New Delhi: At least 13 lives have been lost in two days of mob violence that sprung out of a massive opposition by Manipur’s tribal communities to the demand of the northeastern state’s majority community, the Meiteis, for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
Chief minister N. Biren Singh said that all steps are being taken to control the situation. However, the situation on the ground paints a different picture. While The Wire has been able to confirm two cases of death due to the violence that erupted on May 3 evening, the Sangai Express published from Imphal has put the number of dead in different parts of the state between May 3 and 4 at 11.
The north-eastern border state has seen large-scale violence between the tribal and non-tribal communities that sprung out of a march organised on May 3 in different hill districts by the All Tribal Students Union of Manipur (ATSUM). The march was in opposition to granting ST status to the state’s majority community, the Meiteis. On April 30, the Manipur high court had directed the state government to submit a recommendation to the Union tribal affairs ministry to grant ST status to the Meiteis, leading the tribal communities to oppose it on the argument that their constitutional safeguards and rights would be affected by it.
Currently, the state has shut down internet services for five days, and a curfew is imposed in eight districts of Manipur, including non-tribal dominated Imphal West, Kakching, Thoubal, Jiribam, and Bishnupur districts, as well as tribal-dominated Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, and Tengnoupal districts. Visuals of fire, gunshots and stone-pelting are being circulated all over social media.
On May 4 night, Letkhohao Haokip, a resident of the hill town of Saikul, confirmed the death of his nephew to The Wire stating, “We went to help people from our community (Kuki) on the night of May 3, and my nephew Mangminjoy was shot dead by Manipur Police commandoes.” On being asked why he was shot allegedly by police, Letkhohao claimed, “Here in Manipur, everyone is divided into two communities now. Police belonging to the Meitei community are helping their community only since they are in majority.” He claimed, “No one is helping us. This is my humble request to the prime minister and New Delhi to help the people of Manipur, since the chief minister is not doing anything here.”
The family says 20-year-old Mangminjoy, a football player, was shot between 1 am and 2 am; they rushed him to the Saikul community health centre where he was declared dead around 3 am. To confirm the death, The Wire also noted down the patient’s registration number. The cause of death issued in the death certificate said: “Case of brought dead from a bullet shot to the head.”
Yet another death confirmed by The Wire was from Khongsai Veng colony of Imphal West district. “He was a student of class 11, named Thangginlun Lupheng; shot on the chest by a man who was part of a mob and he died immediately. No one knows where his body is; his family lives in Thangkanphai village in Saikul district,” said a resident, Ginkhomang.
Ginkhomang, currently camping at the Assam Rifles camp at Mantripukhri area of Imphal West district, belongs to Pangjang village in Saikul district. “In Imphal West district, I have been living on rent in a Meitei person’s house; since the situation began to get worse, I contacted the Assam Rifles and they picked me up. We are around 500-1,000 people in the camp and luckily we all are safe.”
Late on May 4 evening, India Today reported that three-time MLA of the BJP and a former tribal affairs minister, Vungzagin Valte, was attacked by a mob in Imphal while returning home from a meeting with chief minister N. Biren Singh. News reports said while the MLA and his driver came under attack his personal security officer escaped. The reports said the MLA is in critical condition and undergoing treatment at the intensive care unit of the government owned RIMS in Imphal.
According to a Sangai Express report, an individual who was admitted to RIMS along with the MLA was killed in the mob violence. The Wire has not been able to confirm yet if the person declared dead was in the MLA’s vehicle. The newspaper has said in the report that the two days of violence have led to loss of 11 lives, and hundreds have been wounded and many houses and properties have been demolished or burnt down.
It said, “One individual was killed in mob violence at Singjamei Bazar (in Imphal West district) last night (May 3 night) where a vehicle was also torched. In one incident which took place at Kangpokpi (a district headquarters) last night (May 3 night), shots were fired. As police retaliated, one individual was killed.”
On May 4 morning, a mob took the life of a person at Kakwa Nameirakpam Leikai of Imphal “while two others sustained injuries. The other two succumbed to their injuries at RIMS in the afternoon.”
The newspaper confirmed another death at Chajing in Imphal West district on May 4, adding, “Large-scale violence was reported from Churachandpur, Moreh, Gamgiphai, Motbung and Saikul areas yesterday (May 3).” A person was hit by a bullet fired by a mob on Dingku roa in Imphal on May 3 night, causing his death.
Yet another death was reported by the newspaper from Moreh in Tengnoupal district on May 3 and two others at Senjam Chirang in Imphal West district on May 4.
Locals have confirmed to The Wire that the entire state is facing violence, with people on the ground freely roaming around with pistols, AK47s and other weapons.
On May 4, the Union government intervened and used the services of the Army and Assam Rifles to evacuate people from different parts of the state. At least 7,500 people from different parts of the state were evacuated to safety. Earlier in the day, Union home minister Amit Shah had a telephonic chat with the chief minister to take stock of the situation. The chief minister made a televised appeal to all citizens to shun violence and maintain peace. He called the riot-like situation springing out of “misunderstanding”.
The Defence PRO Kohima and Imphal said the situation had been ” brought under control through coordinated actions by all stakeholders”. “…evacuation of civilians of all communities from affected areas continued throughout the night,” the PRO continued, saying the Army was conducting flag marches in Churachandpur and other sensitive areas.
Looking at the spiralling violence in spite of prohibitory orders, the Union home ministry later invoked Article 355 of the Constitution to take control of the internal disturbance. Lieutenant Colonel Mahendra Rawat, the defence PRO in Guwahati, told reporters that five companies of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) of the CRPF were flown to Imphal on May 4 at the direction of the Union home ministry. Earlier in the day, Manipur governor authorised all district magistrates, sub-divisional magistrates and all executive magistrates/special executive magistrates to issue shoot at sight orders ‘in extreme cases whereby all forms of persuasion, warning, reasonable force, etc. has been exhausted.
For now, the Meitei community comes under SC and OBC lists, but they are demanding ST status, while people from the ST community are opposing this as they are afraid of losing their rights since the Meitei constitute 53% of the population in Manipur.
On Thursday, May 4, around 500 people from the Kuki community gathered outside Manipur Bhawan in New Delhi to demand the resignation of chief minister N. Biren Singh and the imposition of president’s rule in the state. They also wrote a letter to President Draupadi Murmu on May 4 outlining their demands, which was signed by presidents of different students’ unions from the Kuki community.
Mr Singsit from Bijang, Tuibong in Churachandpur believes that the BJP government of the state is controlling the local media narrative in their favour. He accused the army and state police of helping rioters in the state.
The Wire accessed some of the videos which Singsit shared with us. One video shows a group of men holding guns and heading towards Kangpokpi district. Singsit claimed that the group is from the Meitei community.
Additionally, Singsit also claimed that the local police, army and media are helping the Meitei community and not stopping riots in the state. Another video shows a group of men in army uniform walking with a mob.
A pastor from Imphal told The Wire that many churches in the state were set on fire by the mob. Some reports say as many as 25 churches were burnt.
A student, Muanlian Tonsing, who lives in Churachandpur, said, “Inside Manipur University, tribal students were singled out. Around 150 tribal people are taking shelter at the MU Army camp right now. MU students joined hands with people from outside. Dy Registrar David Zote’s house was attacked, and he narrowly escaped. The attackers (50-100 men) barged into the Girls’ Hostel by breaking the doors and locks. They checked ID cards, and some students jumped from the balcony. It was a manhunt for Kuki/Eimi students and staff.”