphal Valley, for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, on Friday.

Army and Assam Rifles personnel conduct a flag march in an area following violence that broke out during the ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ called by the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) in the Torbung area of Churachandpur to protest the demand of Meiteis, who dominate the Imphal Valley, for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, on Friday. | Photo Credit: ANI

Amid the ongoing violence in Manipur, a writ petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the atrocities committed on the tribals allegedly by members of the dominant Meitei community. 

Tensions over the issue of granting Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the Meitei community have escalated to violence since May 3, after a Tribal Solidarity March opposing the inclusion of Meitei was being held all over the State. In the violence since then, tribals have reported attacks by the Meitei groups and vice versa. 

The issue was reignited when the Manipur High Court on March 27 directed the State government to submit a recommendation to the Centre, asking it to consider the inclusion within four weeks. 

The petition filed before the Supreme Court on Saturday by the Manipur Tribal Forum (MTF) in Delhi submitted that since May 3, approximately 40 churches had been razed, homes, vehicles, and even hospitals had been burnt, and that 58 tribal villages and neighbourhoods had been raided by mobs of the dominant community. 

The plea claimed that around 30 tribals were killed and 132 were injured in the attacks, which, it alleged, was coordinated by members of the Meitei community. It added that thousands of tribal people were living in makeshift camps set up by security forces in Imphal and that many were also stuck at private properties, uncertain about their future. 

Protection sought

As emergency relief, the petition sought that all tribals from the Hill District who are currently in Imphal or in the Valley region should be relocated to their homes in their respective districts under the escort of the Central forces and that all tribal settlements at risk of attacks should be adequately protected. It claimed that the situation in the security forces camps was dire, many were without food and could not use the facilities. The plea added that scores of residents from about 15 villages who had fled attacks into the forests also needed to be evacuated to safety. 

Also Read | Christian groups, alarmed by church attacks in Manipur, urge Centre to start talks

In addition, the petitioner sought that FIRs be registered in the case of each of the deaths they had listed, further asking that these cases be investigated and prosecuted by a SIT, headed by Harekrishna Deka, former DGP of Assam, and monitored by former Chief Justice Tinlianthang Vaiphei, retired chairman of the Meghalaya State Human Rights Commission, who is originally from Manipur.

Moreover, the Manipur Tribal Forum sought that the State government be directed to reconstruct the around 40 churches vandalised by mobs and protect all such religious institutions at risk of destruction in mob violence. 

While the petitioners stressed that their assessment of the damages showed that tribal people from Kuki communities were facing the brunt of the violence, they added that some churches belonging to the Meitei community had also been vandalised. 

Residents belonging to the Meitei community in Manipur have told The Hindu that many of their people had faced violence in areas like Moreh and Churachandpur and are stranded in the Hill Districts as well. 

The MTF submitted that it was in possession of videos and photos showing mobs burning down churches and raiding villages, adding that there is also a chance of a large number of hate speeches being spread online. 

It added that “house to house” searches were being conducted in several areas by mobs looking for tribal people, further expressing concern that the conflict could spread beyond Manipur. 

The petition said the conflict had already spilled over to Delhi, where two tribals were allegedly attacked in Vijay Nagar and Kuki community members were allegedly under attack; and in Meghalaya, where the Chief Minister has made a statement on the same. 

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