New Delhi: Manipur chief minister, N. Biren Singh, has appealed to the people of the state to surrender illegal weapons within 15 days, while issuing a warning that both the state and Union governments would initiate action against those found with any illegal weapons.
Since May 3, Manipur has witnessed the killing of more than 160 people in the state, and thousands of houses belonging to both Meitei and Kuki communities were set ablaze, resulting in over 70,000 people being displaced. These killings were carried out using weapons.
During The Wire‘s visit to Manipur, it was observed that people were openly carrying weapons throughout the state, even in front of state and central forces. Some individuals openly told The Wire that not everyone in the state possesses licensed weapons. Against this backdrop, it is to be seen if those carrying weapons in the state would heed Singh’s appeal.
This is not the first time such a warning has been issued. On June 1, during his visit, Union home minister, Amit Shah, had also called for the surrender of illegal weapons. “To those who have weapons, I appeal to them to surrender the weapons before the police. Starting tomorrow, the police will start combing operations to find the weapons. If the police find the weapons from them during the combing operation, they will be dealt with strictly under stringent sections of the law,” Shah had said.
Over the past few months, thousands of weapons have been stolen by locals in Manipur, as detailed by The Wire. On May 3, when the violence began in Manipur, 500 guns and hundreds of ammunition had been looted by Kuki miscreants from N. Ibomcha’s gun house. Ibomcha, the owner of the gun house, had lodged a complaint with the Imphal Police Station.
On May 8, Biren Singh, in his first press conference since the violence began in Manipur, had said that miscreants had snatched 1,041 weapons and 7,460 ammunition from security forces during the riot since May 3, and over 800 of those still remain missing.
On May 27, 2023, a few Meitei defending their village confirmed to The Wire on camera that some of them have unlicensed guns. The story was published on The Wire‘s YouTube channel on June 13.
On May 29, a similar appeal, like the latest one by Singh, was made to the citizens to return arms and ammunition looted from armed police battalions and police stations at the earliest, or legal action would be taken against them.
“Legal action as per the Arms Act 1959 and Rules will be taken in case any person is found to be in unauthorized and illegal possession of arms and ammunition during combing operations by security personnel or otherwise,” the chief minister said.
This announcement by chief minister Biren Singh was made when Union home minister Amit Shah was present in Manipur. During Shah’s presence in the state, nearly 3,000 weapons were looted again in the state. Most weapons were looted from police camps and armories in the capital city of Imphal. As the violence entered its second month, nearly 100 people were killed, and more than 300 people were injured in this violence.
First information reports (FIRs) examined by The Wire indicate the loot of sophisticated weapons like AK and Insas rifles, bombs, among others. Miscreants also took away bulletproof jackets and set fire to police stations while Manipur chief minister Biren Singh, for one more time, appealed to the people on Monday, June 19, to surrender arms that had been looted from police armories ever since the violence erupted in the state.
A Manipur minister, L. Susindro Meitei, had installed a drop box at his residence in Khurai, Imphal East, inviting people to return the weapons looted or snatched from the police. An 8ft by 4ft banner put up in front of the drop box – which is four feet long, three-and-a-half feet wide, and five feet tall – says: “Please drop your snatched weapons here” and “Feel free to do so.” The DropBox was set up in June 2023.
A response to a Right to Information (RTI) appeal filed also revealed that in the past seven years, the Biren Singh government has issued the highest number of gun licenses in the Northeast. Data obtained by The Wire under RTI shows that there are 35,117 active gun licenses in Manipur – up from 26,836 in December 2016. Furthermore, in August, another loot took place at the second Indian Reserve Battalion at Narasena.