Indian authorities are struggling to contain an ethnic conflict in the northeastern state of Manipur that has killed more than 100 people and displaced more than 50,000, according to activists, as analysts warned that the unrest destabilized an already volatile border region. can
Violence erupted last month between the ethnic Meitei people, who live in the valley around the capital Imphal and more than half of Manipur’s population of about 3 million, and the Kuki and Naga, hill-dwelling tribal communities, over fears of protection. Minority privileges.
Manipur, which means “land of jewels” in Sanskrit, has long been plagued by ethnic strife, and anger that has raged since India’s independence led to a widespread uprising in the northeast for liberation.
But unlike past outbreaks that pitted insurgents against New Delhi, the current clashes have mainly involved civilians, who have looted thousands of weapons, including assault rifles and ammunition, from police, local media reported, citing unnamed official sources. Last week, two women and a child were burned alive in an ambulance by a mob on the outskirts of Imphal, an atrocity that shocked Indians.
New Delhi over the weekend set up a committee to encourage peace talks between the communities, but the process has failed to get off the ground. A local police official in the state said on Wednesday that at least nine people had been killed in gun battles earlier in the day, Reuters reported. Security forces have been deployed in an attempt to maintain order.
The violence has prompted hundreds of Manipur residents to seek refuge across the border in Myanmar’s Chin state, which is itself wracked by conflict between rebel groups and the forces of General Min Aung Hlaing’s military junta. Journalists have faced restrictions on reporting from Manipur, and there has been an internet blackout for more than a month.
The conflict in Manipur has a communal background: most Meites are Hindus, while the Kukis are predominantly Christian. About 250 churches have been destroyed in the fighting, according to local religious and civil society groups.
The state government’s drive to eradicate poppy cultivation in protected forests and the drug trade in the mountainous border region have also fueled local grievances, as have tensions over immigration to the northeast from Bangladesh and Myanmar – an emotive issue that has been raised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Expanded on the national stage.
But analysts and local residents said the conflict is mainly related to land privileges and other rights reserved for tribal groups, which date back to the British colonial era.
The latest clashes erupted on May 3, after the Kukis and Nagas staged a rally to protest against a court order to accelerate plans to extend “Scheduled Tribe” status to the Meitis. The designation would provide affirmative action benefits currently reserved for tribal groups and grant the Meitis living in the lowlands the right to live in the hill areas.
Khuraijam Athoba, a Mitty and social activist, said the conflict was “a battle to correct the demographic imbalance in the hills caused by illegal immigrants from across the border”.
Kukis have accused the state government, controlled by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, of siding with the Meites, but have encouraged the central government to intervene to restore order.
“This is state-sponsored violence,” said George Guite, who runs a non-governmental organization that advocates for Kuki rights, adding that peace can only be achieved if New Delhi removes the local administration and takes direct control of Manipur.
“The Meitis control everything, including the police commandos,” he said.
Ahead of national elections next year, the opposition Indian National Congress has seized on the conflict to attack Modi, who has not visited the state or publicly addressed the unrest since the current unrest began last month.
“It’s been more than 40 days now and the prime minister hasn’t spoken a word,” said Pradeep Phanjobam, an ethnic meeee and editor of the Imphal Review of Arts and Politics.
“There was a train accident and it ran there and created all kinds of optics, but nothing about Manipur,” he added, adding that at least 275 people were killed and hundreds more injured in clashes earlier this month.
Amit Shah, India’s home affairs minister and a top Modi deputy, visited the state late last month and appealed for peace. India has deployed around 40,000 security forces in Manipur and is trying to impose a buffer zone between the plains and mountains.
But Guite, a kooky activist, dismissed the prospects of reconciliation. “We cannot start living together as before, even if there is peace,” he said.