Manipur Violence, What was the scratch from old times that became a Wound now?

Abstract

The conflict in Manipur, India, is a complex issue fueled by historical, political, and socio-cultural factors. The eviction of Kuki villagers from the Churachandpur District sparked protests and tensions between the government and the tribal community. The Meiteis demand Scheduled Tribe status, which is the majority of the population, faces opposition from Hill tribes like Nagas and Kukis, who fear losing political and economic power. The conflict has led to discrimination, political power imbalances, and conflicts over land and resources. The presence of insurgent groups further exacerbates the situation, as illegal taxation on highways funds their activities. To achieve a peaceful resolution, the article proposes several suggestions, including open communication, negotiation, and equal representation among all stakeholders. Protecting land and culture, evaluating Scheduled Tribe status, implementing an Inner-Line Permit System, and strengthening law and order are crucial steps. Addressing socio-economic disparities, promoting inclusive development, and providing employment opportunities can alleviate tensions and foster intercommunity harmony. Redrawing constituency lines and ensuring fair political representation can bridge the power gap between the Meiteis and Hill tribes, creating a more equitable and inclusive society.

Keywords: Manipur, Conflict, Hill tribes, Meiteis, Scheduled Tribe status, Eviction, Inner-Line Permit System, Inclusive development.

Introduction

mera state jal raha hai, please help” This was quoted by famous boxer Mary Kom on the violence and destruction in Manipur. There are two main regions in Manipur first is the Hills which cover 90% of the Manipir land, and the remaining 10% is Valley Plains.[1] In the Hill region is the home Naga & Kuki tribes, these tribes which occupy 90% of the land of Manipur are only 35% of the total population of Manipur, these tribes are mostly Christian by religion. Also, Nagas & Kukis are not just two tribes, there are several sub-tribes under Nagas & Kukis, some of these tribes are recognized and some are unrecognised tribes. The other 65% of the population is Meiteis in Manipur, under Meiteis there are people of  Vaishnavite Hindu and Muslim religion, also known as Pangals. This 65% population lives on the remaining 10% land of Manipur which is Valley Plains. The main reason for the destruction and violence in Manipur is because the Meiteis of Valley Plains and Nagas & Kukis of the Hill region want completely different things and this conflict further complicates the rules and acts of government. This tension between tribes over their demands results in Violence & destruction. In this article, we will be discussing two immediate reasons why Manipur fell into the depths of Chaos.

Eviction of Tribals

CM of Manipur Mr. N. Biren Singh’s government made a decision to protection of the forest, the reason being, they had to evacuate some villagers from their homes, those who were evacuated were the residents of the K. Songjon village in the Churachandpur District. Villagers objected that they were evacuated without any warning or prior notice.[2] These villagers were from the Kuki ethnic group of Manipur’s Hill region. The Kuki tribe ran a peaceful protest against the decision of the government in the month of March, the tribe said that the government’s decision is against their entire tribe. The government contested that many people residing in the area were using the forest to grow Poppies for their drug business.[3]

The Issue of Meiteis

Other than the issue of eviction faced by tribals, there is another issue that was raised by the All Tribal Student Union Manipur, the union appealed for a Solidarity march for protesting the Manipur High Court order, which was related to the state government appealing central government to give Meiteis the status of Scheduled Tribes. Meiteis from Manipur were demanding the status of Scheduled Tribes from the year 2013. Meiteis believe that they need the status of Scheduled tribes to protect their land & culture, they believe that illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar are a potential threat to their culture. [4] Meitei people’s representative stated that from the status of Scheduled tribes, Kukis & Nagas are in no harm and it will create peace in Manipur. On the contrary, Kukis & Nagas do not agree with this, as they believe Meiteis are already a powerful and well-educated community, and getting the status of Scheduled tribes on top of that will only deplete the political and economic power of the hill tribes which are Kukis & Nagas. Hill tribes also contested that in the legislative assembly of Manipur around 2/3 of the people are Meiteis, with this much political power they do not need the status of Scheduled tribes. Also, the Hill tribes contended that some sub-communities of the Meitei tribe already have the status of Scheduled Caste and OBC(Other Backward Classes), and the language of Meiteis is Manipuri, it is also the part of Constitution of India under the 8th Schedule. Hill tribes say, if with all of these, the Meiteis get the status of Scheduled Tribes, the jobs remaining for the Hill tribe, they will fight even for that as well. These two are the Immediate reasons for destruction & violence in Manipur, first that the government is evicting the Kuki people and second, the government will be giving the Meitei people the status of Scheduled Tribes. The violence mainly started after a hoax spread that Meitei people attacked a tribal woman, gradually the violence spread across the state. [5]

