Manipur: Mass Burial of Kuki Victims Postponed After MHA Request, Zoramthanga's Intervention

The high court too has ordered that status quo be maintained on the land in question.

New Delhi: Following a request from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the intervention of Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) has decided to postpone the mass burial of 35 Kuki victims of the ongoing Manipur violence at Torbung Bangla area of the state.

The decision, for the time being, has deescalated a likely fresh confrontation between the Kuki and the Meitei communities as the ground chosen for the burial of the graves, according to local media reports, was being planned on the Meitei settlements.

The Manipur high court too intervened in the matter early this morning and asked for status quo, with a hearing at 5 am and an order passed at 6 am. Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidharan and Justice A. Guneshwar Sharma heard the matter. The matter was heard urgently in the morning despite being unlisted on the deputy AG’s request, as he said it was possible that large mobs from both communities would be gathering at the spot soon.

The court direction the Union government, state government and members of both communities to maintain status quo at the site in question till the next date of hearing. The governments have also been urged to try and come up with “amicable settlements” in the matter. The court has asked the asked the chief secretary and DGP of Manipur to file their responses on the matter, and will next hear the matter on August 9.

Following the May 3 violence in Torbung, several houses of Meiteis residing in that area were set on fire by a Kuki mob, forcing them to flee and take shelter in relief camps. The ITLF’s decision to carry out the mass burial near the sericulture farm in Torbung Bangla under Torbung Gram Panchayat is being widely seen as an attempt by the core outfit representing the demand for a separate administration for the Kukis to mark it as a reminder of the area where the first sparks between the two communities took place, as well as to demarcate an unofficial boundary of land under the control of the Kuki community. While Churachandpur is a Kuki-dominated district of Manipur, villages in the Torbung area are located on the edge of the Meitei-dominated Bishnupur district and have a few Meitei settlements.

Earlier this week, reacting to the news about the preparation for the mass burial of the Kuki victims at Torbung, the influential Meitei civil society group Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) issued a press statement asserting that it would be looked at as a provocation by the Kukis for further violence between the two communities.

“They can be buried at the cemeteries in Churachandpur or have their rites performed within the district,” it said, adding, “Slain Chin-Kuki narco-terrorists cannot be buried at the Sericulture Farm in Torbung Bangla in Bishnupur district beyond Churachandpur district boundary.” Urging the state government to prohibit such “illegal moves on time”, the organisation, seen as close to chief minister N. Biren Singh, said it would block such a move if the Kukis go ahead with it. COCOMI is vehemently opposed to a division of the state.

According to an Ukhrul Times report, “The displaced people of Torbung Bangla also said that they will return to their village starting August 4, and demanded the government to push away Kuki armed miscreants who have occupied Meitei areas from Torbung Gram Panchayat Ward No 1 to Warn no 6 by August 3.” The August 2 report said representatives of Social Welfare Club and Meira Paibi of Torbung Bangla, in their briefing to the media at Manipur Press Club, cited the areas in Torbung Bangla under the gram panchayat which comes under Bishnupur district but are now in the control of the Kukis.

Several Meitei civil society organisations also joined in the chorus, most likely forcing the MHA to intervene.

On August 3, ITLF stated that it had “a marathon meeting on August 3 night” to deliberate on the MHA’s request to it “to delay the burial by five more days”.

Interestingly, ITLF said, “If we comply to that request, we will be allowed to bury on (at) the same location and the government will legalise the land for the burial.” The statement added, “This request also came from Mizoram chief minister as well.”

It said, “After long deliberation with various stakeholders late in the night, we have come to a conclusion that we will consider the request of MHA provided they (it) have gives (gives) us a written assurance on five demands.”

In a letter to home minister Amit Shah, ITLF spelt out the demands – “legalisation of the burial site in S. Boljang of Churachandpur (Torbung Lourup); all “Metei state force” (state police force) should not be deployed in the hill districts “for the safety of the Kuki-Zo communities”; since the burial would be delayed, the bodies from the Kuki communities lying in Imphal should be brought to Churachandpur; the political demand of “total separation from Manipur should be sped up”; and the tribal jail inmates in Imphal should be transferred to other states for their safety.