Lan Nangda Loiroba ! A musing

Mamta Lukram *

We kill each other and get killed. We blame each other and we are to blame. Until we exhaust ourselves and pass out in bloodstains, we've to continue the chaos. In the name of martyrdom precious lives are sacrificed and more await the fate.

In Manipur, the Meiteis are subjected to 'The law of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest,' in the name of ethnic conflict and whosoever skips the strife will survive or must perish. In the name of community and identity unshielded people have to volunteer to become scapegoats of the conflict.

Societal mental health glued with the heart wrenching cries of the innocent children and helpless women whose father, brother and sons got killed in the ethnic conflict. The flip reality of this conflict is 'Blame Game,' echoing from different parts. The chaos seems unending, staining the land with blood until exhausted in the midst of turmoil.

As the conflict stretches on, a looming question remains unanswered: how long will this situation persists, leaving the conflict unresolved for months on end ? Bitterness, hatred, and vengeance grow like insidious weeds, poisoning the fertile grounds of multi-ethnic peaceful coexistence that once defined Manipur.

The rallying cry of 'Sidoklasu yare, Lanse fajana yaoraga' echoes among the youth and elders, emotions running high and overriding legalities with a hint of afflicted rationality.

With the escalation of conflict, the fear of threats to the State's identity and ecology compounds the overall despair. The Meitei community, being the majority, takes on the role of the sole defender, linking the State's integrity and welfare concerns to its own.

The indomitable spirit of the Meitei people, guided by 'Sidoklasu Yare,' witnesses many falling victim to the unresolved ethnic conflict.

Unarmed, marginalized civilians find themselves unwitting victims of the conflict's brutality. Over the course of nine months since May 2023, stories emerge of family members collecting firewood, working in fields, and even young boys falling prey to the unrelenting conflict. Wails of cries, protests, and demonstrations have become part of the daily life.

Public call it 'war,' a civil war between two ethnic communities, the Meiteis and the Kukis, in a State of 22,327 sq km land cover, whereby 90:10 is hill-valley proportion and not even a single Meitei is allowed to settle in the 90 percent hill area, 10 percent is the only Meitei dominated area shared by all communities, including the Kukis.

The ongoing ethnic conflict is between Meitei and the Kuki community, and so the area cover of the ethnic conflict circles around 10 percent, ie 45 sq/km only. The area cover is shrinking due to frequent launchings of attacks and gunfights in the overall peripheral areas of the valley, so the safe zone must not be 40 sq/km even.

Unofficial estimates suggest that over 80,000 military personnel, including the Rapid Action Force (RAF), have been deployed to manage the conflict situation. The irony becomes apparent when considering the vast number of military personnel in comparison to the relatively small specific area where armed attacks and retaliations are occurring. Despite this substantial deployment, it appears that the military is incapable of effectively protecting civilians.

In a recent development spanning 45 days from December to January 18, 2024, 26 Meitei civilians were ruthlessly murdered by Kuki militants. This occurred despite the significant deployment of military personnel under the banner of peace restoration. The accountability of these personnel remains questionable. Instances of arbitrary actions on their part have been observed during protests and rallies involving unarmed civilians.

In the purported effort to control and prevent conflicts, there have been reports of substantial injuries inflicted on women protestors by military personnel. These actions seem to be more pronounced in public spaces, where confrontations with school students and women in the valley occur, as opposed to the buffer zones where armed conflicts take place.

The plight of civilians caught in the conflict is heart-wrenching, with injuries sustained during protests and rallies becoming commonplace. The power vested in the military personnel, supposedly deployed for peace restoration, is often misused, resulting in injuries to unarmed protestors, particularly women and students.

The current social situation shadows the resurgence of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) regime, leaving a trail of more than 2500 reported cases of fake encounters and numerous undercover operations. This grim reality, where people have lived in perpetual insecurity for decades, is looming large after a brief hiatus.

The Meitei people, already grappling with heavy militarization and the ongoing conflict, find themselves once again under the ominous spectre of AFSPA. Its return overcasts a severe erosion of life security for the Meitei community.

Despite being the majority, existing safeguard mechanisms have proven ineffective in shielding them from the harsh realities imposed by this draconian legislation. Trust in the military personnel deployed for peace restoration is marred by a significant deficit, raising questions about their reliability.

Seeking livelihood through seemingly mundane activities such as firewood collection or working in one's own field has morphed into a perilous undertaking under the heightened militarization. The implementation of AFSPA exacerbates these challenges, turning routine tasks into life-threatening endeavours for the Meitei people.

The impact extends beyond immediate physical threats, manifesting in cases like oil spills contaminating drinking water sources and the destruction of water pipelines. The very essence of life, culture, and identity of the Meitei community is under siege.

Even sacred spaces of religious worship located in the serene forests are not spared, as they face the brunt of restrictions imposed by AFSPA. Not only social insecurity of Meitei people intensifies in the conflict, but also serves as a stark reminder of the prolonged struggles endured under this oppressive regime.

As the community grapples with the looming AFSPA, the delicate fabric of life, culture, and identity remains under constant threat, demanding urgent attention to safeguard the rights and well-being of the Meitei people. The prolonged ethnic violence in Manipur, lasting for over nine months, is a manifestation of Governmental apathy, resembling a state of undeclared war on the Meiteis.

At the height of frustration, to self-console once an enquiry was made to a senior on why the turmoil has persisted for so long in Manipur and why resolving the situation seems a far cry, I was told "We are all pawns; the big fish is enjoying the game. Our fight will only make us the enemy of the public."

This revelation sparked contemplation, weaving a web of thoughts around speculations regarding a possible hidden agenda behind the violence. The lingering question arose why does this conflict persist for an extended duration, as if Manipur is not a citizen of a secular democratic country ?

Unchecked instigation, characterized by an overt dedication to one's community and identity in a suicidal mode, define the arduous nine-month journey of ethnic violence following the 'Tribal Solidarity March' on May 3, 2023, taking an unexpectedly violent turn. The clashing communities are now saturated with narratives emphasizing the necessity of resurgent nationalism for the protection of one's identity and community.

The complexities of history are brought into focus, prompting a self-introspection of the distortions and additions made by communities to stake claims on land and identity. The ongoing conflict underscores the urgent need for effective mechanisms of peace restoration.

As the people yearn for the day so-called 'war' will conclude, a heartfelt prayer echoes 'Lan Nangda Loiroba.'

* Mamta Lukram wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 27 January 2024 .

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