History of Manipur

The complexity of these issues can’t be understood without knowing the complex history of Manipur. Manipur has a long and significant history as found in ancient scriptures in India, Manipur can be traced back to the 1st century AD. Ancient scriptures like Mahabharata and Puranas Manipur were known as “Kangleipak” and were ruled by several local chiefs. The Pala Dynasty and Chachar Kingdoms influenced their neighbouring Manipur before the local prince named Khagemba established the Ningthouja Dynasty and ruled over the region in the 15th century.[6] British East India Company came into contact with Manipur in the 18th century and gradually expanded its influence over Manipur. In 1891, after the Anglo-Manipur Rebellion the British East India Company took control over the kingdom, and Manipur then became a princely state under British rule.  Pakhangba, who reigned in Manipur in 33 AD, was the first well-known ruler of that state. The 18th-century Maharaja Bhagyachandra, who reigned with the same bravery, rose and fought the Burmese to defend his territory. He is the driving force behind Vaishnavism’s appeal in Manipur. When the British overcame the Burmese in 1891, Manipur came under their control.[7] In the course of World War II, numerous battles were fought in Manipur. Before being routed by coalition forces, the Indian National Army, led by the legendary Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, marched towards Imphal. Manipur, a former sovereign state, was re-established as free in 1947. However, the state joined the Indian Dominion after the then-king of Manipur, Bodhachandra, signed an agreement. In 1949 Manipur signed a merger agreement with India and became a Union Territory. This agreement between India and Manipur was severely opposed by the citizens of Manipur as after the merger Manipur was a Union territory for almost 25 years, and Manipur was ruled by the central government-appointed bureaucrats who were not the natives of Manipur but from different regions of India. In between these political Tensions, different tribes wanted different things for Manipur, as Naga tribes wanted that Manipur, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh should merge with Nagaland to make Nagalim. Kuki tribe wanted that in India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, all the areas which are Kuki dominated should merge and create a new country named Zale’n-gam, the issue with the demands of both tribes was the common areas in their blueprints.  On the other hand, Meiteis did not want any of these things, they had other plans, with the ancient scriptures as evidence meiteis contented that they are the oldest tribe in Manipur which ruled from long ago, and demanded that the Hill region should also be part of Manipur which they once ruled.[8] The government of India made Manipur a Union Territory, stripped the status of scheduled tribes from the Meiteis as they were the dominant population, and made a rule that Meiteis can not buy land in Hill regions, also Kuki & Nagas were given the status of Scheduled tribes and were allowed to buy land in the Valley plains.  In the year 1972, Manipur became the state we know today.

Grievances of Hill Tribes

In the year 1972, when Manipur became a state of India under the North Eastern Areas (reorganization) Act, of 1971, in the same year the first elections of Manipur were held, and an issue arise in the shadow of these elections. There are a total of 60 constituencies in Manipur, out of which 40 constituencies are in the Meitei-dominated Valley area, and 20 in the Hill region. This means that for Meiteis it was easy to win power, resulting in mostly Manipur Chief Ministers being from the Meitei community, due to this Hill Tribes believed that the policies of Manipur are against them.[9] Discrimination according to tribals by the Meitei community as their politicians stated Kukis as “refugees”, and the language Meiteilon which is written in Bengali script and used by the Meitei community, and in the year 1979 this language was made the official language of Manipur under the 8th schedule of the constitution of India, and Language is hard to read and write by tribals because of its Bengali script, state government made it compulsory to learn Manipuri language upto class 10th, these were some examples by the hill tribes of the discrimination against them.[10]

Grievances of Meiteis

A political representative of the Meitei community quoted, “In 60 years, the population of Meiteis has fallen from 59% to 44%, and our community have become outsiders in our ancestral land. And where tribals can acquire land in valley plains, we are not allowed to buy land in Hill region”. Meiteis argue that they need an Inner-Line permit system in their state. This system is similar to the one in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.[11]

Inner-Line permit system In the Light of Manipur Conflict

According to Meiteis, they’re having trouble with illegal migration, due to which their population is gradually decreasing in Manipur. So there should be a system in Manipur in which who isn’t a native of Manipur (Manipuri) will need a permit to enter the land of Manipur. But the Hill tribes were against the system of Inner-line permits, as they contented Meiteis have thepower in Manipur, and many Meitei leaders have alreadysaid that Kukis are refugees, with this they might say the Kukis will also need a permit to enter the land of Manipur Valley because there is a historical trust issue between Meiteis and Kukis & Nagas. Meiteis, tried many times to make a law relating to this system, but it was rejected by the President of India.[12]

The Strategy of Meiteis and Opposition of Hill Tribes (The Conflict)

Meiteis demanded the same status that they had before the year 1949, the status of  Scheduled Tribes. The Hill region contented against this demand of Meiteis stating that they don’t need the status of Scheduled Tribes because they are the dominant population in the State. And this became the reason behind the Conflict between the Meiteis and the Hill Tribes. To put this in Simpler words, both groups believe that if one group benefits from a policy, the other group will suffer.[13]

The Impact of The Conflict

There are two National Highways (NH2 and NH37) that connect Manipur with the other parts of India. But these highways are not just some ordinary highways, they are the money-making machine for the group that has influence over the highways, used to earn illegal taxes such as import and export in Maniopur through these highways are illegally taxed by the group. And according to a research report, this tax money is used to fund ‘Insurgent groups’, there are Insurgent groups in every community be it Nagas, Kukis, or Meiteis, which claim to protect their community people. For example, there are various Insurgent groups for Kukis, such as the Kuki commando force, Kuki national army, Kuki national organisation, Kuki front council, Kuki international army, and the list goes on, for Nagas, there are insurgent groups like NSCM(IM).[14] [15]  There are conflicts between Nagas and Kukis, such asclashes between Naga and Kuki, there was uncountable damage to life, because Nagas insurgents of NSCM(IM) targeted Kukis in the villages of Nagas majority, because they planned to unite all the Naga tribals to build Nagaland, whereas, KNA [16]and KNF[17] groups of Kuki tribe targeted Nagas.

