By Ashis Biswas
Despite increased deployment of security personnel in riot-hit Manipur during the last 48 hours, sporadic violence has continued in several areas. One Border Security Force (BSF) sepoy was killed, while two Assam Rifle personnel were injured as they came under fire from suspected armed Kuki attackers at Serou area during a major clash on June 5 lasting for hours.
Officials in the state capital Imphal told mediapersons that some Kuki groups were apparently violating commitments their leaders had made during talks held in the presence of Union Home Minister Mr. Amit Shah: they had agreed to surrender arms and maintain peace. While a large quantity of arms and ammunition were seized, anti-police attacks and group violence, had continued in pockets.
Both Shah and Chief Minister N. Biren Singh had issued general instructions calling upon people to surrender illegal weapons in their possession to the police. Those who failed to so were liable to be arrested. Shah had also announced the formation of a high-power committee to study the present situation and suggest remedies.
Imphal-based media reports quoting official sources said that around 800 automatic weapons and advanced type of guns had been recovered during search operations conducted jointly by the state police, the Assam rifles, and other central paramilitary units. Over 11,000 bullets of different varieties along with some mortars and grenades were also seized. Mostly households in the hilly areas, where the majority of tribals live, are being searched in the present phase of operations.
The search ops had been stepped up following the major flare-up of ethnic violence, resulting from the march conducted by All Tribal Students’ Union of Manipur on May 3. Angry students were protesting against the official move supported by the central government, to include the majority Vaishnavite Meitei community in the list of scheduled tribes.
In several group clashes involving the state police and Meiteis on the one hand, and armed (mostly Kuki) tribals, during the next few days resulted in nearly 100 deaths, besides the loss of property estimated at nearly Rs 150 crore and the displacement of over 25,000 people from both groups.
As sneak attacks and ambushes have continued, albeit on a reduced scale, the authorities have deployed additional seven units of security personnel — 5 from Assam Rifles and 2 from the BSF — to bolster mopping-up ops from violence-prone areas. The search-and-seize operations are being backed by the use of drones and in places, helicopters.
However, continuing group clashes in the Kangchup area in Imphal and Sugnu claimed at least three lives during the past couple of days, while four persons were injured. Unconfirmed reports said the death toll since last week had risen to eight. The house of Congress MLA K. Ranjit was torched and 200 other houses were also set aflame. Local Meitei politicians alleged that the attackers included many illegal infiltrators who had crossed over from Myanmar to help their Kuki relatives with arms etc.
The government had imposed curfew orders and curtailed internet functioning, to prevent the spread of violence. Later, Shah made his promised visit to the troubled state, where he met concerned stakeholders and leaders of rival groups involved in the violence.
Kuki delegations had met him earlier in Delhi, including members from the ruling BJP in Manipur. Naga tribal groups, unexpectedly, expressed their support for the Meiteis, whom they saw as the sons of the Manipur soil, just as themselves. The Kukis, Naga leaders maintained, had come over from Myanmar (Burma) much later, around 1840 or so.
Such arguments have been revived in the present context of grim tribal/non-tribal ethnic tensions in Manipur, belying its traditional reputation for setting high standards in regional culture and ethnic harmony. The Kukis are calling for a separate state, in the shape of a new union territory, in the wake of the recent bloodbath. In terms of territory under present and effective occupation, the tribals, including Nagas, Hmars and Zos, along with the Kukis, are better placed. They live in over 90% of the hilly terrain.
Meanwhile, the Meiteis, accounting for around 53% of the population, are concentrated around the Imphal valley areas, where the administration has its headquarters. Leaders of the Meitei community fear that with their numbers being increasingly threatened by continuing illegal influx of Kukis from neighbouring Myanmar, along with Rohingyas and other elements of Bangladesh, their social marginalisation is only a matter of time.
For the moment, an uneasy truce has been worked out between the warring communities. Both the centre and the statements governments have strongly rejected the demand for the creation of a separate state/Union territory for the tribes. Significantly, the Kuki demand for a separate state has not won any noticeable support from other tribes, which has brought major relief to the BJP-ruled state government. (IPA Service)