Manipur Burning: Shoot-on-sight follows morning's eerie calm

Curfew was imposed and paramilitary forces deployed in eight districts after violence broke out on Wednesday between the Meitei community and other tribes


Borun Thokchom

In the wake of escalating communal tension, curfew has been imposed in eight districts of Manipur and mobile internet service has been suspended in the entire state.

Violence had broken out on May 3 during a tribal agitation between the non-tribal Meiteis and mostly Kukis.

This has led to deserted streets in the capital city of Imphal, which wore an eerie silence on Thursday as the curfew took effect. Burnt-down vehicles served as stark reminders of the recent unrest, reflecting the gravity of the situation. Residents, fearful of further violence, preferred to stay indoors.

Police and paramilitary forces have been deployed to enforce the curfew and maintain peace. Their presence was very visible in street patrols and checkpoints to restrict movement.

Shoot at sight orders by the Governor of Manipur
Shoot at sight orders by the Governor of Manipur
Government of Manipur

The curfew covers the following areas of Manipur: Imphal West, Kakching, Thoubal, Jiribam and Bishnupur districts, which are dominated by a non-tribal population, and the tribe-dominated districts of Churachandpur (at the epicentre of the unrest), Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal.

Mobile internet services have been suspended across the state for five days but broadband services are operational.

The upheaval originated during a Tribal Solidarity March called by the All Tribal Students' Union, Manipur (ATSUM) in the Torbung area of Churachandpur district. The march was organised in protest against the Meitei community's demand for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category.

The solidarity march witnessed a large turnout of participants from different tribal communities coming out in solidarity, under the banner 'Come now, let us reason together' (inspired by Isaiah 1:18), as it progressed through Senapati, Ukhrul, Kangpokpi, Tamenglong, Churachandpur, Chandel and Tengnoupal. Chants and slogans echoed the need for a collective discussion and understanding.

Thousands of agitators took part in the rally, during which violence between tribals and non-tribals was reported in the Torbung area of Churachandpur district, said senior police sources. Agitating youngsters were reportedly gathering at Canchipur in Imphal West and Soibam Leikai in Imphal East, but police deployment deterred many of them.

However, there is apprehension that Kuki militants, who have suspended their operations after an agreement with the government, could join the ongoing agitation—which may explain the shoot-on-sight order that came out later today.

The demand for including the Meitei community in the ST category has been a matter of debate and contention in Manipur for a while. Proponents argue that it would provide necessary safeguards and opportunities to the Meitei community, while critics—including ATSUM—express concerns about the potential dilution of reservation benefits for the existing tribal groups.

The ATSUM solidarity march signified the organisation’s commitment to ensuring that the voices and concerns of tribal communities in Manipur are heard and taken into account when making decisions. It remains to be seen how the government and relevant stakeholders will address the demands and apprehensions raised by the different groups involved.

The underlying tensions came to the fore after a recent Manipur High Court order, which directed the state government to recommend the inclusion of the Meitei community in the ST list. The Meitei community had filed a petition seeking a direction to the Manipur government to submit a recommendation for its inclusion to the Union Ministry for Tribal Affairs.

A single-judge bench of the court directed the government to submit its recommendation within four weeks of the order, which came out on April 14.

This triggered the already tense Hills–Valley issues. Manipur has 34 recognised tribes that are classified as 'Any Kuki Tribes' and 'Any Naga Tribes', and most of them have been resisting the 12-year-long Meitei demand to be included in the ST category. The existing ST communities have felt that the Meitei community is already dominant in the state and are economically much ahead of the other tribes.

With inputs from Ashlin Mathew

From Manipur - Video Courtesy- Borun Thokchom

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