Saturday 25 May 2024

2023 Manipur India Violence

2023 Manipur Violence – Courtesy of Wikipedia

On 3 May 2023, ethnic violence erupted in India’s north-eastern state of Manipur between the Meitei people, a majority that lives in the Imphal Valley, and the Kuki tribal community from the surrounding hills.[11] As of 4 July, 142 people have been killed in the violence,[12] with more than 300 wounded,[13][14][15] and approximately 54,488 displaced. Manipur Violence 2023    16] 

On 14 April 2023 a High Court had ordered, on a writ petition by the Metei Tribe Union, that the state government recommend Scheduled Tribe status for the valley-based Meitei community.[17] The Supreme court of India criticized Manipur High court stating that this judgement was factually incorrect[18]. The high court order caused the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur to organize mass rallies in all hills districts; and in one of these rallies, the demonstrators clashed with a group of people in a region bordering Bishnupur district followed by house burning.[19][20] For example, the Kuki people, who predominantly reside in the hill regions surrounding the capital valley, have been viewed as being the target of the present state government’s treatment of Indigenous land rights concerns.[21]  Majority of the Kuki people are Christian. There have been evictions in Kuki communities as a result of efforts to survey forests, which were ostensibly made to stop the cultivation of poppies.[22][23][24]

Also, the Meitei Indigenous community has also experienced a rise in insecurity as a result of the flood of refugees following the military coup in neighboring Myanmar in 2021, particularly those from the Sagaing region. The people most impacted in both communities are women and children, even yet those in charge of the firearms, drugs, and politicians make the real decisions in the fight. To further a few people’s agenda, the identities of various ethnic communities have been weaponized in the ongoing struggle.[25][23]

According to several organisations, there have been accounts of partisan killings by security forces, as well as allegations of the police siding with the Meitei community.[26][27]A panel led by a retired Chief Justice will investigate the violence, while a peace committee will be established under the Governor and security advisor Kuldeep Singh, along with members of civil society. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will probe six cases related to conspiracy in the violence, ensuring a neutral investigation to uncover the root causes.[28]

Background to Manipur Violence 2023

Further information: Hill tribes of Northeast IndiaEthnic relations in India, and Insurgency in Manipur

The districts of Manipur as of 2011. Some of the subdivisions have since become independent districts.[a] The districts in the middle, the Imphal valley: Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur densely populated and dominated by the Meitei people, whereas the outer districts are primarily hilly, sparsely populated and dominated by non-Meitei peoples. The people in the valley are predominantly Hindu and those in the Hills are primarily Christians.

Manipur is a hill state in northeast India, bordering Myanmar to its east and south. The central area is the Imphal Valley occupying about 10% of the land area of the state, which is mainly populated by the Meitei people. All developmental activities are concentrated in the Imphal Valley. The surrounding hills which are undeveloped are inhabited by hill tribes, who are classified as Kukis in the southern portion and Nagas in the northeastern portion.[29][30]

The Meiteis, who are largely Hindus, make up 53% of the population. They are barred from settling in the hilly regions of the state except with the permission of the local district councils, as per the Land Reform Act of Manipur.[31][32] The tribal population, consisting of predominantly Christian Kukis and the Nagas, forms about 40% of the state’s 3.5 million people. They reside in the reserved hill regions consisting of the rest of the 90% of the state. The tribal population is not prohibited from settling in the valley region.[15][33][34][29][11][excessive citations].Kukis state that they do not want to come to the valley but they have to since there are no roads no schools or hospitals in the hills.[35]

The Meiteis dominate political power in the Manipur Legislative Assembly.[29] Out of 60 seats in the Assembly, 19 seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST), i.e. for Naga or Kukis, while 40 are unreserved general constituencies, of which 39 seats were won by Meitei candidates in the last election.[36] Tribal groups have complained that the government spending is unduly concentrated in the Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley.[37]

2023 Escalation of Manipur Violence 2023

Map of the religious distribution in Manipur.
Meitei Hindus (orange) and Meitei-Pangal Muslims (green) are predominant in the dense urban valley region, whereas Zo and Kuki Christians (blue) predominate in the sparsely populated tribal hilly regions

