Ethnic violence in Manipur spirals over the Meitei community’s ST status

After the ATSUM's tribal protest rally against ST status to the Meitei community, incidents of ethnic violence in Manipur have been reported.

Ethnic violence in Manipur

The protest by tribal people in Manipur against the inclusion of the state’s Meitei community in the scheduled tribe list turned ugly on Wednesday, May 3rd, resulting in massive violence and houses of certain groups being set ablaze by miscreants. Following the ethnic violence in Manipur, the state government has imposed a curfew in 16 districts, including the capital Imphal for five days, and has snapped mobile internet connection.

The All-Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) has been protesting the Manipur High Court’s April 19th directive to include the Meitei people in the ST list, following the plea by a section of the community. The tribals, especially Kuki, Chin, and Zo tribes, who mainly reside in the hilly parts of Manipur, have been wary that if the Meitei community, which resides mostly in the state’s valley area, are provided with the ST status then they will lose their constitutional safeguards.

On Wednesday, a rally by the ATSUM against the Meitei community’s inclusion in the ST list was organised in seven hill districts. The rally, named “Tribal Solidarity March”, was organised under the theme “Come now let us reason together” and was attended by an estimated 50,000 participants.

While the rally was peacefully concluded in several hill districts, the scenario was different in Churachandpur, Moirang, Motbung, and Moreh, where incidents of ethnic violence, arson and vandalism have been reported. The ethnic violence in Manipur occurred during the ATSUM rally in Churachandpur after miscreants burned the Anglo Kuki Memorial in neighbouring Bishnupur’s Moirang.

After the initial skirmish at Moirang, villagers from Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts clashed in the Kangvai locality where most Kuki tribal people reside. Several Kuki houses were reportedly set ablaze by miscreants forcing the residents to seek shelter in the forests.

As an aftermath, several non-tribal homes were set ablaze in the Churachandpur district. The Forest Department’s Beat Offices at Bungmual, Singngat, Muallum, Mualtam, and Saikot were set ablaze by unidentified miscreants. Sporadic incidents of violence were reported in Churachandpur town, where gunshots, ambulance and police sirens could be heard for a long period.

In Moirang, several houses, shops and vehicles were set on fire at Torbung, Bangla, Kangvai, and Phougakchao Ikhai, located near the Churachandpur and Bishnupur district borders. Both ATSUM and supporters of ST status for Meiteis alleged that the other side attacked them. Gunshots were reportedly fired by both sides in the conflict that engulfed several parts of Churachandpur.

At the border town of Moreh, several hotels have been reportedly set on fire by miscreants. Police resorted to tear gas shelling to disperse the mob that gathered on the streets. Still, the carnage went on for some time.

In Kangpokpi district’s Motbung, several houses were set on fire by miscreants following the ATSUM’s rally. In Kangpokpi, the forest office was set on fire by a mob.

Several areas of Imphal also experienced violence between the tribal and non-tribal communities. It’s reported that violence and arson continued in the capital city, especially Imphal West even till late evening of Wednesday. The police had to incessantly lob tear gas shells to disperse the mob that gathered in the city and was carrying out a rampage.

The ethnic violence in Manipur exposed the deep fissures within the society, which have been widened following the recent High Court directive. The tribal people’s discontent with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by N Biren Singh has been on the rise.

Before this new lease of ethnic violence in Manipur, there was massive violence over Singh’s planned visit to the Churachandpur district to inaugurate a gym. The Kuki tribe there has been protesting the government’s land survey and has been alleging that the BJP government has been evicting the tribal communities from their lands. In neighbouring Mizoram, the apex students’ body has opposed Singh’s alleged eviction drive targeting the Zo tribe.

Chief Minister Singh remained tight-lipped over the incidents of ethnic violence in Manipur. He, however, issued a social media appeal to the ATSUM and the supporters of the ST status to the Meitei community to use dialogue as a weapon to resolve the conflict.

The police didn’t provide any exact number of casualties in the ethnic violence in Manipur until the time of this report’s publication.

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