Imphal: The recent violent clashes and riots in Manipur are worrying. The unrest comes at a time when the Central Government is trying to bring development and prosperity for the North East states. Policy makers fear that this violence might derail the development activities of the Center.
However, there was a silent glee in communist and leftist camps and in other anti-RSS and anti-nationals’ quarters. In Kerala, many intellectuals and pseudo-secularists have tried to create a narrative that RSS activists are killing Christians and razing churches in Manipur.
Those who are not familiar with the ground realities of Manipur will easily fall for these false narratives. That is why there is a need to understand the reality of what happened in Manipur.
First let us look at the geography of Manipur. 90% of the state is hilly while 10% are plains. However, the majority of the total population, that is 60%, are crammed into plain areas. The rest 40% are spread over a vast area of hilly regions.
This 40% in the hilly regions constitute the Kuki and Naga people. Both the ethnic groups are tribals.
The majority of the population that live in the 10% plains are the Maiteis and a small population of Vaishnavis Manipuris. Maiteis worship their village gods and the Vaishnavis Manipuris worship village deities and also Gods of the Hindu pantheon.
As many developmental activities are taking place in the plains, the Kukis have been migrating to Imphal and other nearby places in the last several years. Due to tribal reservations, the Kukis are represented in the government services in huge numbers. It includes top officials and police chiefs.
Maiteis, on the other hand, are less represented in the government sector.
The issues in Manipur between these ethnic groups had started way before the recent unrest. The call of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) for the inclusion of five districts – Chandel, Tengnopal, Ukrul, Churachandpur and Senapathi in Greater Nagaland had created trouble in Manipur. The population of Kukis increased in Senapathi and other districts. The majority of the Kuki people are immigrants from Myanmar. They also demanded Kuki Land, which aggravated the issues between Manipuris and Kukis.
It is reported that the major income of the Kukis come from the poppy cultivation in the hilly regions they occupy. The Chief Minister of Manipur took strong action against this illegal poppy cultivation. This was resented by many Kukis, who profited from the poppy cultivation. There are also many Kukis who harbor ideas of separatism and they have private armies to fight ethnic battles.
The Kukis and the Naga sections were unhappy with the government’s move to bring down poppy cultivation. The government is also blocking the smuggling of arms and narcotics from Myanmar and establishing Inner Line Permit. The crux of the Inner Line Permit system is to declare those who came to the state before 1961 as the Manipuri population.
Kukis are naturally unhappy about it because large sections of the Kukis are the people who came from Myanmar due to domestic and internal issues there. The Manipuri CM’s statement that NRC would be implemented also troubled the Kukis.
The sudden spark for the recent unrest was the demand of Scheduled Tribe status for Manipuris. The High Court delivered a verdict suggesting that the government may consider giving ST status to Manipuris.
Following the HC verdict, Naga organizations and Kukis Tribal Students Organizations, etc. carried out ‘peace marches’ in every district saying that they would not allow Maiteis and Vaishnavies to get the ST status.
In a May 3 protest, clashes and confrontations broke out in Churachandpur and Moreh.
On May 2, the Maiteis had carried out a rally in Moirang, Bishnupoor district before the peace march in Churachandpur. The rally on May 2 demanded ST status for Maiteis in Moirang.
Tensions were already rising at Churachandpur district when Kukis set fire to a gymkhana, which was set to be inaugurated by the CM on May 1.
During the rally on May 3, separatists carried arms. They attacked Manipuri residential areas in Churachandpur city. Maiteis fled in large numbers to Bishnupoor district. On May 3 itself, Sanamayi Temple in Churachandpur was demolished. On that same day, Maiteis at Moreh on the Myanmar border came under attack.
When the news of the attacks spread, Maiteis also began the violence. Violence spread in all Maitei villages in the hilly areas and Kuki centers on the plains. Casualties were reported from both sides.
All the Kuki centers in Imphal were destroyed and all the Maitei villages on the hills were destroyed. Thousands of people had to flee from the hill top villages. The Kuki-Maitei confrontation affected the total law and order situation of Manipur. Violence escalated between May 3 and May 8.
There are complaints that confrontation increased due to lack of strong actions against the violence on May 1st and May 3rd. It is reported that around seventy persons died on both sides. The CM said that 1,700 houses were gutted. Most of the dead are innocents.
It was Kukis who started the confrontation. Kabrulaika temple was destroyed in Kangpokpi district where Nepalese constitute a major population. Temples were destroyed despite the worshippers’ claim that it belongs to Nepalese people. However, the attackers justified their actions by saying that the priest of the temple was a Manipuri.
The Kukis came the next day and razed the temple to the ground using a bulldozer. Manipuri houses in that area were also destroyed. The violence subsided only after the arrival of paramilitary forces. The attackers withdrew as soon as the security forces entered the area.
Maiteis are emotionally charged because their temple was destroyed. There are also reports that Kuki groups who were involved in fighting against the Myanmar regime had crossed the border and attacked Maiteis.
Though the state is limping back to normalcy there is a lack of confidence between both groups. There are reports that those who returned are blocked by the opposite group in some places. Kukis who were leading a peaceful life in the plains have been attacked. Churches were also attacked in the plains.
Conciliation talks are tough because no one knows who the leaders of the warring factions are.
It must be noted that the Maiteis’ demand for ST Status is not the only issue here. The large-scale migration of Kukis from Myanmar has aggravated the issue. 125 migrant villages have come up on the borders. The speeches of Ramanandan, who embraced Christianity, have created a difference of opinion among Maiteis. He has apologized after resistance but it is one of the reasons for the recent confrontation.
Internet and phone services were cut off in Manipur as there was no other way to stop rumors from spreading. It seems that it will take many more months before the status quo ante is restored. The state government, military and other organizations are doing their best to restore normalcy in Manipur.
(Thanks to S. Sandeep with inputs from T Satisan)