Manipur violence: Meitei mothers condemn PM Modi, govt for divisive politics

Meitei women from violence-hit Manipur staged a protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on June 19

'Mothers of Manipur' protesting in New Delhi's Jantar Mantar on Monday, June 19 (photo: Vipin/National Herald)
'Mothers of Manipur' protesting in New Delhi's Jantar Mantar on Monday, June 19 (photo: Vipin/National Herald)

Ashlin Mathew

Slamming the Union government, the representatives of the Women's Market in Imphal said that the divisive politics of the government and its complicity with some of the parties to the conflict was a matter of concern. The Women's Market in Imphal is run by Meitei women, and their representatives were in New Delhi's Jantar Mantar for a sit-in on Monday, June 19.

Addressing the media in New Delhi, the Khwairamband Ima Keithel Joint Coordinating Committee for Peace pointed out that though Manipur has been suffering "the most horrible communal catastrophe for more than 45 days, yet the prime minister has had no time to visit Manipur and has not even said a single word".

Known mostly as the "mothers of Manipur", the women said the citizens of Manipur were completely dismayed by the silence maintained by the prime minister on the recent violence. "We, the mothers of Manipur, strongly condemn the Union home minister’s exclusivist talks with Naga MLAs and Kuki MLS," said the Meitei women.

Highlighting the violence in the state, one of the mothers, H. Binodini, said many of the people have been using sophisticated weapons and that was a cause of concern. "Loss of property and jewellery can be restored, but human lives cannot be. The hills and forests are burning. That is why all the mothers and youths have been having sleepless nights. This is especially a concern for global warming," said Binodini.

The ongoing ethnic strife has claimed nearly 120 lives and left more than 500 injured, and more than 70,000 have been internally displaced on all sides.

Members of the committee said 80 of the women representatives were in Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They underscored that the ongoing ethnic strife should not be termed either as a tribal vs non-tribal or a a Hindu vs Christian issue.

The clashes in Manipur between the Meitei and Kuki ethnic groups began on May 3 and have continued for 48 days without any signs of abating. All Kukis have been expelled from Imphal, and no Meiteis can be seen in Churachandpur (a Kuki stronghold) or other Kuki-dominated hill districts such as Chandel, Kangpokpi, Tengnoupal and Senapati districts of Manipur. The Meiteis predominantly live in the Imphal valley and the Kuki tribes live in the hill regions of the state.

The women also condemned the Manipur state forces for their inability to stop the violence and protect the lives and properties of both Kuki and Meitei families, since the beginning of the violence on 3 May 2023.

Janu Begum, one of the women who had come with the delegation, said violence continued even while Union home minister Amit Shah was in Manipur. "Instead of [waiting to see] more youngsters dying, we mothers have come to Jantar Mantar to protest. We are ready to sacrifice our lives for that of our children. We have lost faith," she said.

Adding to her statement, K. Dhaneshwari said the home minister came to Manipur only 20 days after the violence commenced. "We don’t see any visible initiatives being taken for establishing peace even after he came. During the elections, the prime minister and several other ministers came to Manipur, but this time so many lives have been lost, yet no one has come," she said.

Having given up hope of the state government (led by the BJP) resolving the crisis, the women have demanded that the Union government (also led by the BJP) should stop the divisive politics of dividing people on community lines, and focus on protecting the administrative integrity of Manipur. They said Meitei youth should be disarmed only after abrogation of the suspension of operations (SoO) agreement with Kukis.

The SoO pact was signed on 22 August 2008, with the main objective of initiating a political dialogue with the militant groups. Nearly 32 Kuki insurgent groups operate in Manipur, 25 of which are subject to a tripartite SoO agreement with the Government of India and Manipur.

In March 2023, the Manipur government has backed out of the SoO signed with the Kuki National Amy and the Zoumi Revolutionary Front, two tribal underground organisations in Manipur. The union government is still part of the pact, but Amit Shah had warned of the dissolution of the pact if the violence continued.

According to the pact, the Centre and state governments agreed that the security forces would not launch any operations against these groups. In return, the insurgent groups will also not launch any such operation.

As a result of the ongoing clashes, supplies of essential food items and medicines and the movement of security forces have both been hit in several areas of Manipur, because of blockades on national highways and arterial roads by both groups.

Several parts of Manipur are not under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which means that unlike in some other areas of the North-East, the army is not given powers to shoot anyone breaking a law, or arrest or search without warrants etc.

The BJP chief minister of Manipur, N Biren Singh had rather irresponsibly in one of his meetings in May branded the Kukis as "terrorists". "The fight is between the state and central forces against the terrorists who are trying to break Manipur. It is not a fight between communities," Singh has since said, denying that it was an ethnic clash.

More than 550 civil society groups and concerned individuals from across the country had come together last week to condemn the continuing violence in Manipur. They put out a joint statement that emphasised that "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".

The statement underscored that the state "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. 

The Congress on Sunday criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not speaking on the Manipur crisis in his Mann Ki Baat radio broadcast and asked when he will say or do something about the "unending violence" in the north-eastern state.

On Saturday, 17 June, reports emerged that mobs clashed with security forces in the capital city, Imphal, while reports of gunfire in Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts were reported on Friday night. Automatic weapons were fired from Kwakta in Bishnupur district and Kangvai in Churachandpur district.

An attempt was also made to loot Irengbam police station in Imphal West. However, no weapons were stolen. An arson attempt was reported in the palace compound near the Advanced Speciality Hospital and Research Institute in Imphal. A mob of about a thousand congregated on Friday evening and attempted arson and vandalism in the area. The RAF fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the mob, during which two civilians were injured.

The house of the minister of state for external affairs in Modi’s cabinet, R.K. Ranjan Singh, was set on fire in Imphal on Thursday evening, June 15, as well. Castigating the Biren Singh government for "the failure of law and order" in the state, reeling under violence for over a month, Ranjan Singh said, "I am shocked... law and order situation in Manipur has totally failed."

When violence had broken out on May 3, it seemed to be an inter-tribal agitation between the Meiteis (who are currently not recognised as a scheduled tribe) and mostly Kuki tribespeople. It originated after a Tribal Solidarity March called by the All Tribal Students' Union, Manipur (ATSUM) in the Torbung area of Churachandpur district. The march was organised to protest against the recent Meitei demand for inclusion in the scheduled tribe (ST) category.

The demand for including the Meitei community in the ST category has been a matter of 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, including the use of land.

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