The only way forward is peaceful coexistence
- 12th May 2023 : Manipuri Meitei Association, Bangalore -


As a community, the Meitei have always promoted peace and made substantial contributions in the state’s growth, even serving to protect the nation since ages past. Despite lacking in resources and development, Meiteis are extremely hard-working and have prospered in the fields of sport and culture.

Manipur, granted statehood on the 21st of January 1972, is a state rife with complex geopolitical issues from sharing its international borders with Myanmar. As a Hill state, there are around 33 recognized tribes, of which the Naga and Kuki are two of the major ones. In earlier times, the Meitei being one of the indigenous peoples of Manipur, was considered a tribe.

Residing in 9% of the land’s area (valley), the remaining 91% of the state is occupied by other tribes. For decades, the state has struggled with issues of militancy which have been influenced by External factors and impacted internal security. There should never be any chance for the current communal strife between two small communities to undermine national security at any point.

The state’s population growth since 2001 is recorded at 24.5%, while the population of Meiteis has remained constant. The Kuki in particular, has seen the most significant population growth, subsequently changing the entire demographic of the state. In one study, it was found that over the decade, the Kuki-Chin population has increased by almost 476.1%, primarily due to the illegal immigration of Kuki-Chin into the territory.

Even a conservative estimate shows an abnormal excess in population of 2-3 lakhs. The only explanation for this anomaly is illegal immigration. Local sources state that this growth is mainly found in five districts near Myanmar, namely, Churachandpur, Pherzawl, Chandel (bordering town of Moreh), Tengnoupal (enroute to Moreh) and Kangpokpi.

Illegal Kuki immigrants, unlawfully settled in reserved forested lands, have been primarily involved in poppy plantation with the support of drug cartels and have long been demanding an Independent Kuki Homeland. Otherwise, Meitei and Kuki have been coexisting peacefully as evidenced during the 1993 Kuki and Naga conflict, where the Meitei provided shelter and safe haven to thousands of Kuki. The matter in question concerns the illegal Kuki-Chin immigrants from Myanmar, who are involved in militancy, drugs and poppy cultivation

Some developments and significant initiatives taken by the current State Government are

1. Drug trafficking is a major transnational organized crime with the potential to undermine national security. India’s proximity to the Golden Triangle has been misused by criminals for their nefarious activities and cases have been on the rise. The current government has been engaged in an aggressive anti-drug campaign and as such, dismantled many poppy plantations.

2. The current Government of Manipur has initiated aggressive drives against illegal encroachment across the state and not just in Kuki dominated areas. The encroachment drive at K Songjang village in February of 2023 witnessed much opposition, mainly from Kuki communities.

3. Recommendation by State Government to ceased Suspension of Operation (SoO) with Kuki militant groups (Kuki National Army, Kuki Revolutionary Army and Zomi Revolutionary Army), where Kuki insurgent groups have been under Suspension of Operation (SoO) since 2005. This is the period where the illegal drug market thrived with poppy plantation as its main source of business.

4. The Declaration by the Manipur Government on March 31st approving 1961 as the cut off year for the National Register of Citizens (NRC), stating that his government is ready to introduce the NRC once approval from the Centre is met.

5. The Manipur High Court Order dated March 27, 2023 directing the Minister of Tribal Affairs, GoI (first respondent) to consider the case of the petitioners for inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list –expeditiously, and preferably within a period of four weeks from the date of reception of a copy of the order in terms of the averments set out in the written petition and in line with the order passed in WP(C) No. 4281 of 2002 dated 26.05.2003 by the Gauhati High Court– was a matter of contention.

The above initiatives deeply impacted the Kuki militants, illegal migrants and illegal drug cartels. There are reports of multiple Kuki Organizations, Militant groups and affected drug cartels taking this opportunity to instigate the Kuki population against the government and planning a retaliation, further prompted by the emotional outcry following the encroachment drive at K Songjang village and the High Order on the Meiteis’ ST demand.

Here is the sequence of events:

1. April 27: A Day before Biren Singh's visit to Churachandpur, the open gym the chief minister was scheduled to inaugurate was set on fire.

2. April 28: Section 144 was imposed along with a five-day suspension of internet services. Protesters and security forces clashed, with police resorting to the use of tear gas shells to disperse the mob in the district of Churachandpur. According to sources, police forces were not removed from the district despite the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) agreeing to withdraw the protest. A mob gathered in the Tuibong Bazar area resorted to burning tires on the roads.

3. May 3: Thousands turned up for the Tribal Solidarity March called by the All-Tribal Students Union of Manipur (ATSUM) to protest against the inclusion of Meiteis in the ST category. The rally was held across all districts in Manipur and all were relatively peaceful except in Churachandpur. More than 60,000 people were estimated to have attended the rally in Churachandpur. Violence erupted during the rally in the Torbung area –a village towards Moirang– of Churachandpur.

