Manipur Govt Brings in Army, Assam Rifles to Curb Violence, CM Urges Peace on TV

A tribal students' union organised a march to oppose the demand for Scheduled Tribe status by a section of the majority Meitei community.

Churachandpur (Lamka, Manipur): Tensions erupted in several parts of Manipur on May 3 after a solidarity march organised by a tribal students’ union to oppose the demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status by a section of the majority Meitei community in the state turned violent in Churachandpur district.

The state administration has requisitioned the services of the Army and Assam Rifles to rescue at least 4,000 people from violence hit areas of Churachandpur, Imphal West and Tengnoupal districts. The Army is conducting flag marches in certain areas to keep the situation under control, a defence spokesperson told PTI. News reports have said that Union home minister Amit Shah took stock of the situation through a phone call with the state chief minister N. Biren Singh. The chief minister said all steps are being taken to control the situation.

The violence that occurred in an area located close to Churachandpur district’s border with the Bishnupur district on May 4 afternoon soon spread to other parts of the northeastern state, including in Imphal West district. It has led the state administration to impose prohibitory orders in several districts both in the hill and valley areas.

Manipur is geographically divided into hill and valley areas. While the hill areas that account for about 90% of the state’s total area are traditionally inhabited by Naga and Kuki-Chin-Mizo or Zo ethnic tribes, the valley areas are dominated by the Meitei community. For some time now, a section of Meiteis have been demanding ST status akin to the state’s tribal population, triggering opposition from the hill area residents on the ground that their constitutional safeguards would be affected.

The May 3 incident in Churachandpur comes on the heels of the April 30 violence when an open gym that was to be inaugurated by chief minister N. Biren Singh was set on fire in opposition to the state government’s decision to carry out a land survey.

The fresh violence has coincided with the visit of Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar to capital city Imphal.

Called by the All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM), the march to oppose the demand of the Meiteis was held in seven hill districts on May 4. An estimated 50,000 people participated. Several young participants were seen wearing T-shirts with the message ‘Tribals United’.

Opposing the ATSUM march, demonstrations were held in a few valley areas too. However, the Meitei organisation leading the movement for ST status, Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee Manipur, later clarified that they had not called for any protests against the ATSUM march.

Eyewitnesses said everything was peaceful during the march until some miscreants burnt the gate of the Anglo Kuki Memorial situated in Moirang in the neighbouring Bishnupur district.

The miscreants’ act resulted in a clash between the villagers of Churachandpur and Bishnpur districts, around Kangvai locality where the majority population belongs to the Kuki tribal community. Locals told The Wire their houses were burnt, forcing dozens of them to rush to nearby forests for shelter and safety.

In retaliation, unidentified people attacked non-tribal neighbourhoods in Churachandpur district. To quell the violence, the police had to resort to firing teargas shells in the district.

By evening, it snowballed into full-scale violence in different parts of the state. Several tribal neighbourhoods in the capital Imphal were said to have come under attack. Residents claimed to The Wire that as many as 23 houses were burnt and as many as 19 residents injured.

Some reports also said tribal students in Manipur University came under attack from unidentified men, leading as many as 150 of them to take shelter at the army camp inside the campus. Reports said deputy registrar David Zote’s house also came under attack.

In view of the situation, curfew has been imposed in non-tribal dominated Imphal West, Kakching, Thoubal, Jiribam and Bishnupur districts and also the tribal-dominated Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal districts.

The state administration has also banned internet services across the state for five days to put a check on the spread of hate speech and rumours on social media, though broadband services will be operational.

The Indian Army and Assam Rifles have reportedly been conduction rescue missions across Manipur.

Meanwhile, the Manipur high court has issued a show cause notice to the ATSUM president and the chairman of the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) of the state assembly for criticising its April 20 order on ST status for the Meiteis. The high court, in that order, had directed the state government to recommend inclusion of the majority community in the ST list to the Union tribal affairs ministry by May 29.

As per local news reports, the high court, on May 4, sought their appearance for “instigating innocent hill people against the court judgement” keeping in mind organising the solidarity march, and directed the state director general of police to ensure their ‘personal appearances’.

Several national and regional political leaders have expressed concern at the violent incidents. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, expressing “deep concern and the rapidly deteriorating law and order situation” in the northeastern border state, said, “The Prime Minister must focus on restoring peace and normalcy.” He said on Twitter, “I urge the people of Manipur to stay calm.”

Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga called CM Singh to take stock of the situation. He also wrote a letter to the CM offering all cooperation of his state to bring peace. Zoramthanga said on Twitter, “I am deeply pained by the recent happening in the beautiful and diversified state of Manipur, a lifelong neighbour. I pray and urge everyone to shun any form of violence and to never forget our principle of peace, the basis of our foundation and co-existence as a north-easterner.”

In a televised appeal, the Manipur CM urged everyone in the state to cooperate with the government to maintain peace and harmony.
Earlier in the day, the sports icon who hails from the state, Mary Kom, put out a few photos of the violence, seeking Prime Minister Narendra Modi, defence minister Rajnath Singh and home minister Shah’s intervention stating, “My state is burning”.

Jon Suante is a freelance journalist.