Does the Situation in Manipur Exhibit Causal Attributes?

Since May 3, the small northeastern state of Manipur has been suffering incessant violence heightening regional tensions. As the Centre and State governments work hard to curb the escalating situation, ethnic conflicts have killed several and displaced thousands.
Manipur Violence
Manipur Violence

Manipur, an Indian state situated in the northeast, is surrounded by Assam, Nagaland, and Mizoram, with an international boundary shared with Myanmar.

Known for its picturesque landscapes and elevated terrain, Manipur has a rich historical background marked by persistent civil unrest since the formation of modern India.

The state is inhabited by various Sino-Tibetan communities, each possessing distinct languages, cultures, and religions.

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History behind Indifferences Between Tribal and Non-Tribal Communities in Manipur

History and geography have kept the Meiteis and Kukis apart.

Manipur consists of 90% hilly terrain and 10% valley. Within the valley, the majority, accounting for 57.2% of the population, is mainly occupied by the Metei community, while the remaining 42% of the population resides in the hills, predominantly composed of the Nagas and Kuki communities.

Most of the Meitei population in the state are Hindus, constituting over 50% of the population. On the other hand, the Kuki and Naga communities are predominantly Christians, with a combined population of more than 42%.

The Kuki has always thought that the valley benefited from a skewed scale of development. As universities, medical and engineering colleges, and tertiary hospitals sprouted up in the valley, tribal tribes began to feel marginalized. 

While the Manipur Land Revenue Act of 1960 prohibits non-tribal residents of the valley from purchasing land in the hills. The Meitei quest for ST status--the impetus for the current conflict--violates the hills, undermines the Kuki cultural tradition, and alters the population configuration. 

Reason for Conflict

The initial cause of the ethnic conflict appears to have been the demand of the Meitei group who predominantly lives in the Manipur Valley, to be included on the ST list.

However, this is simply a secondary factor. Other factors contribute to the boiling rage. These are linked to the government's crackdown on reserved and protected forests in the State's hill areas and the Kukis' sense of victimization.

Violence in Manipur
Violence in ManipurImage Credit: PTI

Several Chin, people of the same ethnic group from Myanmar, have entered India to flee violence and persecution, and the government's stern attitude against these so-called illegal immigrants has enraged the Kukis, who are related to them.

The BJP Chief Minister's stern attitude against what he calls tribal tribes' encroachment on reserved and protected forest areas in Manipur's hills originates from a variety of factors, including the fact that many acres of land in the highlands are used for poppy production.

The government sees its attack on forest regions as part of a larger battle on narcotics, but it is equally guilty of using the phrase "drug lords" to refer to all Kuki people.

Second, there is severe land scarcity in Manipur. As tribal village populations grow, they tend to extend out into adjacent forest areas, which they regard as their historical and traditional right.

The government disputes this. Simultaneously, the Meitei, who live in the valleys, are dissatisfied because they are not authorised to construct or purchase land on the hills, whereas tribal people are.

The government has no clear framework in place for recognizing new villages. Manipur also lacks a transparent forest policy. This has caused dissatisfaction within its party.

On May 3, a 'Tribal Solidarity March' was conducted in the 10 hill districts of Manipur to protest the Meitei community's desire for Scheduled Tribe (ST) classification, resulting in the deaths of at least 54 people.

A long history of mutual suspicion between ethnic groups in the Imphal valley and its surrounding hills erupted into a simmering conflict after the BJP-led Manipur government began an eviction drive to remove tribal villagers from the reserved forest.

Even as villagers' rage grew, three churches in Imphal's Tribal colony neighbourhood were demolished on April 11 for being "illegal constructions" on government land, adding gasoline to the fire.

Therefore, when the All-Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) scheduled a 'Tribal Solidarity March' on Wednesday to protest the decision to grant ST status to the Meitei community, there were legitimate concerns that tensions may flare.

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How Riots Began!

  • 3 May -6 May

Against the decision of the Manipur High Court, a tribal organization, the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) called for a march called the "Tribal Solidarity March" on 3 May, which turned violent in the Churachandpur district. This march reportedly drew over 60,000 demonstrators.