Simultaneous violence also broke out in Moreh, a town bordering Myanmar with a sizable Meitei population, where entire shops and houses of the latter community were burned. Many participants were seen carrying sophisticated automatic weapons in full combat gear in the so-called “peace rally” leading many to suspect the speculation about this being a premediated and deliberate act.

The Kuki alleged that during the peace rally, Meitei vandals set fire to the Anglo Kuki War Centenary Gate, a monument of significance to the Kuki, and in retaliation the Kuki responded with arson, destruction of property and burning Meitei villages and settlements in Kuki dominated areas. After news of these hostilities broke out, there was retaliation in Imphal valley in late evening leading to full-fledged communal violence in some areas.

Reports of burning Kuki properties and their respective places of worship came in as well. In response, armed with sophisticated automatic weapons, Kuki militant and miscreant groups further attacked Meitei settlements in the Hill and Kuki dominated areas. To defend themselves, Meiteis reportedly armed themselves with clubs and sticks, some even gathering firearms from Police stations as they were left to protect their children and families alone. As Meitei’s and protesters (tribals) clashed on the streets, state security forces rushed to the scene and prohibitory orders were imposed in eight districts.

Officials state that 72 is the current death toll in this rash of brutal ethnic violence engulfing Manipur. Unofficial sources placed the figure at a much higher number in the neighborhood of 200 -250 dead and more than 150 injured. More than 70,000 families have been displaced. More than 1700 Meitei homes were ravaged by fire and displaced Meiteis were placed in Relief Camps with limited resources and no proper access to food or water. About 76 Relief camps are set up for the displaced Meitei families and a further 10 Kuki relief camps in various parts of Manipur. Many places of worship from both communities were lost to vandalism.

As far as the Kuki are concerned, the impacted area being limited to the Imphal valley was more or less contained, however, no news has mentioned the delay in reaching the Meitei civilians affected in the hill areas. While the media is covering the communal violence, the heart of the crisis lies in the foothills and Hill areas in the five Kuki-dominated districts of Manipur where there are remains of many destroyed settlements.

Security forces face an overwhelming challenge in conducting a proper recue to evacuate the people most affected as heavy firing by Kuki militants continues from all sides with no viable escape route for safe relocation. There are multiple narratives at play which need to be thoroughly investigated by an independent body to demystify the truth.

On a positive note, amidst this communal clash, there are multiple reports of Kuki giving shelter to Meitei in the Hill areas as well as Meitei giving shelter to Kuki in the Valley area. Regardless of which side is right or wrong, not all are complicit in the violence. This is a message we can all learn from and need to spread in these dire times, of peace, compassion and humanity.

That being said, some critical questions need to be addressed and answered:

1. Why permission was given for the massive “peace rally” arranged by the Kuki-chin while violence was ongoing and why the Government removed Section 144 which was already enforced prior to the peace rally.

2. Under what circumstances the permission was given and why no adequate security arrangements were made for the rally.

3. Why Manipur’s Commando team was withdrawn on May 2nd 2023, the day before the Rally.

4. How the State Police failed so thoroughly in this matter, and who is responsible for the loss of innocent lives.

5. How armed Kuki militants and miscreants were permitted to carry sophisticated automatic weapons out in public. The most important matter the Government needs to resolve is the issue related to illegal Kuki immigrants and the rise of Kuki militants (KRA, ZRA, KNA) and any presence of underground Organizations in the valley and hills. Law and Order has to be established here. This should be the prime focus for the State and Central Government.

The priority is providing relief and medical aid to all the impacted families including women and young children as well as restoring Law and Order. Both communities should put an end to the violence as this will not lead to a resolution. This matter calls for investigation by independent agencies like NIA/CBI led by Retd. Judge of the Supreme Court.

Furthermore, the Government should take firm and punishable legal measures against all perpetrators in order to restore the people’s belief and trust in the laws of the land. The public should also refrain from spreading false propaganda and fake news that could further incite violence and exacerbate the current situation.

Finally, any grievance should be resolved through the proper legal channels and through dialogue. In any event, the Meiteis’ ST demand is a rightful constitutional request which the Honorable High Court of Manipur has acknowledged and where the matter now rests with the Centre Government based on its merit. This legitimate demand should not be cause for triggering communal violence and vandalism.

Thankfully, the Central Government has now intervened to protect Manipur from Internal and External aggression by Kuki Militant groups and illegal armed immigrants. Adequate central forces have arrived to curb the violence and restore Law and Order in the State of Manipur.

Manipuri Meitei Association, Bangalore

* This info was sent to by Manipuri Meitei Association, Bangalore & WMC who can be contacted at mmabangalore(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was posted on May 13, 2023 .

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