Manipur Violence: Kuki - Meitei Conflict
Asia News Agency
The Central government has ‘taken over’ control of security in violence-hit Manipur on Friday by deploying 12 companies, comprising around 1,000 personnel, of the Border Security Force (BSF) and airlifting anti-riot vehicles to the northeastern State, even as stray incidents of violence and looting were reported from parts of the State.
Around 3,200 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, as well as Army and Indian Air Force (IAF) teams have been deployed since Thursday. The IAF has been undertaking continuous sorties from two airfields in Assam to keep a watch over the trouble spots and move additional troops to Manipur.
The ‘March’ and subsequent violence
At least 10 people are believed to have been killed by mobs, while several villages and community-specific urban localities were destroyed when clashes broke out during the course of a tribal solidarity march Wednesday and then escalated the following day. The march was taken out in all 10 hill districts of the State to oppose the long-standing demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the non-tribal Meiteis, Manipur’s largest community, after a High Court directive to the State government to submit its recommendation on the issue to the Centre. The clashes have largely been between people from the Kuki-Zomi tribal group and those from the Meitei community, though a section of Meiteis are not in favour of the ST tag.
Manipur has been restive since February when the BJP-led government launched an eviction drive seen as targeting a specific tribal group. The drive led to protests but not on the scale of the one on May 3 triggered by the Manipur High Court’s direction to the State to pursue a 10-year-old recommendation to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the non-tribal Meitei community.
There has been a long standing conflict between the majority Meitei community and tribal communities. Kuki leaders have called the demand for ST status, another attempt by the Meitei community, which has 40 representatives in the 60-member Assembly, to take control over the entire state.
Kukis are also upset over the Manipur High Court order on April 14, asking the government to consider the demand. This has brought the historical tensions between the valley-dwelling Meitei community and the state’s hill tribes to a boil.
Major communities: The Meiteis are the largest community in Manipur. They constitute roughly 64.6% of the state’s population and live largely in the valley. The remaining 90% of the state’s geographical area comprises hills surrounding the valley, which are home to the recognized tribes, making up about 35.4% of the state’s population.
Opposition by tribal groups
The demand for ST status for the Meitei community has long been opposed by the state’s tribal groups. One of the reasons cited for the opposition is the dominance of the Meiteis, both in population and in political representation, since 40 out of 60 Assembly constituencies of the state are in the valley.
“The ST communities of Manipur have been consistently opposing to the inclusion of fearing the loss of job opportunities and other affirmative actions granted to STs by the Constitution of India to a much advanced community like the Meitei,” said Janghaolun Haokip of the Kuki Inpi Manipur, the apex body of Kuki tribes in the state.
“The claim that Meiteis need ST status to protect their culture and identity is self-defeating. The Meiteis are a dominant group controlling the state and its apparatuses. The state has been protecting their cultural, political and economic rights. As such, their culture and identity are in no way endangered…,” wrote Thongkholal Haokip, Assistant Professor at JNU’s Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, in his paper ‘The Politics of Scheduled Tribe Status in Manipur’.
The immediate provocation was the eviction of encroachments in forest land by the Kuki-Paitei-Zomi community in Churachandpur district. The district is dominated by Meitei community.
Anger in Churachandpur is not against the BJP but against the Chief Minister, N Biren Singh. Kuki leaders state that Biren has repeatedly alluded to the Churachandpur community as being ‘foreigners’ and ‘outsiders’, who settled in Manipur from Myanmar. The Kuki-Zomi tribes are originally from Kuki-Chin hills in Myanmar.
CM Biren’s drive against poppy cultivation, widespread in Manipur for manufacture of drugs, has also targeted the Kuki community, community leaders said.
On April 11, three unauthorised churches were demolished by the state government following a court order in a tribal colony in Imphal East district — a colony inhabited largely by the Kuki community.
Basically, the fear of the Kukis is that Meiteis are trying to take over tribal land.