A Meitei group from Manipur that was one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court in their demand for Scheduled Castes (ST) category has alleged the recent violence sparked by protesting Kuki tribals, who oppose the ST demand, was “clearly pre-planned”.
The Supreme Court yesterday in strong remarks against Manipur High Court judge Justice MV Muralidaran said it will have to stay the high court order in March, which asked the state government to see if Meiteis could come under the ST category. The Supreme Court then said the high court must first hear the challenge by Kukis to its March order.
“The incidents that happened in Manipur were pre-planned. We kept warning the government that something like this may happen. We are today in a situation similar to what the Kashmiri Pandits faced,” Nabashyam Heigrujam, chief of the civil society group World Meitei Council, told reporters in Delhi today.
Clashes broke out in Manipur after tribals organised a solidarity march in the hill districts on May 3 to protest against the valley Meiteis’ demand for ST status. Tensions over the eviction of Kuki villagers from reserved and protected forests, and over the destruction of large areas of poppy cultivation preceded the violence that killed over 70 people.
The Kukis have alleged the BJP government in Manipur led by Chief Minister N Biren Singh has been targeting them systematically – using the war on drugs campaign as the cover – to remove them from the forests and their homes in the hills.
The Meiteis – who live in and around Imphal valley and cannot buy land in the hills while the tribals, who live in the hills, are allowed to own land in the valley – say their place in the valley will shrink over time.
“We are at the risk of ethnic cleansing in our own state,” Mr Heigrujam alleged.
The Meiteis have demanded the government to carry out the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Manipur to identify and deport “illegal immigrants”, who they say have come in very large numbers from Myanmar and settled in hill areas.
They have also asked the government to end all “suspension of operations” (SoO) agreements signed with insurgent groups. Purported visuals of some insurgents taking part in the protest by Kukis in the hills have appeared on social media.
Ten tribal MLAs have demanded for a “separate administration” in Manipur. The 10 MLAs, seven of them belonging to the BJP and two from the Kuki People’s Alliance, which is an ally of the BJP, said the situation is such that co-existing with the Meiteis is impossible.
A joint statement by tribal student groups in Delhi today demanded investigation into the alleged involvement of the “Arambai Tenggol” and “Meitei Leepun” – two youth organisations in Manipur – in the “pre-planned and systematic unleashing of a pogrom” against the tribals of Manipur.
Both the Meiteis and the Kukis claim the number of displaced people and the extent of property destroyed including churches, temples, shops and homes are higher on their respective side. Official sources in Manipur said 75 per cent of the displaced people are Meiteis and 70 per cent of the homes set on fire or destroyed are in small Meitei settlements in the Kuki-majority hills. The Kukis contest these figures.
Manipur is yet to return to normalcy. Home Minister Amit Shah has assured of action against those involved in the violence, and met with representatives of both the Meiteis and the Kukis.
The army and other security forces continue to carry out patrols and help civilians with supplies and evacuation. The Indian Army’s Spear Corps and others have been carrying out area-domination patrols to bring peace and feeling of safety among the internally displaced people.
Area Domination, offering solace & medical assistance is being undertaken by multiple long duration patrols day & night in #Manipur by 128 #IndianArmy & #AssamRifles columns. These patrols aptly serve as conduit for communicating problems faced & ensuring early firstname.lastname@example.org/ahT4O02DSX
— SpearCorps.IndianArmy (@Spearcorps) May 18, 2023
But sporadic gunfights between the security forces and insurgents have been reported from the hills across the state in the past few days.