Northeastern state Manipur is burning with group clashes and protests. The state has been simmering for more than two weeks over the demand for inclusion of the Meitei community in the list of scheduled tribes. The army has been called in to control the situation. Meanwhile, tension has been mounting in various parts of Manipur since Wednesday night due to the march of the Tribal Solidarity, which has sparked clashes among the youth in various places.
Following this, the Manipur administration has imposed section 144 in 144 districts of the state to bring the law and order situation under control. In the name of preventing violence, internet services have been suspended for the next five days. At the same time, the BJP government in Manipur has also issued instructions to shoot protesters on sight.
About 53 percent of Manipur’s total population belongs to the Meitei community. Some members of the community claim that they are facing problems in the state due to illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Additionally, the current law does not allow them to establish settlements in the hilly areas of the state. As a result, the Meitei community has demanded to be recognized as a tribe/indigenous people. This issue has also reached the court’s attention. On April 19, Manipur High Court directed the state government to include them in the ST (Scheduled Tribes) list. However, this decision has been opposed by several Meitei organizations, including All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM), leading to a two-week-long stalemate in the hilly areas of Manipur’s Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts.
In protest against this demand by the Meitei community, the student organization of the indigenous/tribal community has formed a coalition in all 10 districts of Manipur. This coalition has sparked protests and unrest in the areas of Churachandpur in western Imphal and Soibam Leikai in eastern Imphal district. There have been plenty of protesters gathered in these areas. In Turbung area of Churachandpur district, clashes erupted between two groups as the coalition tried to reach there. Police fired gunshots and tear gas to disperse the protesters. The navy, army, paramilitary forces, and Assam Rifles were also deployed to maintain law and order in various parts of Manipur. Despite this, instability has persisted for over 14 hours in several areas of Manipur. Outside of the controlled areas, curfews have been imposed in eight districts, including Churachandpur, Tenugopal, Jiribam, Thoubal, and Bishnupur.
Central Home Minister Amit Shah spoke with Chief Minister N. Biren Singh on Thursday to keep an eye on the situation. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to establish peace in Manipur.
After the all-party meeting, Home Minister Amit Shah has instructed that if in Manipur there is any extreme situation where communication, warning and less forceful measures do not work to control the situation within the ambit of the Indian CRPC (Criminal Procedure Code) of 1973, then only resort to firing should be given. This instruction has been given to all district magistrates, sub-divisional magistrates, executive magistrates or special executive magistrates. The government has stated that this extreme step has been taken to maintain law and order in the state and to restore peace.
The Ministry of Home Affairs of India has announced that so far 5 columns of the army and personnel of the Assam Rifles have been deployed in Manipur. 14 columns of the army are currently on standby. About 9,000 people are currently homeless due to the violence. Arrangements have been made for their temporary stay in army camps. It is reported that the army is conducting flag marches to maintain peace.
Manipur has been restless for several days now. After the protest against the government of Chief Minister Biren Singh erupted in Churachandpur ten days ago, Manipur became engulfed in turmoil. The protesters, mostly belonging to the indigenous communities, have two main grievances against the BJP-led government in the state. First, they accuse the government of encroaching on their traditional rights over the state’s various protected forest areas and wetlands. The fear among the indigenous communities is that if they are given a token recognition as ‘adivasi’ or indigenous people, their land and property will be taken over by outsiders. Secondly, there have been a series of attacks on the state’s churches.
On the other hand, the state government is saying that such unrest is occurring due to political instigation. The indigenous peoples are being misled.
In such a situation, Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh tweeted a four-minute long video message on Thursday. He said, “This violence is happening due to misunderstanding between two sections of the society.” He appealed to everyone to restore peace. Although Biren Singh, who has been leading the ruling coalition in Manipur for more than 15 days, has faced questions within his party. Dissatisfaction has been expressed in his role in the confrontation. In the meantime, six legislators have announced their resignation.