More On Manipur

Meitis are Fighting for Lost Identity

Notan Kar

The northeastern state of Manipur has been under fire for the past few months. According to the statement of the police administration, many people have been killed and more than 1000 injured in the conflict between two groups till now. Clashes are reported to spread over at least 8 districts in the state. The video footage showed the women were being brutally tortured and killed. More than 60,000 affected people have been rescued but a large number of people in 8 districts are still waiting for relief. Net services have been shut down in the entire state. Now the question arises why did the violence suddenly spread over in Manipur?

The current violence started on April 19, 2023 when the High Court directed the state government to provide Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the Meitei community of Manipur.The Kurmi community in West Bengal has recently been agitating for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status but various Scheduled Tribe organisations have opposed it, albeit the situation didn’t reach to the point of riot. The ruling of the High Court raised tensions between the majority Meitei community and the Kuki and Naga tribal people of the State.

 For one thing before the annexation of Manipur to India in 1949, Meitei community was recognised as a scheduled tribe there. Later they lost that status. On May 3, 2023, ‘All Tribal Students Union of Manipur held a large protest rally against ST status for Meiteis.

After that rally, clashes spread over Imphal valley and hilly areas. In the Imphal valley, the homes and properties of the tribal people were attacked and a large number of people from both communities were killed in and around hilly areas. Meitei community [or Manipuri] people are the original inhabitants of Manipur especially in Imphal valley. Later the Nagas came and started living in the hilly areas of Manipur. But most of the Kukis came from Burma or Myanmar much later during the British period. The Meitei community constitutes 53 percent of the state’s population but lives in only 10 percent of the state’s areasparticularly in and around the  Imphal  valley. On the other hand, tribal communities mainly Naga, Mizo and Kuki who constitute around 40 percent of the total population inhabit 90 percent of the state particularly in hilly areas. The Meitei communities are mainly Hindu but there are some Vaishnav and Muslim communities.The ethnic groups who live in the forest are mostly Christian. Manipur was annexed to India on 21 September, 1949. At that time most of the common people of the state were not in favour of this annexation. Historically, the people of Meitei ethnicity fought the most in Manipur against the expansionist aggression of the Indian state.

The Thangjam Manorama incident and the recent protest of Irom Sharmila Chanu are fresh in memory of all. In 1980, the Government of India declared the Manipur state as a disturbed area and promulgated the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

At present, the BJP-led coalition is running the state government and unfortunately during this regime the rate of social injustice, unemployment has increased enormously. Ever since coming to power, the RSS-BJP people have been busy at whispering campaign that there is a conspiracy to turn Manipur into a Christian state led by Missionaries and it’s an immediate need of the hour to have unity of the Hindu Meiteis in order to defeat the Christian plan. In the unquenchable desire of BJP to win the Manipur elections, they had colluded with various militant outfits in the state, especially the Kuki militants. After assuming office in the state, the saffron brigade started sowing seeds of discord to destroy the social harmony between the Meitei and the tribal communities.

Opium is cultivated along with other crops in the hilly tribal areas of the state. Militant groups and ruling party leaders control the business. They buy it from poor cultivators and smuggle those into Myanmar, a neighbouring country with the help of BSF. Kukis have been demanding a separate state since 1960s. Since 2010, they have raised their loud voices to this demand. Even, if not possible a separate state, they want to merge with Mizoram at least the hilly areas of Manipur.

In the midst of continuing tensions, Meitei are demanding an Assam like citizenship census in Manipur. Muslims were worried about NRC in Assam and Christians in Manipur have been bearing the same concern. Recently, the Central BJP government amended the Forest Rights Act to allow corporates and non-tribals to purchase land and property in tribal dominated areas. Meanwhile, the Manipur Government published the ‘Manipur Mineral Policy’ in their official Gazette on January 5, 2022. It is stated in the Gazette that as an objective that the source and number of mineral resources of the state will be searched out and for this purpose private-public partnership will be encouraged. There is a deep secret behind it. The objective is especially for corporates to get entry easily to exploit forest and mineral resources.

Already the Centre has allotted 66,652 acres of land in Manipur for cultivation of cooking oil seeds under its ‘palm oil production mission’. For this, the state has been allocated 11 thousand crore rupees and most of it went to Ramdev’s ‘Patanjali’ and Adani’s company. They have virtually monopolised business in cooking oil market in India. These lands are mostly in tribal areas. The displacement of Kukis from those lands is considered to be another reason for the current communal flare-up. 81 percent of land is covered with hills and forests in Manipur. Recently, the BJP government in Manipur started evicting tribals from the forest areas. The Churches were demolished. As a result, resentment began spreading among the tribals. On the other hand, government supporters especially those having a base in the Meitei community also took out processions in and around the capital Imphal demanding for ST Status, NRC etc. and from here the inter-community conflict started in Manipur. Today, innocent people are dying and being harassed in Manipur.  Given the present charged situation the common people, democratic people, progressive people of Manipur should come forward and find out a peaceful solution among communities and the reactionary forces who depend on divide and rule policy must be isolated from the masses.

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Vol 56, No. 15, Oct 8 - 14, 2023