Manipur HC orders status quo on mass burial site; 17 injured in violence
It also said the matter would come up for further hearing on August 9
Hours before a planned mass burial of Kuki-Zomi people killed in Manipur’s ethnic violence, the high court on Thursday ordered that the status quo be maintained at the proposed burial site in Churachandpur district, while ITLF, an apex tribal body, said it was postponing the funeral service plans by seven days following requests from the Union home ministry.
Meanwhile, 17 people were injured in clashes as Army and RAF personnel fired tear gas shells in Kangvai and Phougakchao areas in Bishnupur district on Thursday to stop a procession from proceeding to the proposed burial site violating restrictions on gatherings, officials said.
The district magistrates of Imphal East and Imphal West withdrew curfew relaxations earlier announced, imposing the restrictions during the day as a precautionary measure, on top of the night curfew throughout the Imphal valley.
The Kuki-Zomi organisation, Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum, had planned the burial of 35 people, who were killed in ethnic riots in the state, on Thursday at a site in Haolai Khopi village of Churachandpur, resulting in tension in many districts of Manipur.
The HC bench headed by Acting Chief Justice MV Muralidaran started hearing the case early at 6 am, given the urgency of the matter, and directed the state and central governments and their law-enforcing agencies as well as the public to “maintain status quo” with regard to the land in question.
It also said the matter would come up for further hearing on August 9.
The bench took into consideration the “potentiality of aggravating the already volatile law and order situation and the possibility of igniting a fresh wave of violence and bloodshed due to gathering of a large mob at the land in question”.
The Centre, the state government and aggrieved parties are also directed to make an effort for an amicable settlement in the matter, the bench, also comprising Justice A Guneshwar Sharma, said.
Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai too appealed to both warring communities- Kuki and Meitei- to maintain peace and communal harmony, and stated that the "Centre is seized of the issue of last rites of mortal remains of those killed in ethnic violence" in Manipur.
The ITLF, the apex organisation of the Kuki-Zomi community, also agreed to conditionally postpone the burial for seven days, following requests from Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
A spokesperson of the organisation said Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga also made a similar request.
Rai assured the organisation of solving the issues related to the burial of the bodies within the next seven days, and accordingly, ITLF postponed its programme, he said.
"We had a marathon meeting last night till 4 am due to a new development. The MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) requested us to delay the burial and that if we comply with the request, we will be allowed to bury (35 people) in the same location and the government will legalise the land for the burial. The Mizoram CM had also made a similar request," ITLF Media Convenor Ginza Vualzong told reporters.
ITLF Officials, who had earlier in the day said they had postponed plans for five days, said that they acceded to the Union government’s request and extended it by two more days.
After long deliberation with various stakeholders late in the night, the ITLF concluded that it would consider the request of the MHA provided "they give us a written assurance on five demands", Vualzong said.
The legalisation of the burial site at S Boljang in Churachandpur and the withdrawal of state forces comprising personnel from the Meitei community from the hill districts of Manipur were among the five demands made by the Kuki-Zomi organisation.
Rai said, "The government of India appeals to all concerned to maintain peace and communal harmony and assures that it will spare no efforts to resolve the issue amicably to the utmost satisfaction of all parties within a period of seven days.".
The appeal has also been made to Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), a platform of the Meitei people.
Vualzong later said, "After we received the letter from Rai, we had consultations among ourselves and the public. As per his assurance, we have decided to postpone the burial programme for seven days.".
Earlier, additional central security forces had rushed to the Bishnupur-Churachandpur district boundary following the call by the ITLF.
More than 160 people lost their lives and several hundred were injured since the ethnic clashes broke out in Manipur on May 3, after a 'Tribal Solidarity March' was organised in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community's demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur's population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribals -- Nagas and Kukis -- constitute little over 40 per cent and reside in the hill districts.
Tension has been brewing since morning in Bishnupur district as hundreds of locals came out on the streets to go towards the burial site and to block the movement of security forces.
Locals led by women tried to pass the barricade put up by the Army and RAF personnel, demanding that they be allowed to go to Tuibuong, the burial site.
The security forces fired tear gas shells to disperse the mob, resulting in injuries.
Fearing the spread of violence, the district magistrates of Imphal East and West issued separate orders, reimposing the day curfew.
Earlier this week, curfew hours had been relaxed as the situation had improved in Imphal valley.