South Manipur cut off as women-led vigilante groups block arterial roads

The blocking of key roads at multiple locations has become a new challenge for the security forces; the lack of adequate numbers of women contingents also posing a problem in handling the situation; MLAs from State reach Delhi to meet PM

June 15, 2023 10:07 pm | Updated June 16, 2023 08:44 am IST - New Delhi/ Imphal

View of damaged official residence of the Manipur Minister Nemcha Kipgen after it was set on fire by unidentified people at Lamphel area in Imphal West district on June 15, 2023.

View of damaged official residence of the Manipur Minister Nemcha Kipgen after it was set on fire by unidentified people at Lamphel area in Imphal West district on June 15, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

Women-led vigilante groups have blocked at least six arterial roads in Manipur, rendering the southern part of the State inaccessible to security forces for the past fortnight.  The blocking of key roads at multiple locations — from the valley to the hill districts in the south — has become a new challenge for the security forces in violence-hit Manipur, a defence source said on Thursday.

The lack of adequate numbers of women contingents of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) or the paramilitary in aiding the security forces to handle women protestors is leading to delays in conducting operations and sending reinforcements to affected areas, the source said. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has sent women contingents to Manipur, an official said. 

There are at least six arterial roads that have been blocked completely. They are Bishnupur-Churachandpur; Thoubal-Nangjing; Thoubal-Yairipok; Yairipok-Chandrakong; Kakching-Lamkai, and Uripok-Iroisemba.

Also read: Data | Kuki-Meitei ethnic violence: The sharp hill-valley divide that is Manipur’s burden

“There is a pattern to these blockades. Whenever a village or a property is to be targetted, around 200-300 women block the road. A mob that follows them then carries out the violence. Even if the affected villagers make distress calls, the forces are unable to reach,” the source said.

The source said that on June 12 and 13, when Kuki villages were being burnt by a Meitei mob in Kangpokpi, women protestors blocked the movement of the Army contingent from Imphal to the affected areas. Army personnel marched on foot to reach the affected areas in Kangpokpi district.

The source said two types of blockades were being witnessed — one emanating from the hills to obstruct essential supplies coming into the State, and the other in the valley to stop the security forces from carrying out combing operations. While the National Highway 2 that passes through the hill districts was blocked by Kuki groups, security forces ensured the supply of essential items from National Highway 37, the other axis. In the past one week, around 4,000 trucks carrying essential supplies reached the valley via NH 37. Manipur does not have railway connectivity.

“To comb the foothills and the buffer zones, long patrols of up to 96 hours, are being sent since Wednesday,” the source said. Buffer zones refer to the areas lying between the Kuki dominated hill districts and the Meitei dominated districts in the valley. Another police official said that only Central forces were being deployed in the buffer zones, and since the area is huge, it would take some time for the deployment to be completed.

“We have taken up the cudgels to protect ourselves since the situation is clearly out of control,” M. Keinahanbi, a woman activist from Imphal, said.

Women leaders in Imphal have decided that at least one woman from each household should step out to take part in the patrolling and checking of the vehicles of the security forces. Failure to do so will invite a fine of ₹2,000 and families that persistently decline to cooperate are to be socially boycotted. “What we are doing is for the people and it should be clear,” Ibechaobi, another activist, said.

Meanwhile Manipur legislators are rushing to Delhi to urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take stringent steps to stop the ethnic violence in the State, which has claimed more than 100 lives since May 3.

Also read | ST status for Meiteis: State again seeks time from Manipur High Court

Both ruling and opposition MLAs had already reached Delhi. “Representatives of ten non-BJP parties are coming for submitting a memorandum to Mr. Modi and others. Some BJP MLAs who have been Ministers have started arriving at Delhi. Cutting across party lines, we will demand a solution,” K. Meghachandra, Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee president, who is in Delhi said.

“In the past, the BJP’s national leaders used to rush to Manipur. But they are conspicuous by their absence from the burning State. The four day visit of Union Home Minister Amit Shah to Manipur in the wake of the blood curdling violence has not impacted the burgeoning communal flare-up. There were killings and other forms of violence before, during and after the visit,” Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader and former Chief Minister Okram Ibobi said.

The Manipur unit of the Communist Party of India is demanding fresh formation of the Peace Committee that was announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs on June 10.

The State government has further extended the summer vacation of government schools and suspension of Internet services. Students staying in relief camps will be admitted to the schools nearest to the camps. No transfer certificates and admission fees will be sought from them.

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