Ethnic quagmire: On the Manipur violence

Violence in Manipur could have been avoided had the government stayed above the fray

Updated - May 06, 2023 01:13 pm IST

Published - May 06, 2023 12:20 am IST

The concept of “unity in diversity” is not an abstract one. In a multi-ethnic national or provincial setting, the accommodation of differences in a way that bestows socio-cultural recognition of identities while striving for constitutional unity and equality through governance is a must for progress. The conditions for a conflict arise when identities tighten up and become exclusivist, leading to grievances over perceived neglect of one group. But good governance that focuses on accommodation and dialogue helps stem the possibilities of a deterioration of such conditions into violence. The spurt of violence in Manipur that led to mass displacement, the loss of lives, vandalisation of houses, churches, temples besides arson across five districts, might have been a consequence of a long-standing hill-valley identity divide in the State, but it was also avoidable. The trigger was a rally called by the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur, on Wednesday, protesting the move to concede a demand for ST status, following a High Court order, to the Meiteis, the majority group. The tribal groups are opposed to this demand which is not uniformly endorsed by all sections of the Meiteis. While the grievance that according ST status would eat into the reservation pie for the hill tribal communities seems to be somewhat valid, their raging concern that this will compromise traditional land ownership is not entirely born out of reason and has been used by tribal leaders to whip up hysteric anti-valley sentiments. The conflagration was also the consequence of brewing discontent against what tribal groups perceived as the State government’s biased actions.

If the State’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government had acted with alacrity and removed the perception that it was biased towards one dominant section, this situation would not have come to pass. In its over-zealousness in a “war against drugs”, the government had indulged in eviction drives which included one that had affected a Kuki village in March and had prompted some of the BJP’s tribal MLAs to raise this issue of a perceived bias in governance and seek a change in the party’s State leadership. Evictions ostensibly done for forest protection and in the name of removing “outsiders” tend to cause passions to rile up among people dependent upon the hills for a livelihood; doing so without recourse to resettlement and compensation only heightens a sense of injustice among those affected. With the Union government taking charge of security, a tamping down of the violence should follow, but for the grievances to melt down, the faltering State government must convene an all-party mechanism to reach out to the people across ethnic divides.

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