Sunita Paite of Churachandpur of Manipur lamented, “Over 100 bodies of those killed in the violence are rotting in the mortuary of Churachandpur. Some of them are from 4th May. It is extremely difficult to cross that way”. If this is the case of the dead what is the state of the living. She went on to state, “Medical needs of the people affected by the ongoing conflict are very high but those are not addressed at all. The Chief Medical Officer of Churachandpur does not receive medicine from the government agencies, so he is dependent upon welfare agencies for medicine”. People reported that for serious illness and treatment one has to go to Imphal. But with the blockade imposed by the Meiteis between Bishnupur and Moirang, the Kukis cannot travel. If they dare to travel, they would either be shot dead or beheaded.
In Lamka of Churachandpur, the Kukis as per their religious custom bury the dead. But since, these victims did not die in a normal course but in a violent conflict, they have refused to bury their dead and are demanding justice. Hence, they have placed over 100 empty coffin boxes at the road side of a main junction in the town. They have called this memorial “Wall of Remembrance”. The people flock to this place to pay their homage since they call those died due to violence ‘martyrs’.
The violence that began on 3rd May 2023 continues even after 4 months. It looks, due to the inability of the Manipur government, the violence could continue. Maybe it is better to say that since the Manipur and the Central governments refuse to say anything about the ongoing violence and do not show necessary political will to put an end to the ongoing violence, the violence is continuing.
This ongoing violence in Manipur has been called civil war, genocide, pogrom, low intensity war, etc. It can be stated that there are two ethnic groups at war in the northeast. Both official and unofficial reports state that around 200 people have lost their lives. Many are still missing and the relatives are waiting for their return. Around 70,000 people have become Internally Displaced in their own land. Some of these camps are in the worst conditions.
The Youth Hostel in Lamka which has housed around 480 people is at the verge of collapse due to lack of drinking and bathing water. It is also facing huge crisis due to lack of toilets and septic tank. The District Commissioner has expressed his inability to provide water purifiers since these cannot come from Imphal due to the blockade.
Further, over 250 churches and 17 temples were destroyed. More than 4,000 weapons were ‘stolen’ from the police station and armoury allegedly by the Meitei underground cadres which were used to shoot the Kukis. Kukis in retaliation procured their own arms. It is reported that drones are being used by the powerful group to identify the Kuki underground cadres and people to shoot them. From 29th August to 1st September, shooting resumed in Moirang area. Meitei people around that area gathered in thousands on roads to witness the shooting. Human beings are hunting human beings and the government is pretending to not to bother. Moreover, 6,523 FIRs have been registered but no action has been taken. The Chief Minister expressed his inability in responding to the situation.
It is significant to note that the heinous crimes committed in this ethnic violence would have gone unnoticed by those outside Manipur. Only when the video, of the sexual assault which took place on 4th May but became public after 80 days, went viral then the world took serious note of the violence.
There seems to be some let up from the Meitei and Kuki side. But blocking of the road by the women-led vigilante groups have severely impacted travel, and transportation of essential items. In the past, the women blocked around six arterial roads rendering many parts of the state inaccessible. The blockade by the Meitei women continues from Bishnupur to Moirang and beyond making it difficult to travel from Imphal to Churachandpur and other Kuki areas. If this blockade is removed then one can reach from Imphal valley to Churachandpur within 4.30 hours. But due to the blockade, one has to come to Churachandpur and other hill areas through Aizawl which takes more than a day. It is also risky to travel on that road since the road is bad and with rain vehicles overturn causing huge damage.
Anyone who dares to travel from Imphal to Churachandpur, would feel that he or she is travelling in a war zone. Bunkers have been made not by law-enforcing agencies but by the people. If the army personnel manage to reach those areas and clear the bunkers, the next day it is back in the same place. What is even more deplorable is that whenever any attack on the Kukis by the Meiteis takes place, it is planned well. The underground cadres march ahead to attack the Kukis while 200 to 300 women make a formidable blockade not to let the army to go and enforce law and order. This is the case even 4 months after the beginning of violence. Even if the people make distress calls to the army, the latter cannot reach on time to save them.
In a state which has just 28 lakh population and limited geographical area, it is a matter of few days for the state government to enforce law and order through the army. But as has been alleged by vast segments people, including international observers, the ongoing violence is a state-orchestrated violence; neither the state government nor the central government is taking necessary steps to counter violence. The Chief Minister expressed his inability to handle this crisis. What is even worse is that one Kuki minister who after meeting the Chief Minister coming out of the CM’s house was attacked. Vungzagin Valte, a BJP MLA, sustained grievous injuries when a mob attacked him in Imphal. He is undergoing treatment in Delhi.
The immediate reason that triggered the violence between the Meiteis who constitute 53% of the population and Kukis who number 16% was the attempt by the Manipur government to give Scheduled Tribe Status to the Meiteis. It is reported that Meiteis were Tribals and in 1700 they were converted to Hinduism by the Bengali and Assam Hindu priests. The Meiteis mainly live in Imphal valley while the Kukis, like the Naga and other Tribals, live in the hills.
With the expansion of the population, the Meiteis are eyeing the mountains for land and expansion. This is being opposed by Kukis and Nagas. Protesting against the move to give ST status to the Meiteis, the Kukis took out a protest march on 3rd May in Churachandpur. Trying to counter this, the Meiteis went on an attacking spree of the Kukis wherever they are, especially in Imphal Valley and buffer zones.
But this was only a triggering point. Conflict has been there between these and other ethnic groups for many decades for land and natural resources. While the Meiteis control the Imphal valley and adjacent areas, the Tribals control the hills. There is deep-seated resentment and distrust among these ethnic groups. The government instead of addressing these issues fuelled it for its own electoral interest. The ongoing violence will further deepen the distrust and resentment among these segments of the population.
One of the parents in the hills lamented the fact that the children and youth are badly affected by the ongoing violence. This will have long lasting impact on their mental framework. Due to Corona, these children lost education for 2 years. Now once when things appeared to be normal, this ethnic violence has put an end to education again. This is the same with regard to agriculture. After COVID-19, the farmers were able to cultivate paddy, their staple food. This year, due to lack of rain they could not transplant paddy. Also, due to violence they had to leave their homes and run away to some places for protection. So cultivation is badly affected. But neither the central nor the state government is saying anything about this additional crisis faced by the people.
Another fact that has gone unnoticed by many is the ‘evacuation’ of around 10 Kuki families who decided to stay put in New Lambulane, Imphal West in spite of the threat looming large on them. They were under the protection of army 24x7. But the government evacuated them at mid-night on 1st September without giving any time to pack up even their clothes and other essentials. They are relocated in the hills in Kuki area. Few pertinent facts need to be highlighted here. 1) By this act, the government has admitted that it is totally unable to protect the Kukis. 2) With this move the state has cleverly ‘cleansed the Imphal Valley of Kukis’, which was its economic, political and civic objective and plan. 3) Now all these properties have become the properties of Meiteis which was the wish of some of the Meiteis.
On the other hand, this has further strengthened the resolve of the Kukis to demand for an Autonomous Hill Council or a Union Territory, away from Manipur jurisdiction. The government is filing cases against anyone trying to bring out the truth. For instance, the Editors’ Guild of India brought out a report titled, ‘Report of the Fact-Finding Mission on Media’s Reportage of the Ethnic Violence in Manipur’ on 2nd September. Now an FIR has been filed against the Editors’ Guild of India accusing the report to be biased.