The northeastern Indian state of Manipur has been in the news recently due to the outbreak of violence between the Meitei and Kuki communities. The situation has been tense for several weeks now. Both sides are accusing each other of initiating the violence. Here is everything you need to know about the recent Manipur violence.
Manipur is a state in Northeast India that shares its borders with Myanmar, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Assam. It is home to several ethnic groups, including the Meitei and Kuki communities. The Meiteis are the largest ethnic group in the state. They are concentrated in the valley areas, while the Kukis are spread across the hills.
The Meiteis and Kukis have a long history of conflict, dating back to the British colonial period. The recent violence in Manipur began in late April. Clashes broke out between Meitei and Kuki groups in the Churachandpur district. The Meiteis accused the Kukis of attacking them and burning down their homes. The Kukis claimed that the Meiteis were trying to encroach on their land. It’s time to know the truth!
The ongoing conflict between Meiteis and ‘tribals’ is an extension of the hills versus plains conflict. It exists in almost all states in the northeast. Meiteis comprise around 53% of the population and are the majority community in Manipur. The tribal communities make up approximately 40% of the population. In Manipur, there are 34 recognized tribes, broadly classified into Naga tribes (24%) and Kuki/Zomi tribes (16%).
While the Naga and Kuki tribes are included in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list, most of the Meitei community people have Other Backward Classes (OBC) status. Some of them are listed as Scheduled Castes (SCs).
It is worth noting that the majority of Meiteis are Hindus, with some identifying as Muslims. The tribals are predominantly Christians. The Muslim Meitei community, known as Meitei Pangal, is also demanding ST status along with the Hindu Meitei community.
However, the Meiteis are limited to only around 10% of the land in the state, as the rest of the state is classified as tribal areas. They live in the small patch of plain area in the state, the Imphal Valley, while the tribals reside in the protected Hill Areas. They are exclusively reserved for them. As non-tribals, Meitei people are unable to buy land in over 90% of the state.
It is notable that the government declared Hill Areas in Manipur, comprising 90% of the total land in the state. This falls under the provisions of Article 371C of the Constitution. The same Article also provides for the constitution of a Hill Areas Committee comprising MLAs from Hills Areas. Relevant laws passed by the assembly constitute village authorities. The committee and the authorities do not allow non-tribals to purchase land in the notified Hills areas.
The Imphal Valley has five districts, while the Hill Area has eleven districts. In addition to the Meiteis, the valley is also home to other non-tribals. These include people from other Indian states and immigrants, including illegal immigrants from Myanmar. On the other hand, only tribals are allowed to buy land in the hill districts.
Petition By Meiteis
A petition by the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union resulted in a High Court order stating that Meiteis had Scheduled Tribal status before 1949. However, when the state merged with India in October 1949, they lost that status. When different communities in India were classified as Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) under Article 341 and Article 342 of the constitution, the Meitei community was not included in any of them, reportedly because they are caste Hindus. At that time, not having SC-ST status was not a significant issue, but things changed later, and the Meiteis started demanding reserved status.
After the implementation of the Mandal Commission report, Meiteis were granted OBC status. This makes them eligible for reservation in government jobs and seats in educational institutions. In Manipur, the quota for ST is 31%, OBCs enjoy a reservation of 17%, and the same is 2% for SCs.
Apart from ST status, Meiteis are also demanding the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state, alleging large-scale illegal immigration in the state. However, this demand is being opposed by the tribes.
Violence By Kukis
While the Meitei community is demanding ST status, both the Naga and Kuki tribes are opposing this demand. However, it is primarily the Kuki tribes that have been involved in recent protests and violence. While the Tribal Solidarity March was held throughout the state, it was mainly in the Kuki areas that violent incidents occurred. In contrast, the march was peaceful in the Naga areas.
Several organisations representing the Naga community, such as the Maram Union, Mao Union, and Rongmei Naga Council Manipur, have stated that the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), which has been leading the protests, is a new organisation and does not represent all the tribes.
Last month, the Rongmei Naga Council Manipur released a statement condemning the actions of the ITLF. It stated that such activities were against the wishes and integrity of the indigenous tribes. They further added that creating chaos and disturbing the peace of the state had become a daily practice of some groups of people. The Naga community clarified that they have no knowledge of the existence of such a forum.
Illegal Immigration Across Myanmar Border
According to the Meitei community, there is more to the violent protests opposing the demand for ST status than meets the eye. They believe that the tribal groups have ulterior motives. Their real target is the survey of forest land and the eviction of illegal immigrants from protected areas.
Meitei groups claim that Manipur is experiencing a sudden population surge. There is a growth rate of 24.5%, compared to the national average of 17.64%. This is due to illegal immigration. They have noticed a high population growth in the hill areas of Manipur, which they say cannot be attributed to natural birth. It is the result of migration from neighbouring countries. The Kuki people, they claim, are illegally immigrating from Myanmar. They are occupying forest land in Manipur, with the support of local Kukis. The state government has launched an eviction drive to clear illegal settlements in reserve forest areas. The tribal groups are opposing it.
Meiteis are demanding the implementation of a National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) in the state to identify illegal immigrants.
The state government has identified 38 villages in the Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest area as “illegal settlements”. The government launched an eviction drive that led to clashes. It announced a survey of forest areas to identify encroachment, which is being opposed by the tribal groups.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh said that the protesters were challenging the constitutional provisions, as the people were encroaching reserved forests, protected forests and wildlife sanctuaries for poppy plantation and drug business. However, the tribal groups, mostly Kuki groups, claim that the eviction and the survey violate Article 371C of the constitution. This grants some administrative autonomy to the tribal-dominated hill areas of Manipur.
Cleansing Hindus From Christian Dominated Areas
In the midst of accusations and counter-accusations, a new claim has surfaced alleging a deliberate plan to expel Hindu Meiteis residing in Christian-dominated tribal regions. The Meitei groups assert that after the violence in the Churachandpur district, many Meiteis who fled their villages have not returned. They say that numerous houses were burned down by tribals and stones were hurled. This caused the Meiteis to flee.
Several unverified videos have emerged showing houses ablaze, which allegedly belonged to Meiteis. On Wednesday, hooligans armed with sophisticated weapons are said to have attacked and set fire to Hindu Meitei homes.
Protection Of Hindus As A Way Forward
The Meitei-Kuki conflict in Manipur has multiple dimensions and has been ongoing for decades. The demand for Scheduled Tribe status by the Meiteis has added another layer of complexity to the conflict, with the Kuki tribes opposing it. The conflict has also been fueled by issues of illegal immigration, land encroachment, and eviction drives. The recent violence and protests have further exacerbated the situation. The need of the hour is undeniable protection to the Meiteis. It is not a surprise that Hindus are yet again victims of religious hate, but it is time that is hog wash stops and the people see the conflict for what it really is – illegal immigrants and an attempt to rid the area of Hindu population!