The recent violence in Manipur has been fueled by conflicting claims to land and special benefits in a state that is divided along religious and ethnic lines. The protests by tribals against the Meitei community have resulted in the deaths of 54 people, including a senior Indian Revenue Services officer who was killed by a mob and a police commando who was shot dead in his village. Even an MLA from the ruling BJP, who was a Kuki tribal, was attacked by the protesters. As a result, the army had to be deployed in the state and shoot-at-sight orders were issued to control the riots.
The protests that occurred recently were caused by various reasons. However, the root of the problem lies in the society’s division into various groups, each fighting for their rights and privileges.
Reasons behind the Conflict in Manipur
How did the riots start?
- The violence began during a Tribal Solidarity March in the Torbung area in the Churachandpur district organized by the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) on Wednesday (3rd May 2023).
- The march was organized by tribals, including Nagas and Kukis, to protest the demand of Meiteis for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status after the Manipur High Court asked the state government last month to send a recommendation to the Centre within four weeks.
- During the march, an armed mob allegedly attacked people of the Meitei community, which led to retaliatory attacks in the valley districts, escalating violence throughout the state.
- Another trigger was the eviction of Kuki villages that the government claimed were encroaching on protected forest areas.
- These factors provided enough sparks as sentiment against the Meitei community was ready to blow up.
The Ethnic Conflict
- Manipur is a northeastern state with a mix of communities with a history of mistrust between them.
- Meiteis constitute a little over half of the population, while Kukis and Nagas comprise nearly 25% and 15%, respectively.
- Most of the Meiteis live in the Imphal Valley, while the tribals live in the hill districts.
- Meiteis are mainly Hindus but also follow their ancient animist beliefs and practices.
- 8% of the Meiteis are Muslims called Meitei Pangals.
- The Meiteis are better represented in business and politics of the state than Kukis and Nagas.
- Kukis and Nagas are mostly Christians.
- Kukis migrated from Myanmar to Manipur, beginning centuries ago.
- They were initially settled by Meitei kings in the hills of Manipur to act as a buffer between Meiteis in the Imphal valley and Nagas who used to raid the valley.
- Nagas and Kukis traditionally oppose each other, but they are united against Meiteis.
- In 1993, Manipur witnessed fierce Naga-Kuki violence in which more than a hundred Kukis were killed by Nagas.
Reservation for Meiteis
- The conflict between Meiteis and ‘tribals’ in Manipur is an extension of the hills-versus-plains conflict in the northeast.
- Kukis and Nagas, who live in the hills, complain that the benefits of development mainly go to Meitei-inhabited areas, particularly the Imphal valley.
- They also complain that while Meiteis are only half of the population, 40 of the state assembly’s 60 seats are reserved for them.
- The High Court recently asked the state to send a proposal to the Centre on including Meiteis in the Scheduled Tribes (STs), which Kukis and Nagas are against because they fear it will result in more benefits going to Meiteis.
- Meiteis say they were unfairly kept out of the list of Scheduled Tribes, and being in a general category works against them in the state.
- Meiteis cannot buy land in the hill districts where Kukis and Nagas live, while Kukis and Nagas can buy land in the Imphal valley.
- Meiteis want the ST status because they fear they will be outnumbered in the valley due to the influx of illegal immigrants from Myanmar, and getting the status would allow them to buy land in the hill districts.
Issue of Illegal Migrants
- The military coup in Myanmar has led to a surge in illegal immigration into Manipur
- The crackdown on Myanmar’s Kuki population has resulted in many Kukis fleeing to Manipur
- Illegal Kukis are able to settle easily in the hill districts of Manipur since they share a similar language, culture, and appearance with the local Kukis
- New Kuki villages are often built on protected forest land
- The eviction of a Kuki village from government land has contributed to the protests in Manipur
- Meiteis have asked for the NRC to identify illegal immigrants in the state.
The Drug Problem
- Poppy cultivation is prevalent in the hill districts of Manipur, which is used to make heroin and other narcotics.
- The government has destroyed thousands of acres of poppy farms in the hill districts.
- Kuki immigrants from Myanmar are allegedly involved in poppy cultivation in these areas.
- The Kuki groups claim that they are unfairly blamed for poppy cultivation and that the main issue behind the protests was a reservation for Meiteis.
- The BJP’s rise in power has brought relative peace to the northeast region which has been plagued by violence for decades.
- The government has negotiated with various insurgent groups and taken steps to remove certain areas from the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
- The porous border with Myanmar continues to pose a challenge to maintaining peace in Manipur.
- In addition to dealing with illegal immigration, the state also needs to address the drug problem with a firm hand.
- Manipur is a state in northeastern India, bordered by Nagaland to the north, Mizoram to the south, and Assam to the west.
- Manipur became a part of India on October 15, 1949, and was initially a Union Territory. It became a full-fledged state on January 21, 1972.
- It is known for its rich culture, natural beauty, and diverse ethnic communities.
- Imphal is the capital city of Manipur.
- The state has faced several conflicts and insurgencies in the past but has seen relative peace in recent years before the recent violence.
- Manipur is also known for its traditional arts and crafts, as well as for its contributions to Indian cinema and sports.
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What is the reason for Manipur violence?
What are the major tribes in Manipur?
Meitei: They are the largest ethnic group in Manipur and are primarily concentrated in the Imphal Valley.
Naga: They are the second-largest group in Manipur and are mostly located in the hills.
Kuki: They are the third-largest group and are mainly found in the hill areas.
Pangal (Manipuri Muslim): They are a Muslim community and are primarily concentrated in the Imphal Valley.
Hmar: They are a small tribe and are mainly located in the northeastern part of Manipur.
Paite: They are a small tribe and are mainly located in the southwestern part of Manipur.
Thadou: They are a small tribe and are mainly located in the southwestern part of Manipur.
Zomi: They are a small tribe and are mainly located in the southwestern part of Manipur.