Muslim Meitei Pangals fear they will be ‘pulled’ into Manipur conflict

The Muslim grouping says it will not support any bifurcation of Manipur and expresses anguish that the “powerful mechanisms of the Union government and its agencies” have not been able to bring peace to the State

August 18, 2023 08:33 pm | Updated 11:39 pm IST - New Delhi

Members of the United Meitei-Pangal Committee address a press conference in New Delhi on August 18, 2023. Photo: Special Arrangement

Members of the United Meitei-Pangal Committee address a press conference in New Delhi on August 18, 2023. Photo: Special Arrangement

The United Meitei-Pangal Committee of Manipur on August 18 said its best efforts to broker peace between the Kuki-Zo and Meitei communities were not yielding any results and urged the President, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the National Commission for Minorities to urgently intervene and bring peace. 

The ethnic conflict that broke out on May 3 has continued for over 100 days now. More than 150 have been killed in the violence, hundreds more injured, and tens of thousands of people internally displaced. 

Over the last three months as the divide between the Kuki-Zo and Meitei communities became entrenched, Meitei Pangals (the small percentage of Meiteis who practise Islam) have remained a neutral community, largely living in areas between Meitei and Kuki-Zo settlements. For the longest time, they have been given safe passage by both communities. 

However, on Friday, while speaking to reporters in Delhi, leaders of the UMPC said that with the violence continuing, they find themselves in a tight spot and were “afraid that we will be pulled into the conflict”. 

Not for bifurcation

The UMPC insisted that “there can be no compromise on the integrity of the State of Manipur”, clarifying that it does not support any bifurcation of the State in a bid to solve the current crisis. “Any attempt for a separate administration will put us, as minorities, in a tough spot because we have been living peacefully with members of both communities for centuries,” one UMPC leader told The Hindu. Another said the increasingly communal politics in the State would pose another problem.

The UMPC has also highlighted its concerns on communal politics in its August 17 memorandum to the President, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the National Commission for Minorities.

The leaders said that the Manipur government allegedly “allowed” the situation to flare up and the Centre has since “turned a blind eye”. In a press statement, the UMPC said it was shocked and anguished that the “powerful mechanisms of the Central government and its agencies” had not yet been able to bring peace in the State. “Time has come to intervene in the matter urgently to reinstate peace, integrity and tranquillity in the region,” it added in the statement. 

Another adviser to the UMPC said the Meitei-Pangals had started feeling the impact of the conflict. “A lot of the Meitei-Pangals in Manipur live in the Thoubal region and also along the boundary of Churachandpur (Kuki-Zo-dominated) and Bishnupur (Meitei-dominated) districts.” They added that naturally, both communities looked to the Meitei-Pangals for help with supplies and essential items. “Besides, we also have some of our people still living in Churachandpur and we want to help them as well. However, every time any one of us tried to reach Churachandpur with supplies, we have been stopped and all supplies damaged by mobs of one community.”

In early August, Meitei-Pangals living in the Kwakta area (a buffer zone) were caught in the crossfire, after violence flared up again in the wake of the killing of three Meitei men in Bishnupur district. This had led to exchange of fire on the buffer zone, which killed two Kuki-Zo village guards as well. 

So far, the UMPC said, 13 of their community members in Manipur had been injured in the ongoing conflict, one of them a minor boy who is partially paralysed and admitted to a Delhi hospital currently. 

Leaders of the UMPC, who are in New Delhi for three days now, have sought appointments with senior members of the Central government. Before arriving in Delhi, the leaders had also met with Manipur Governor Ausuiya Uikey in Imphal.

“We are continuing our efforts to provide a healing touch but we need the Centre to intervene urgently,” UMPC spokesperson Mohammad Raees Ahamed said, adding that accountability has to be fixed for the failures of both the Union and the State government.

The UMPC was formed on July 8 as a coalition of Meitei-Pangal civil society organisations and leaders in Manipur, which include some elected officials like Zilla Parishad leaders.

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