In 2023, the state government in Manipur began to expel illegal immigrants from Myanmar from state-owned forest reserves.[15] Tribal groups alleged that illegal immigration is a pretext under which the Meitei population wants to drive away the tribal population from their lands.[15] In February 2023, the BJP state government began an eviction drive in districts of Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal, declaring the forest dwellers as encroachers – a move seen as anti-tribal.[38][39]

In March, the Manipur Cabinet decided to withdraw from the Suspension of Operation agreements with three Kuki militant groups including the Kuki National Army and the Zomi Revolutionary Army, though the central government did not support such a withdrawal.[39][38][b] Several Manipuri organisations also demonstrated in New Delhi to press for a National Register of Citizens (NRC) to be created with 1951 as the base year, complaining of abnormal population growth in hill areas.[15] The first violence broke out as five people were injured in a clash in the Kangpokpi district, where protesters gathered to hold a rally against “encroachment of tribal land in the name of reserved forests, protected forests and wildlife sanctuary”.[38] While, the state cabinet stated that the government will not compromise on “steps taken to protect the state government’s forest resources and for eradicating poppy cultivation”.[38] On 11 April, three churches in Imphal‘s Tribal Colony locality were razed for being illegal constructions on government land.[38]

On 20 April 2023, a judge of the Manipur High Court directed the state government to “consider request of the Meitei community to be included in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list.”[40] The Kukis feared that the ST status would allow the Meiteis purchase land in the prohibited hilly areas.[15]

The tribal groups called for a total shut down on 28 April in protest of the state government actions, a day that also happened to have been scheduled for the chief minister N. Biren Singh to visit Churachandpur for the inauguration of an open air gym. The day before the visit, a mob set fire to the gym and vandalised it.[41][42] Section 144 (of the criminal procedure code) was invoked on 28 April as well as a five-day Internet shut down. The protesters clashed with the police and tear gas shells were used to disperse the mobs.[41]

CM Biren targeted Kukis on Twitter and TV channels even after the violence started in the state, leading to deepening already existing tensions between the communities. On 19 June, he labelled Kuki members with arms as “millitants” and said they will face consequences while appealed to armed Meiteis not to do anything illegal. On 29 June, he selectively targeted Kukis by labelling them “terrorists”. In subsequent tweets, he called Kukis as Myanmarese and also invoked Chinese hand in the violence.[43]

Overview: Riots – Manipur Violence 2023

Amidst the long-standing tensions between the Meitei and the Kuki people, a tribal organisation called the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM), opposed to the decision of the Manipur High Court, called for a march named the “Tribal Solidarity March” on 3 May, which turned violent in the district of Churachandpur.[15][44] Reportedly, more than 60,000 protesters participated in this march.[41][45]

During the violence on 3 May, residence and churches of the mostly Kuki Tribal population were attacked in the non-tribal areas.[34][11] According to the police, many houses of the tribal population in Imphal were attacked and 500 occupants were displaced and had to take shelter in Lamphelpat. Around 1000 Meiteis affected by the violence also had to flee from the region and take shelter in Bishnupur. Twenty houses were burnt in the city of Kangpokpi.[46] Violence was observed in ChurachandpurKakching, Canchipur, Soibam Leikai, Tengnoupal, Langol, Kangpokpi and Moreh while mostly being concentrated in the Imphal Valley during which several houses, places of worship and other properties were burnt and destroyed.[47][46]

On 4 May, fresh cases of violence were reported. The police force had to fire several rounds of tear gas shells to control the rioters.[47] Kuki MLA Vunzjagin Valte (BJP), who is the representative of the tribal headquarters of Churachandpur, was attacked during the riots while he was returning from the state secretariat. His condition was reported to be critical on 5 May, while a person accompanying him died.[48][49] The government said around 1700 houses and numerous vehicles were burned down during the violence.[50][51]

Military deployment and evacuations – Manipur Violence 2023

Curfew was imposed across eight districts, including non-tribal dominated Imphal WestKakchingThoubalJiribam, and Bishnupur districts, as well as tribal-dominated Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, and Tengnoupal districts.[52]