Suggestions for Solution

A thorough and inclusive approach to the conflict in Manipur is necessary in order to address the worries and complaints of all parties concerned. There should be open communication and negotiation, equal representation and power-sharing, protection of land and culture, assessment of Scheduled Tribe status, implementation of an Inner-Line Permit System, bolstering of law and order, emphasis on development and employment opportunities, and promotion of intercommunity harmony, among other actions, in order to reach a peaceful resolution. To address issues and goals, all parties should engage in dialogue and negotiation, involving the government, tribal leaders, local representatives, and civil society organizations. Fair and equitable participation in the legislative assembly is crucial to resolve the political power disparity between the Meiteis and Hill tribes. Redrawing constituency lines or adding seats to Hill regions could improve political representation. A comprehensive strategy should be developed to safeguard both communities’ rights and interests, balancing the Meiteis’ cultural legacy with the Hill tribes’ reservations about land acquisition. A comprehensive evaluation of scheduled tribe status is necessary to ensure the Meiteis’ cultural and land rights are protected while not negatively impacting the Hill tribes’ political and economic interests.[18] Manipur can implement an Inner-Line Permit System to address concerns about illegal immigration and maintain demographic balance, but it should not exacerbate existing rifts or discrimination. Prioritizing law enforcement and addressing socioeconomic problems can help strengthen law and order.[19] Creating development and employment opportunities can help overcome economic inequality and ease tensions among groups.[20] Prioritizing infrastructure, education, healthcare, and skill development programs can improve the region and provide a better future for everyone. By implementing these suggestions, the conflict in Manipur can be resolved peacefully and sustainably through inclusive conversation, comprehension, and addressing the complaints and aspirations of all parties involved.[21]

Conclusion

The conflict in Manipur is complex and rooted in historical, political, and socio-cultural factors. The grievances and aspirations of the Meiteis and Hill tribes have fueled tensions and led to violence and destruction. To achieve a peaceful resolution, open dialogue, negotiation, and mediation among stakeholders are essential. Inclusivity and equal representation in the legislative assembly can address the power imbalance between the Meiteis and the Hill tribes. Policies should be formulated to protect the land, culture, and rights of all communities, striking a balance between safeguarding the Meiteis’ heritage and addressing the Hill tribes’ concerns. The implementation of an Inner-Line Permit System can address concerns related to illegal migration while considering the Hill tribes’ access to the Valley region. Strengthening law and order, disarmament of militant groups, and addressing socioeconomic issues are crucial steps to curb violence and insurgency. Focusing on inclusive development, infrastructure, education, healthcare, and employment opportunities can alleviate economic disparities and foster harmony among communities. Cultural exchange programs and initiatives are vital to bridging divides and fostering unity in Manipur. Resolving the conflict requires a comprehensive and long-term approach, characterized by patience, empathy, and collective efforts. By addressing the concerns and grievances of all communities and ensuring a fair and equitable distribution of resources and power, Manipur can move towards lasting peace and stability. It is imperative for all parties involved, including the government, tribal leaders, community representatives, and civil society organizations, to come together and work towards a common goal of peace, harmony, and inclusive development. Only through a genuine commitment to understanding, dialogue, and mutual respect can Manipur overcome its challenges and build a prosperous future for all its residents.

Name- Vinayak Shukla

– Galgotias University


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[12] Saikia, A. (2017). As the Inner Line Permit demand returns in Manipur, the state government treads with caution. Scroll. In, (1).

[13] Zaman, R. (2023). Why Manipur’s Tribes are Alarmed by court push for Scheduled Tribe Status for the Meitei Community. Scroll. In, (1).

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[15] Wungkhai, N. (2017, December 4). Why is India ignoring Manipur crisis? DailyO.

[16] KUKI NATIONAL ARMY

[17] KUKI NATIONAL FORCE

[18] Sharma, S. K., Brig. (2016). Ethnic Conflict and Harmonization: A Study of Manipur. VIF India, (1).

[19] Saikia, A. (2017). As the Inner Line Permit demand returns in Manipur, the state government treads with caution. Scroll. In, (1).

[20] Bauer, J. M. (2018). The Internet and income inequality: Socio-economic challenges in a hyperconnected society. Telecommunications Policy42(4), 333-343.

[21] Bhattacharya, H. (2010). Federalism in Asia (1st ed., pp. 23-34). Routledge Advances in International Relations and Global Politics.