Manipur crisis: A complete account from economic blockade to attacks on civilians

By Raymond Ronamai

Manipur may be a small state with a population of just over 25 lakh, but the divide between the people living in the valley and the hills is so wide that not a year goes by without bandhs and other protests over several disagreements. Imphal valley is predominantly inhabited by the Meiteis, and the hills are predominantly inhabited by the Nagas and Kukis.

The state is once again in turmoil with the capital city being turned into a war-like situation after the majority Meitei protesters waylaid and attacked hundreds of Naga civilians travelling to their villages for Christmas celebration on Sunday, injuring dozens of innocent commuters, and setting several vehicles aflame. The protest was held against the killing of three policemen by some unknown people last Thursday. Manipur government has held the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) or NSCN-IM, an insurgent group which signed “peace accord” with the Narendra Modi government last year, responsible for the killing but no group has claimed responsibility so far.
The violence that erupted in the state in the last few days was a culmination of several events, displeasure and disagreements between the government of Manipur dominated by the majority community Meiteis and the Nagas (minority).

It all unfolded with the Manipur government’s decision to create two more districts — Sadar Hills and Jiribam. The United Naga Council (UNC), the apex civil organisation of the Nagas in Manipur, objected to the plan saying that it should be done only after consulting with all the tribal organisations. However, the state government didn’t pay heed and decided to go ahead with its plan without consulting the stakeholders.

This angered the UNC as creation of new districts will endanger and encroach upon the traditional land holdings of the Nagas that is protected by the constitution of India. The government argued that the creation of new districts was for administrative convenience, but the UNC expressed the sentiment of the Nagas to live together under the same administrative roof.
Left with no other choice after the state government gave a deaf ear to their plea, the UNC finally called for an indefinite economic blockade along two national highways, the lifeline of the state, on November 1 and it still stands (as of December 19).

It caused lots of hardship to the people of the state, especially those staying in state capital Imphal. Price of essential goods shot up and normal life of the people in the valley was crippled. The state security personnel managed to escort vehicles carrying goods to the valley a few times but that didn’t help much. This led to counter protests by the Meiteis, who resorted to confiscation of materials, especially vegetables that were brought in by the Nagas for sale.
At this volatile juncture, Manipur police arrested UNC President Gaidon Kamei and Publicity Secretary Sankhui Stephen on November 25 and filed FIR against them for the economic blockade that has caused sufferings to thousands of people in the state. But their arrest aggravated the Nagas even more.

As if that was not enough, Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh announced not two but seven new districts — Kangpokpi, Tengnoupal, Pherzawl, Noney, Kamjong, Jiribam and Kakching — earlier this month, taking the number of districts in the state from nine to 16. Some communities welcomed the move, but it was like rubbing salt on the wounds for the Nagas.

Last week, police personnel patrolling for the inauguration function of Tengnoupal district were ambushed by unknown miscreants, killing three policemen. The state government has accused NSCN-IM for the attack, but no organisation has claimed responsibility till date.

Things took a different turn last weekend with Meitei protestors threatening Nagas staying in the valley. The Manipur Baptist Church (MBC) in Chingmeirong was attacked with stones by the valley protesters on Saturday. The mob also warned the church not to conduct Sunday services.

Meitei protestors got more violent on Sunday by attacking vehicles carrying Nagas, who were on their way to their respective villages to celebrate Christmas. Many civilians were reportedly injured due to stone pelting, and dozens of private vehicles were set ablaze. All these happened despite the vehicles were escorted by security convoy. Hundreds of innocent civilians were stranded after the vehicles on which they were travelling were either burnt, vandalised or pushed into the river.

Sensing the volatile situation that could lead to communal riot, the state government has imposed indefinite curfew in Imphal East and West districts besides suspending Internet services across the city but harm seems to have already been done, as the protesters were allowed to take law into their own hands while the state armed forces looked on.

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