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ST reservation to the dominant Meitei community, Manipur violence explained

Manipur Violence; On Friday, a protest rally was organized by various groups, including the Indigenous Tribal Leaders' Forum (ITLF)

By Ground report
New Update
Manipur Violence: What led to violence in Manipur’s Churachandpur?

On Wednesday afternoon, violence broke out again in Manipur's Churachandpur district after a period of relative peace. As the day progressed, tensions escalated and spilt over to other regions as various tribal groups in the Hill districts came together for a solidarity rally aimed at protecting their constitutional rights and guarantees.

As the law and order situation in several districts, including Imphal, worsened due to the disruption of peaceful demonstrations by tribal groups protesting against the ST reservation to the Meitei community, the Manipur government imposed a curfew of five days and suspended Internet services. To maintain security, the Indian Army and Assam Rifles have also been deployed. Reports indicate that some districts are also under night curfew.

Tribal Solidarity March

Violence erupted during a "Tribal Solidarity March" organized by the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) in the Torbung area of Churachandpur district. The march was a response to the demand by the non-tribal Meiteis, who dominate the Imphal Valley, for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. The rally drew thousands of protesters and clashes between tribal and non-tribal were reported in the Torbung area. To control the mob, the police fired several rounds of tear gas.

The situation remains tense, but many protesters have begun to return to their homes in different parts of the hills. Meanwhile, agitated youths were gathering in the Canchipur area of Imphal West district and Soibam Leikai in Imphal East in the Valley, calling for reprisals.

However, a heavy police deployment has been put in place and non-tribal protesters have been asked to return to their homes. The curfew was imposed in the non-tribally dominated districts of Imphal West, Kakching, Thoubal, Jiribam and Bishnupur, as well as the tribally dominated districts of Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal, due to the situation.

The protesters claim that the state government's decision to declare certain parts of the state, particularly the hill areas, as reserved forest areas has resulted in the eviction and demolition of properties without providing any rehabilitation or resettlement arrangements for the affected families.

What led to the violence?

Despite prohibitory orders, a large number of people gathered near Thomas in Kangpokpi town for the rally, which resulted in an altercation when police attempted to disperse the crowd, leading to violent clashes.

All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) organized a march in solidarity with tribal communities in the 10 hilly districts of Manipur. The purpose of the march was to protest the non-tribal Meitei community's demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.

The demonstrations were peaceful, except for an incident in the Torbung area of Churachandpur district, where an armed mob reportedly attacked members of the Meitei community. This led to retaliatory attacks in valley districts, resulting in an escalation of violence across the state, police said.

According to the police, the violence lasted for more than three hours, during which several shops and houses were vandalized and set on fire. In the Imphal Valley, the homes of Kuki tribesmen were looted in several areas, forcing them to flee.

Previously, Valley legislators had openly supported the demand by some Meitei organizations for ST status for the majority community in Manipur, raising concerns among communities already on the Scheduled Tribes list.

The Meitei, who make up 53% of the state's population and reside in the Valley, which comprises about a tenth of the former princely state's land area, say they are facing problems due to "large-scale illegal immigration of Burmese and Bangladeshis".

"The mountainous districts, which make up a significant portion of the state's land mass, are mostly inhabited by tribes, including the Nagas and Kukis, and are protected against invasion by various laws. Tribal villagers from remote areas traveled to the nearest mountain district headquarters in open buses and trucks to attend the demonstrations.

Thousands of tribal members, representing about 40% of the state's population, participated in the processions, waving banners and chanting slogans against TS status for the Meitei community.

Teargas shells were used, causing injuries to at least five protesters, while some police officers were also hit by stones.

The protest was against the state government's alleged injustice towards the land rights of the tribal people, specifically regarding the government's decision to declare certain parts of the state, particularly the hill areas, as reserved forest areas.

Following the declaration, the state government reportedly evicted and demolished properties without providing any rehabilitation or resettlement arrangements for the affected families. When police attempted to stop the protesters, a clash broke out between them and the security forces.

Violence erupted during a Tribal Solidarity March called by the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) in the Torbung area of Churachandpur district on Wednesday. The march was organized to oppose moves to include the majority Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category.

The Meitei make up 53% of the state's population and live in the Imphal Valley, where they say they are facing problems due to "large-scale illegal immigration of Burmese and Bangladeshis".

The mountainous districts, mostly inhabited by tribes including the Nagas and Kukis, are protected against invasion by various laws. Tribal villagers from remote areas attended the demonstrations in open buses and trucks.

The Manipur Scheduled Tribes Complaint Committee (STDCM), which is leading the movement for the inclusion of Meiteis in the ST category, said the lawsuit is made to protect their ancestral land, culture and identity, which they say is being threatened by illegal immigration from Myanmar, Bangladesh and people from out of state.

Valley legislators have openly backed the Meitei community's demand for ST status, alarming communities on the Scheduled Tribes list.

Similar rallies were also held in Tengnoupal, Chandel, Kangpokpi, Noney and Ukhrul. Counter-blockades were established in the Valley districts to support the granting of ST status to Meiteis. Ban orders were suspended for an indefinite period in Churachandpur last week following violent protests against a campaign to evict villagers from reserved forest areas.

Encroachment Question

The recent eviction of K. Songjang village on February 20 highlights the issue of alleged encroachment on protected forest land in Manipur.

The village was deemed to have been constructed illegally along the Churachandpur-Khoupum stretch of protected forest, based on a Google map that showed only two or three structures/houses built before 2021.

The majority of houses, around 13 or 14 structures, were found to have been constructed after 2021, making them illegal according to the government.

The village was therefore bulldozed with the prior legal procedure being served to the village Chief, as claimed by the government.

A similar situation is unfolding in the village of Kungpinaosen, Kangvai sub-division, Churachandpur district, where a show-cause notice has been issued directing the villagers to vacate the area due to alleged encroachment on protected forest land.

State Govt issued statement

According to a statement released by the state government, the cabinet determined that the rallies held in support of an unconstitutional cause were illegal.

As a result, the government has withdrawn from tripartite talks/SoO agreements with three hill-based insurgent groups, namely the Kuki National Army (KNA), and the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), whose leaders are from outside the state.

The statement also reaffirmed that the government will not compromise on measures taken to protect the state's forest resources and eliminate poppy cultivation.

Furthermore, the Deputy Commissioners (DC) and Superintendents of Police (SP) of Churachandpur and Tengnoupal have been issued show cause notices for allowing the rally in violation of prohibitory orders under CrPC 144.

The statement added that strict action will be taken against officers responsible for security lapses.

The Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and United People's Front (UPF), two umbrella groups of Kuki militants, signed a tripartite SoO agreement with the governments of India and Manipur on August 22, 2008, and the government has been extending the agreement since its expiration. The KNA and ZRA are signatories of the KNO.

What is the government of Manipur saying?

Responding to the violence in Churachandpur, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh called it an internal district affair, stating that the inauguration of the open gym, which was the site of the violence, was not state-organized but to mark the first anniversary of the election of the local MLA.

He warned that severe measures would be taken against those who are "anti-development and establishment."

Meanwhile, Union Forest Minister Bhupendra Yadav stressed that it is the constitutional responsibility of the state to protect and safeguard its protected and reserved forests, and ownership of the forest rests with the state even though forest management is listed. concurrent. Yadav made the remarks at an event held in Imphal on Sunday.

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