Manipur: Tribal groups' blockades on NH-37 pushed back, maintained on NH-2

The Committee on Tribal Unity had reimposed blockades on parts of NH-2 and NH-37, to protect access to essential commodities for Kuki-Zo communities in the hills

Violence-hit Manipur (photo: Getty Images)
Violence-hit Manipur (photo: Getty Images)

NH Political Bureau

Blockades by a tribal collective on National Highway-37, which connects Manipur's Imphal with Silchar in Assam, have been pushed back by Manipur police on Tuesday, 22 August.

"Movement of 171 vehicles along NH-37 with essential items has been ensured," police said in a statement.

However, the tribal outfit continues to control access to National Highway-2, which links Imphal with Nagaland's Dimapur.

The Committee on Tribal Unity had on Monday, 21 August, reimposed blockades on NH-2 in Kangpokpi and NH-37 in Tamenglong district, demanding adequate supplies of essential commodities to Kuki-Zo communities in the hill areas of Manipur.

The Imphal area, on the other hand, is in the plains and largely dominated by the rival Meitei population.

The Meitei had recently demanded scheduled tribe (ST) status to enable access to the reservations and protections and exceptions that ST communities in the area possess—and notably, access to the space of the hilly areas, which are a larger geographical span (ostensibly only, because large tracts are not actually usable for residing upon or agriculture and are reserved under forest laws).

The police statement also mentioned "strict security measures" in 'vulnerable locations' and said a security convoy is being provided along 'sensitive stretches' to ensure free and safe movement of vehicles.

A total of 129 checkpoints have been installed in different districts of Manipur, both in the hills and the valley, and the police detained 1,369 people for violating laws across the state.

An earlier blockade by tribal on NH-2 had been voluntarily lifted after an appeal from the Central government in early July. The tribal group's current blockades, initiated two days ago, are in response to Meitei groups—including the Meitei-dominated women's group Meira Paibi—having successfully maintained their blockades that cut off supply of medicines, other essentials and healthcare needs to Churachandpur and surrounding areas.

Affected by the Meitei-held blockade of roads out of the Imphal Valley towards the hills are the Churachandpur–Bishnupur districts, where a large portion of the tribal communities live and work, and where thousands of Kuki-Zo refugees are now housed. They have mainly arrived from villages that have been emptied by the last three-and-a-half months of violence, or are Imphal- and Valley-based tribal families that have been ousted from their homes, only to find scant in the way of relief supplies or security from the state.

Churachandpur alone, with a population of 4 lakh, has 10,000-odd people in 105 relief camps.

On August 19, the Hindu reported, an Assam Rifles convoy from Imphal could not proceed to deliver medicines, which included vaccines for children, to the Kuki-dominated Churachandpur. The medicines had to be transported by choppers eventually.

Private citizens' organisations and social welfare groups have also struggled to get supplies to the tribal refugee camps.

Supplies to Churachandpur market, where prices of common food items had doubled or tripled in July, are having to be brought in from neighbouring Mizoram instead of the state capital.

On 22 July, the Print reported that LPG cylinders—which used to come in from Imphal—are now being sold for Rs2,500 each, instead of Rs1,800 apiece. The article also noted that sanitary supplies and baby food had run out in the camps, and that supplies to other tribes such as the Nagas and Marrings were being allowed through the blockade, further adding to mutual friction between tribal groups.

The violence in the state erupted in early May after a Tribal Solidarity March was organised in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for ST status — which they had originally distanced themselves from in the early years of Independence.

Since then, more than 160 people have died and several hundreds have been injured in ethnic clashes in Manipur.

Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley, while the various tribes together—which including various Naga, Ailom and Kuki-Zomi tribes—constitute 40 per cent of the population and reside mainly in the hill districts.

With inputs from PTI

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Published: 22 Aug 2023, 12:22 PM