The Manipur government issued a shoot at sight order on 4 May.[46] By the end of 3 May, 55 columns of the Assam Rifles and the Indian Army were deployed in the region and by 4 May, more than 9,000 people were relocated to safer locations.[33][44][46][53][54] By 5 May, about 20,000 and by 6 May, 23,000 people had been relocated to safe locations under military supervision.[11][55] The central government airlifted 5 companies of the Rapid Action Force to the region.[14] Nearly 10,000 army, para-military and Central Armed Police Forces were deployed in Manipur.[56][57] On 4 May, the Union government invoked Article 355, the security provision of the Indian constitution, and took over the security situation of Manipur.[58][59][60] As of 14 May, the total military build up in Manipur stood at 126 army columns and 62 companies of paramilitary forces.[61]

The insertion of troops led to several engagements between hill-based militants and the Indian Reserve Battalion, resulting in at least five militant deaths. In a separate encounter, four militants were killed. By 6 May the situation had calmed down to a degree.[57] According to journalist Moses Lianzachin, at least twenty-seven churches were destroyed or burned down during the violence.[11] As of 9 May, according to the Manipur government, the death toll was over 60 people.[13] The situation was described as “relatively peaceful” on 10 May, with the curfew being relaxed in places,[62] though unknown militants fired on Indian troops in an incident in Manipur’s Imphal East district, injuring one.[63]

On 12 May, suspected Kuki militants ambushed policemen in Bishnupur district, killed one officer and injuring five others.[64] In a separate incident, a soldier was stabbed and three Meitei community members kidnapped in Torbung, Churachandpur district.[64] A day later, the security advisor to the Manipur Government Kuldeep Singh raised the total fatality count from the violence to more than 70 deaths. This included the discovery of three Public Works Department labourers found dead in a vehicle in the Churachandpur from unknown causes.[65] He added the number of internally displaced people living in camps had been significantly reduced, and that about 45,000 people had been relocated to other areas.[65]

On 14 May, reports of fresh violence surfaced in the Torbung area, with unidentified arsonists torching more property, including houses and trucks. Five companies of Border Security Forces were deployed. In a separate incident, two Assam Rifles personnel were injured.[61] The same day, a delegation of state ministers led by Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh left for New Delhi to meet Union home minister Amit Shah to discuss the situation.[61] The reported tally of casualties and property damage from the violence by this point 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 registered with the authorities.[61]

The internet blackout and curfew remained in place on 16 May.[66] Food was also reported to be scarce, with shops, schools and offices closed, and thousands of people stranded in refugee camps. Fresh violence over the weekend had led to further displacements.[66] On 17 May, the internet blackout was extended for five more days.[67] Fresh violence occurred on 29 May during which at least five people including one policeman was killed.[68]

On 26 May, the Meitei revivalist organization Arambai Tenggol announced that it was dissolving itself, citing certain “unwanted developments” that had taken place in the last few days.[69] On 28 May, a fierce gunfight was reported between militants of surrendered Valley-based Insurgent Groups (VBIGs), now operating under the Arambai Tenggol banner, and a unit of Assam Rifles.[70]

Recurrent Violence – Manipur Violence 2023

On 14 June, at least 11 people were shot including nine Meitei men.[71] Additionally, 14 were injured in a fresh outbreak. According to doctors and other senior management officials at the state’s capital, the latest clash has been so extreme that many bodies have been hard to identify.[72]

A 21 year old Kuki youth was arrested for sharing a post against CM Biren Singh . He was  beaten to death on a street in Imphal, when he was supposed to be in police custody.[73]

The Archbishop of Imphal states that 249 churches have been burnt in Manipur.[74]

Viral video of naked Kuki women – Manipur Violence 2023

On July 19, a video went viral showing two Kuki women, one aged in her 40s and one in her 20s being stripped, paraded naked on the streets, slapped and sexually assaulted by apparently Meitei men.[75][76][77][78] The women were forcibly taken away from the police station when they were fleeing the violence hit areas by a mob.[79] The younger victim were gangraped and one of the victims’ father and teenage brother were killed by the mob while trying to protect the victim. Despite the complaint being lodged no action was taken by the police for more than 2 months until the video emerged.[80] The Kuki community have accused the police of siding the Meitei community.[81] The video emerged after more than two months since the incident took place as internet was shutdown in Manipur.[75][82][77][78] One of the victims said that they have been “left to the mob by the police”.[82][78][78] On July 20, Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh defended his decision of internet ban in the state citing hundreds of similar incidents happened.[83]

