Violence in Manipur has a lot to do with its geography and ethnic communities. The issue is related to the non-tribal Meitei community and the Kuki community. The ethnic violence has its root in a 10-year-old demand for an ST tag for the Meitei community. Read here to know more.
Manipur’s issues have a lot to do with geography. The Imphal Valley is in the middle of the state, surrounded by hills.
The valley has four motorways as its gateways to the outside world, two of which are vital lifelines for the State. The non-tribal Meitei, who make up more than 64% of the State’s population and produce 40 of the State’s 60 MLAs, are the dominant ethnic group in the valley, which makes up roughly 10% of Manipur’s landmass.
More than 35% of identified tribes live in the hills, which make up 90% of the area’s landmass, although they only send 20 MLAs to the Assembly.
While the majority of Meiteis are Hindus, followed by Muslims, the bulk of the 33 acknowledged tribes-generally categorized as “Any Naga tribes” and “Any Kuki tribes”-are Christians.
Violence in Manipur
Violence in Manipur has gotten worse as a result of the Meitei community’s almost ten-year-old quest for a Scheduled Tribe status.
- The Manipur High Court’s directive to the state government to submit an ST tag for the community to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry, however, is the immediate cause of this violence.
- Before Manipur’s union with the Indian Union, the petitioners claim that this community used to hold the ST designation; they are now asking for the status to be reinstated.
After the BJP-dominated Manipur government began a campaign to evict tribal inhabitants from restricted forests, a long history of mutual hostility between ethnic groups in the Imphal valley and its surrounding hills transformed into a simmering war. This led to the escalation of ethnic violence in the state.
The recent eviction drive from the reserved forests by the government was seen as an anti-tribal move leading to discontent among the tribal communities living in the areas.
The 2021 coup in Myanmar has caused an influx of migrants, especially Chin people who have an ethnic connection to the Kukis. The Meitei leaders have alleged that this has caused an increase in villages in the protected forest areas.
Regardless of politics or location, there is a clear ethnic gap between the Meiteis and the other ethnic groups.
- Tensions between the two groups have been building for years over a complicated variety of concerns, including land rights and a crackdown on minority groups.
- While the protests appear to have ignited the current violence, there have been years of simmering hostility between the two groups.
In comparison to other ethnic groups, the Meteis hold the majority of posts in the state administration and have benefited from greater economic and infrastructure development.
While the Naga and Kuki communities reside mostly in agriculturally prosperous and physically bigger protected hill districts, they do so in a more developed but smaller area of the Imphal Valley than the Naga and Kuki.
Also read: AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act)
Ethnic Potluck of Manipur
Thousands of members of the Naga and Kuki tribes participated in a protest against the main Meitei ethnic group receiving special treatment under India’s “Scheduled Tribe” category, which led to clashes breaking out in the state capital Imphal.
For many years, the Meitei community, a mostly Hindu ethnic minority that makes up roughly 50% of the state’s population, has fought for recognition as a scheduled tribe, which would grant them access to a range of advantages including health, education, and employment in the government.
Other ethnic groups, many of whom are Christian, claim they worry they won’t have a fair chance to apply for employment and other advantages if the Meitei community is awarded scheduled tribal status.
- No matter which party has power in Manipur, the plainsmen Meiteis, who make up roughly 53% of the state’s population and reside mostly in the atypically oval-shaped Imphal Valley, have always held sway over the state’s administration.
- Tribals, mostly Kukis and Nagas, who makeup 40% of Manipur’s population and primarily reside in the hills around the valley, frequently perceive the government’s activities through the lens of distrust.
- It is interesting to note that just 10% of the state’s total land area is in the lush Imphal valley, while 90% of the state’s land area is in the nearby hills, which are perfect for militant hideouts and are the scene of a protracted insurgency.
History of Violence in Manipur
Manipur has over 35 communities living in the valleys and hills and these communities have a history of violent clashes since olden times.
Manipur has 16 districts; however, “valley” and “hill” districts are how most people conceptualize the state’s division.
- The present-day valley districts of Thoubal, Bishnupur, Imphal East, and Kakching were formerly a part of the kingdom of Kangleipak, which was controlled by the Ningthouja dynasty.
- The Chin-Kuki-Mizo-Zomi group, which consists of the Kuki, Thadou, Hmar, Paite, Vaiphei, and Zou peoples, and 15 Naga tribes dwell in the valley, which is surrounded by low hills (hill lands make up the majority of Manipur’s geographical area).
- Naga tribes who descended from the northern hills frequently invaded the Kangleipak kingdom, which was then a protectorate of the British.
- The Kuki-Zomi were sent to Manipur from the Kuki-Chin hills of Burma by the British political agent there to serve as a barrier between the Meiteis and the Nagas and defend the valley from looting.
Since the time of the monarchy, there have been ethnic hostilities between the Meiteis and the hill people (Naga & Kuki).
- Insurgencies among the Meiteis and Kuki-Zomi were brought on by the 1950s Naga independence movement.
- To demand a state within India named “Kukiland,” the Kuki-Zomi factions become militarized in the 1990s.
- They were no longer friendly with the Meiteis, who they had before supported.
- Hindu Meiteis and Pangals (Muslims) battled in 1993, and there was also horrifying violence between the tribal Nagas and Kukis, which resulted in the killing of many Kukis in a single day by Nagas and the eviction of thousands from their homes.
The presence of such turmoil encouraged insurgency to grow in the area with scores of militant outfits beings formed. The government over the years through numerous efforts was able to bring a few of the outfits to the negotiating table.
- The NSCN-IM (Naga) entered a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1997.
- Many valley-based Meitei groups are yet to agree to any negotiation.
- In 2008, two major Kuki groups KNO and UPF signed a tripartite Suspension of Operation (SoO) with the center and Manipur state government.
To improve the region’s human rights condition, the contentious Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958, must be repealed.
- To prevent security forces from abusing their position of authority, the government should make sure that the judicial system is just and open.
There is a need to increase the level of monitoring in the border regions to stop the influx of migrants from Myanmar. Regional stability and security can be improved by fortifying diplomatic and economic relations with nearby nations.
The criteria for ST status to Meiteis should be examined thoroughly based on several committee reports like Lokur Committee (1965), Bhuria Commission (2004), etc.
-Article written by Swathi Satish