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Manipur Violence: Ethnic Strife or Communal Violence?


After the state High Court verdict on Meitei being recognized as ST, claiming quota in jobs, education and Adivasi land, the state of Manipur has seen unprecedented violence in which over one hundred people have died and close to a lakh have been displaced. The accompaniments of such violence are too horrid to be recounted yet again; the plight of women, children, displaced persons and the handling of situations by the state have brought immense shame to the Country. The violence which started or was orchestrated from May 3rd onwards is now close to over two months old and fire is burning the innocents and the property mainly of Kuki’s and other tribes who are mainly Christians. Churches are a special target. Over two hundred Churches have been wiped out by the fire of Hatred. Is there an anti- Christian slant in the violence will need to be answered.

Since the violence started the Honorable Prime Minister has not opened his mouth even once on the issue. He was furiously campaigning in Karnataka for his party when the mayhem was going on. Till date he has kept a calculated silence on the issue. No appeal for peace in the state from the top functionary of the Country. An All party delegation kept waiting for his audience but he was busy preparing for his trip to the United States and leaving the burning Manipur in limbo. Eyebrows need to be raised as to whether his silence is eloquent as the major victims of Kukis and Hill tribes who are primarily followers of Christianity, a religion which PM and his parivar regard as a ‘foreign ‘ religion? Mr. Modi visited North East innumerable times since he became PM, but this time when it was needed that he douse the fire of violence he is far away.

His Home Minister Amit Shah was initially furiously campaigning in Karnataka and after a long sojourn in Delhi decided to visit the state but the violence continued unabated, even after he returned to the capital city.

The state of Manipur is being ruled by BJP, and in Center also it is BJP Government. This is presented as a powerful rule: ‘double engine Sarkar’. Ironically BJP claims with a thumping chest that wherever it rules communal violence does not take place.

Dr. Vibhuti Narain Rai, the ex-DGP of UP, who has studied communal violence extensively tells us that if the political leadership wishes any violence can be brought under control within 48 hours! Here Manipur the violence is continuing unabated.

What has been propagated in Manipur is that Kuki and other hill tribes are having vast stretches of land under their belt and Meiteis are being deprived of their due share. The present laws clearly outline that Adivasi land cannot be appropriated by the non tribal people. In Manipur Meiteis are close to 53% Kukis 18 % and other hill tribes make up the rest. The hill tribes are being demonized as opium growers, infiltrators and followers of a foreign religion. The claims of Chief Minister that the violence is related to insurgency have been countered by Sushant Singh, a former joint director with the Intelligence Bureau, who was quoted by The Telegraph that Biren Singh’s comment was “uncalled for and appeared to vilify all Kukis as terrorists.”

This is what has laid the foundation of Hate. It is due to Hate alone that violence can be orchestrated against minority communities. “Manipur High Court Bar Association told the Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, “Agitation against possible grant of ST status to Meitei community was a ruse and the protest was against the crackdown.”

A statement issued by over 550 concerned citizens from different walks of life, journalists, writers, social workers, workers for women rights and others have issued a terse statement showing their concern over the situation and calling for peace in the state and rehabilitation and justice for the victims of violence, the statement says, ‘Manipur is burning today in very large part due to the divisive politics played by the BJP and its governments at the Centre and State. And on them lies the onus to stop this ongoing civil war before more lives are lost.’ It also unequivocally states that the state has pretended to be an ally to both the communities for its political gains, but has only widened the chasm of historical tensions between them without any effort to facilitate a dialogue towards resolution of the current crisis till date.

The statement further notes that, ‘In the present scenario, the worst of the violence against the Kukis has been perpetuated by armed Meitei majoritarian groups like Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun, accompanied by genocidal hate-speech and supremacist displays of impunity. ‘There are also news reports about frenzied mobs chanting ‘rape her, torture her’ while attacking women that urgently need to be verified.’

‘The Organizer’, the mouthpiece of the RSS -- came out with a shocking editorial on May 16 alleging that the bloodshed in Manipur was carried out ‘with the support of the churches’. The wild allegation was dismissed as ‘baseless’. “Church does not support or organize violence,” asserted Archbishop Dominic Lumon, head of the Catholic Church in Manipur. This outlandish claim can be seen as a typical communal forces strategy of cover-up – to divert attention from the fact that over 300 churches had been torched, desecrated or destroyed across Manipur.

So, if the Churches are portrayed as the ‘villain’ behind the conflict, the systematically and clinically executed vandalism by the Meitei vigilante groups like Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun could be covered up at least in the vast saffron friendly media, as per Anto Akkara, a journalist who investigated the murder of Swami Lakshamananad and the Kandhamal violence. He further points out “It seems the modus operandi of the communal forces displayed in Kandhamal in 2008 is being repeated in Manipur in similar way...and that, Pastors of destroyed or damaged churches have been made to sign affidavits that they will not return.

While the North East has seen insurgency in the past, the present one has a clear communal pattern, while more investigation will be needed to understand it better. For time being the urgent need for peace in the region needs to be underlined with all the prayers.