The Supreme Court responded within hours after the circulation of the video warning that the court will intervene if the government doesn’t act.[84] The incident prompted Prime Minister Modi to speak, who was silent for around 80 days since the violence started, said his heart is “full of pain and anger” after the video went viral.[85] It was pointed out by many that the internet shutdown in the state facilitated the cover up of the incident.[86][87]

After the media reports circulated about the National Commission of Women (NCW) having knowledge of the incident as they received a complaint in the month of June, the chairperson of NCW said that she did not receive a response from authorities in Manipur after she forwarded the complaint thrice.[88][89]

On the 20th of July, 2023, the Manipur police reported that 4 people had been arrested in connection with the crime.[90]

On the 22nd of July, a fifth arrest had been made and a juvenile was arrested on the 23rd in relation to the crime.[91]

Reactions – Manipur Violence 2023

The Chief Minister of Manipur N. Biren Singh stated that the riots were instigated by “prevailing misunderstanding between two communities” and appealed for restoration of normality.[92]

Shashi Tharoor, a Member of Parliament, called for President’s rule and blamed the BJP-led government, saying it has failed to govern the state.[93]

Peter Machado, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Bangalore, expressed concern that the Christian community is being made to feel insecure, adding that “seventeen churches are either vandaliseddesecrated or defiled.”[94]

Olympic medallist Mary Kom, a native of Manipur, tweeted an appeal seeking help for her home state.[95] The Union Government Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah cancelled his campaign programs for the Karnataka election and held meetings with Biren Singh monitoring the situation in Manipur.[96]

A BJP MLA, Dinganglung Gangmei, petitioned the Supreme Court of India against the High Court’s recommendation to the state government to add Meitei people to the Scheduled Tribes list.[97][98][99]

On 12 May 2023, all 10 Kuki MLAs, including eight from the Bharatiya Janata Party, issued a statement demanding a separate body be created to administer their community under the constitution of India in the wake of the violent ethnic clashes.[100] They alleged that the violence had been “tacitly supported” by the BJP-run state government, and that living under a Meitei-majority administration after the violence would be “as good as death” for their community.[100] Five organisations of tribal students of Manipur in New Delhi also demanded a probe into the alleged involvement of two radical Meitei groups, Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun in the violence.[101]

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement that the violence in Manipur “revealed the underlying tensions between different ethnic and indigenous groups”. He urged the authorities to “respond to the situation quickly, including by investigating and addressing root causes of the violence in line with their international human rights obligations”.[102]

On 29 May, hundreds of women from Kuki, Mizo, and Zomi tribes staged a protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, demanding intervention by the central government to end communal tensions in Manipur. The women waved national flags and held posters declaring themselves as Indians, not immigrants, while criticising the state government stirring tensions by evicting of Kuki villagers from reserve forest land.[103]

On 30 May 2023, eleven international and national award-winning sportspersons from the state said that they will return their awards if the territorial integrity of the state is compromised. The sportspersons said that if the government does not meet their demands, they will not represent India and will not help in training new talent.[104]

On 1 July 2023, Joseph Pamplany, Archbishop of Thalassery in Kerala said the violence is sponsored by the Modi government to destroy Christian communities in Manipur.[105]

On 14 July 2023, BJP’s vice-president from the state of Mizoram, R. Vanramchhuanga, resigned from his post accusing BJP governments in the centre and the state of supporting demolition of churches.[106]

On 20 July 2023, Modi broke his months-long silence after a video of two women being paraded naked and subjected to blatant acts of sexual assault by a group of men went viral. He said the incident shamed India and that no guilty will be spared.[107]Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticized for being silent on the violence for almost three months, for not visiting the state and for avoiding the broader situation in his statement after a video showing two women being paraded naked went viral, as his party is in power in both the centre and the state.[108][85]

Media coverage

Most of the major newspapers and TV channels in the state are owned by Meiteis leading biased reporting. Major newspapers and broadcast media from Manipur and India[109] have avoided reporting on violence faced by the Christian majority Kukis, while highlighting violence by Kuki militants. Three most read English newspapers in the region did not even report on the incident of a mob burning alive a woman and a boy. The Sangai Express referred to Kukis by the adjective “aliens” in an editorial, while an editorial in the Imphal Free Press justified the villagers looting arms from the security forces in the state.[110]

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