Manipur violence: Caught in crossfire, villagers seek deployment of more central forces
In the humble settlement dotted by small huts, fresh scars of violence are etched on walls and roofs that bear innumerable chinks caused by bullets from the relentless crossfire
As Manipur grapples with ethnic violence involving Meiteis and Kukis, several other communities in its villages are also suffering the perils of conflict, living amid danger and uncertainty every day.
In Ward Number 9 of Kwatka Municipal Council between Phuoljang and Phaogakchao villages, there is palpable fear among inhabitants as they face unannounced gunfire and the alleged "nonchalant attitude" of local authorities.
In the humble settlement dotted by small huts, fresh scars of violence are etched on walls and roofs that bear innumerable chinks caused by bullets from the relentless crossfire.
Inside, the furniture and kitchen utensils are riddled with countless holes, each one representing a bullet that pierced through the fragile walls and serving as a haunting reminder of the danger that lurks outside.
Speaking on behalf of the villagers of Phaogakchao, Wahid Rehman describes the dire situation they find themselves in.
"We are living on the edge, with no certainty about the future. The crossfire begins suddenly, and it can last for hours on end. We have seen some of our fellow villagers flee to nearby relatives to escape the situation, but for those of us who have nowhere else to go, we are forced to live with the constant reminder of the dangers we face," he says.
As the violence unfolds just a stone's throw away from their homes, some residents of Phuoljang say they feel abandoned by local authorities.
Ifaf Mayum Y. Khan's words resonate with his fellow villagers of Phuoljang.
“The clashes between the Meitei and Kuki communities started in May, just 2-3 km from this place. Since then, our peace has been destroyed. Nobody has come to understand the pain of our lives—neither the local MLA nor any government officials," Mayum told PTI in his village.
Tragically, the violence has already taken a toll on innocent lives, with several people, including a six-year-old child from the area, falling victim to the firing and bomb blasts during the first week of this month.
Frustrated by the situation in the region, Mayum added, "We want the deployment of the Army, CRPF, or Assam Rifles in our village so that we can live peacefully." However, the plight of the villagers extends beyond Phuoljang, as the Gurkha community residing near Kangpokpi and Imphal West finds itself in a similar predicament.
"We want peace. Someone must intervene to restore peace in this area," said Sanjay Bishta, a villager living near National Highway 2 in the Senapati district.
Security forces have been diligently working to create buffer zones, such as the one established between Churachandpur and Bishnupur. However, this has proven insufficient to quell the unrest.
"Riots are not new to Manipur. Every six to seven years, some kind of riots have taken place. But this is completely different from any previous riots. We have never seen such a division within society," a security official told PTI, highlighting the gravity of the situation.
When questioned about the plans for the deployment of additional forces, the official emphasised, "We haven't seen any positive steps from either community (Kuki and Meitei) that indicate any truce in the near future.
"Definitely, we require more personnel to create effective buffer zones in areas adjoining the hills and valley." Echoing these concerns, another official from the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) said the local security apparatus has not been able to deliver.
“We (CAPF) are compelled to step in and aid the civilian administration. Furthermore, civilians from both the Meitei and Kuki communities have started seeking our assistance for various matters,” an official overseeing the deployment in the buffer zone between Churachandpur and Bishnupur disclosed.
The current deployment in Manipur comprises approximately 165 columns (each having around 35-40 personnel) of the Indian Army and Assam Rifles.
Additionally, there are 57 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), 48 of the Border Security Force (BSF), and four of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) stationed in the state. Each company has around 100 personnel.
Since May 3, more than 140 people have lost their lives in the ethnic violence in Manipur.