Meitei Vs Kuki: The Ongoing Struggle against Ethnic Violence in Manipur


MANIPUR IS BURNING FROM MORE THAN A MONTH due to ongoing ethnic violence and the peace in the region is far from the sight. The people from both Meitei and Kuki including other tribes of Manipur are suffering from the wrath of fierce violence in the name of caste rights.

Image credit: IANS

In the fresh case of ethnic violence on Friday, three people died and five were injured during an exchange of fire between security forces & suspected rioters in Manipur’s Kangpokpi district. In a matter of moments, the mob congregated in front of the BJP’s regional office. The situation was rapidly addressed as a large police contingent arrived and effectively dispersed the crowd.

There are also some speculations that the Manipur CM N Biren Singh is likely to resign today amid ongoing violence in the state.

This is not the first time when a violent mob tried to attack Manipur’s government officials. In recent weeks, government officials have also been targeted by furious mobs.

On 15 June, a mob of over 1000 people burned the residence of union minister of state of external affairs R K Ranjan singh. This is the second time in Manipur violence when a minister is targeted by the furious and rabid mob. Earlier to this, the residence of the only minister of Manipur, Nemchan Kipgen, was set on fire. She along with her family escaped safely without any injury. 

Reasons behind this ongoing violence between Manipur ethnicities:

The land of gems, Manipur is largely associated with the beauty of vast and dense forests & valleys. The people of the region largely depend on the agriculture, forestry, trade and cottage industries.

Approximately two-thirds of the population in Manipur comprises the Meitei (Meetei) community. They are predominantly residing in the Manipur valley. The remaining populace consists of indigenous hill tribes, including the Nagas in the northern region and the Kukis in the southern part.

The root cause of the ongoing ethnic violence lies in the demand for the Meitei community’s inclusion as a scheduled tribe. This demand has been active for 10 years and is strongly opposed by other minority tribes, particularly the Kukis. 

People from Manipur stage protest at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, against ongoing violence in Manipur.
People from Manipur stage protest at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, against ongoing violence in Manipur.
Image credit: PTI Photo

Since, the Meitei people are seen as a majority who have more power and inclusiveness in the economy as well as in the political spectrum. So, giving them a scheduled tribe (ST) community tag is seen as a threat by other tribes. 

The violent clashes between tribal communities can also be attributed to the unequal rights granted by the state government. While other tribal communities can easily register and settle in the hills, the Meitei people face restrictions and are unable to buy land in the same region. This disparity in land ownership rights has further fueled tensions and conflict between the groups.

The first confrontation broke out in Churachandpur town on May 3 was triggered by protests organised by tribal Kuki groups opposing a court-ordered adjustment to the state’s reservation matrix. The modification aimed to grant scheduled tribe (ST) status to the Meitei community.  

Combined Pictures of ongoing Evacuation in Manipur
Pictures of ongoing Evacuation in Manipur
Image Credit: ANI

Why are women at the centre of Manipur’s ethnic clashes?

Throughout its history, Manipur has embraced a profound tradition of women-led protests, a legacy that began during the colonial era.

The group of these women who actively participate when crisis unfolds, are called Meira Paibi or torchbearers. They also played important role in two major mass movements of ‘Nupi Lan’ – against British rulers in 1904 and 1939. 

Image of Nupi Lan Movement by Meira Paibi
Nupi Lan Movement by Meira Paibi

During the late 1970s, Meira Paibis (Women with Torches) emerged across Manipur, as an unorganised women’s group. They started advocating for action against illicit liquor, drug use, & the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

On Monday, the Army had posted a video on Twitter to highlight the issue of interference in operations of the security forces by the women from both the Kuki and Meitei communities.

“The Indian Army appeals to all sections of the population to support our endeavours in restoring peace. Help us to Help Manipur,” tweeted the Army.

Earlier this month, the women from the Kuki community staged a protest against the ongoing attacks on Kuki villages. The protest was held outside the residence of Union Home minister, Amit Shah in Delhi.

KUKI_WOMEN_PROTEST_AMIT_SHAH_DELHI_Photo credit-Sushil Kumar Sharma (The Hindu)
Women from the Kuki community staged a protest outside the residence of Union Home minister, Amit Shah in Delhi
Image credit-Sushil Kumar Sharma (The Hindu)

How can the Central Government along with the State government put an end to the unrest in Manipur?

These ethnic violence incidents in the region have engulfed 115 lives of innocent people and left many injured and others displaced.

To effectively address these sensitive issues, the central government must take decisive measures. Firstly, it should engage in an open and inclusive dialogue with all representatives from various tribal communities. This will help them to understand their grievances and aspirations.

Secondly, the state government should work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive socio-political environment in Manipur. This can be achieved by ensuring equal rights & opportunities for all communities and addressing land ownership issues. They should also implement policies that promote social harmony and economic development for everyone.

The central government should coordinate closely with the state government to provide humanitarian aid and assistance to those affected by the violence. This includes rebuilding damaged properties, providing support to displaced families, and facilitating the return of people to their homes once the situation stabilises.

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