In the non-tribal areas, residences and churches of the predominantly Kuki Tribal people were targeted on 3 May. According to authorities, numerous tribal houses in Imphal were attacked, and 500 people were evicted and forced to seek refuge in Lamphelpat.

Around 1000 Meiteis were also forced to evacuate the region and seek refuge in Bishnupur as a result of the violence.

Kangpokpi saw the burning of twenty dwellings. Several houses, places of worship, and other properties were burned and destroyed at Churachandpur, Kakching, Canchipur, Soibam Leikai, Tengnoupal, Langol, Kangpokpi, and Moreh, with most of the violence centred in the Imphal Valley.

New incidences of violence were recorded on May 4th. To keep the rioters under control, the police had to fire several rounds of tear gas shells. Kuki MLA Vunzjagin Valte (BJP), who represents Churachandpur's tribal headquarters, was attacked during the disturbances on his way back from the state secretariat.

On May 5, his condition was reported to be critical, and a person accompanying him died.  According to the administration, about 1700 residences and countless vehicles were destroyed during the conflict.

  • 6 May – 29 May

By the 6th of May, the situation had somewhat cooled down.At least twenty-seven churches were destroyed or burned down during the rioting, according to journalist Moses Lianzachin.

According to the Manipur administration, the death toll was at more than 60 individuals as of 9 May.The situation was described as "relatively peaceful" on 10 May, with the curfew relaxed in several areas,while unknown terrorists shot on Indian troops in Manipur's Imphal East district, hurting one.

According to the Manipur administration, the death toll stood at more than 60 as of May 9. The situation was described as "relatively peaceful" on 10 May, with the curfew relaxed in several areas, while unknown terrorists shot on Indian troops in Manipur's Imphal East district, hurting one.

Suspected Kuki insurgents ambushed police officers in Bishnupur district on May 12, killing one officer and wounding five others. Separately, at Torbung, Churachandpur district, a soldier was stabbed and three Meitei community members were taken.

Kuldeep Singh, the Manipur Government's security advisor, boosted the overall number of deaths from the incident to more than 70 .

On the 14th of May, there were reports of increased violence in the Torbung district, with unidentified arsonists torching additional property, including houses and trucks.

Five Border Security Forces companies were deployed. Two Assam Rifles troops were hurt in a separate incident. On the same day, a delegation of state ministers led by Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh arrived in New Delhi to meet with Union Home Minister Amit Shah to review the issue.

By this point, the reported casualties and property damage from the violence stood at 73 dead, 243 injured, 1809 houses burned down, 46,145 people evacuated, 26,358 people taken to 178 relief camps, 3,124 people escorted evacuation flights, and 385 criminal cases filed with authorities.

On May 29, there was more violence, and at least five people were killed, including one police officer.

Frequent Violence

In a new outbreak on June 14, at least 11 individuals were killed and 14 were injured. According to doctors and other high management officials in the state capital, the most recent battle was so violent that several dead were difficult to identify.

Reactions of Political Personality on Manipur Violence

  • N. Biren Singh, the Chief Minister of Manipur, declared that the riots were caused by a "prevailing misunderstanding between two communities" and called for the restoration of peace whereas Shashi Tharoor, a Member of Parliament, proposed for President's rule and criticized BJP for inability to run the state.

  • On May 05, Union Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah cancelled his Karnataka election campaign plans and met with Biren Singh to assess the situation in Manipur.

  • On May 29, hundreds of women from the Kuki, Mizo, and Zomi tribes demonstrated at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, demanding that the central government intervene to halt communal violence in Manipur. The women carried national flags and brandished banners declaring themselves Indians, not immigrants, while denouncing the state administration for inciting tensions by evicting Kuki villages from the reserve forest area.

  • On 30 May 2023, eleven international and national award-winning sportspeople from the state stated that they will return their prizes if the geographical integrity of the state is jeopardized. If the government does not accept their requests, the athletes have stated that they will not represent India and will not help train future talent.

By: Anjali Tyagi

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