North East India: Conflict or ethnic cleansing?

Over the last four weeks large-scale violence has erupted in the hill regions of Manipur. Arson, the use of grenades and gunfire are widespread. This has resulted in the deaths of over 100 people, the displacement of 40,000, and the destruction of thousands of homes, as well as religious structures. Whilst all who live within the Indian state of Manipur are being affected by this, members of the Kuki tribe are the main target. As of the 15th of June, of those dead, 81% belong to the Kuki tribe, and 31,410 of those displaced are Kuki.

Who are the Kuki tribe?

Manipur is a rural state located in northeastern India, the south and east of which borders Myanmar. It is the home to many ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Meitei community and the Kuki and Naga tribes. The Meitei community, who are predominantly Hindu, make up approximately 60% of the population and live mostly within the valleys of the state in and around the capital Imphal. The Kuki and Naga tribes, of which there exists many sub-tribes, are predominantly Christian and make up approximately 40% of the population.
The Kuki and Naga tribes, as well as some of the Meitei sub-communities are afforded Scheduled Tribe Status by the state. Scheduled Tribal Status was given to minority communities along the new India border in the 1950s. It guarantees those with status political representation, quotas for education access and government jobs, as well as allocation of land. For instance, in Manipur the hill regions are reserved for Scheduled Tribes.

What triggered the violence?

The Meitei have been seeking protected status like the other communities in Manipur leading to a high court appeal. There has been protest in response to this as minority tribes feel that the Meitei already hold a dominant position within Manipur and that allowing them Scheduled Tribal Status would further institutionalised oppression. In contrast to the Kuki and Naga tribes in Manipur, the official language of the state is the Meitei mother tongue, the Meitei currently hold power in governance, and as a result Meitei have solidified their hold over the political landscape of Manipur.
Whilst the violence currently taking place has occurred in chain reaction to these events, the sheer intensity is a consequence of the highly securitised state response.

How has the government responded?

Kuki villagers have felt that the lack of response by the Central BJP run Government is constitutionally against the special status afforded to them as a Scheduled Tribe. The State government, also BJP run, has been accused of actively supporting the violence inflicted in Manipur by the Meitei which shows collusion with the supposed ‘militants’.
Once again it appears that the deployment of majoritarian politics trumps the need to protect human rights of an ethnic tribe as Central and State Government collude to support a Hindu led movement against a Christian population.

A recent press release from the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum details the extent of this collusion:

Blocking of the ITLF Media Cell Twitter account is yet another attempt to stifle the already marginalized Kuki-Zo tribal voice. This act comes as an addition to the already crippling 40+ days of internet shutdown in the Manipur Hills districts (minimal restriction in the valley districts), severely limiting and hampering the ability of the Kuki-Zo tribals to report on-ground daily incidents of attacks perpetrated by state-sponsored Meitei separatists, rampaging Meitei mobs including Meira Paibis, and radicalized groups such as Arambai Tenggol and Meetei Leepun…

Tens of thousands of militants have been deployed with “shoot at sight” orders, a curfew has been imposed in 11 of the 16 districts, and internet services have been suspended. In a press release, The Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum asks:

“How can the Chief Minister talk about peace when state police forces using sophisticated guns and bullet-proof vehicles are still leading Meitei militants in attacking and burning tribal villages?”

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