Manipur's struggle for peace amidst ethnic tensions

Dipak Kurmi *

As the new year dawned in the serene North Eastern State of Manipur, a distinct shift marked the latest wave of violence, setting it apart from the previous chaotic mob clashes that had gripped the ‘Jewel of the East’ in May of the preceding year.

The initial phase of turmoil in Manipur, characterized by ethnic tensions, has evolved into a scenario reminiscent of the Wild West, with armed groups from the Meiteis and Kuki-Zo tribes engaging in gunfights. In the initial months of unrest, unseen ethnic boundaries emerged, prompting the Kukis and other members of the broader Zo community to depart from the Imphal valley, traditionally dominated by the Meiteis.

Simultaneously, the Meiteis sought refuge in the valley, leaving behind the tribal-administered hill districts. This unfolding dynamic echoed events reminiscent of the 1947 ethnic cleansing on religious lines in Punjab.

The often-criticized Assam Rifles and deployed army regiments in Manipur established buffer zones, strategically separating Meitei territories from those inhabited by Kukis, along with other tribal communities like the Paites. This delicate peace was occasionally disrupted by either community’s sporadic attempts to expand their sphere of influence.

The extensive web of Kangleipak rebel factions, once a persistent menace in the Imphal valley, has experienced a resurgence. Over the past two decades, these factions had been relatively contained, but recent developments indicate a revival, with some even acquiring weaponry allegedly “looted” from the State police force.

A portion of the faction-riddled Kuki militants in Manipur, who had previously surrendered and resided in camps under the vigilant supervision of the Assam Rifles, might have eluded surveillance. There are indications that they could have potentially joined armed village vigilantes in the hill district.

As the divisions along communal lines solidified in the State, factions on either side of the ethnic rift united into two overarching “armies” representing Kukis and Meiteis. Surprisingly, despite their differences, they found a common adversary in each other.

It appears as though a “war within a war” has erupted in the State, with factions not only engaging in direct confrontations but also exploiting the overall breakdown of law and order. Simultaneously, they capitalize on the chaos to partake in activities such as extortion, gun trafficking, and narcotics trade—historically familiar ventures that now further threaten and manipulate the general public.

Despite efforts to reconcile race relations through the establishment of peace committees, the reality persists that the formidable presence of heavily armed militants and vigilantes on both sides has significantly eroded trust between communities. This, in turn, has undermined the State’s ability to maintain peace and foster trust-building initiatives effectively.

The ongoing violence, coupled with the shortcomings of the State machinery in addressing the crisis, has tragically led to the loss of at least 180 lives. Additionally, the aftermath has seen the destruction of 1,700 structures and the displacement of nearly 40,000 individuals, with some seeking refuge in neighboring States.

The arrival of Kukis from Myanmar, seeking refuge from the conflict in the neighboring Nation, has further heightened the feeling of insecurity among the Meiteis.

While the Kuki National Organisation and the Kuki National Army (Burma) have consistently emphasized their exclusive focus on the conflict with the Myanmar State, and not engaging in any skirmishes in Manipur, the possibility of some of their members acting independently and participating in the training of village vigilantes cannot be dismissed.

Several analysts express dissatisfaction with the State Government’s decision to reinforce the presence of State police commandos, primarily consisting of Meiteis, in the Kuki hill areas. Incidents of clashes between these commandos and Kukis have been reported in Moreh, along with accusations of high-handed behavior by State policemen towards tribal communities.

Compounding the situation, the recent surge in violence has been accompanied by the arrest of two local newspaper Editors on charges of purportedly violating sections of the Indian Penal Code and, in one instance, the Officials Secrets Act. In a State already grappling with restricted reporting due to frequent internet bans and other obstacles, these recent arrests paint a concerning picture for the freedom of the press.

Throughout its history, Manipur has witnessed a complex interplay of conflict and camaraderie among its diverse communities. In the era of monarchs reigning over the Imphal valley, their influence in the hills, home to Nagas, Kukis, and other tribal groups, was rather precarious.

The tribals maintained a strong connection with the hills, adhering to their customs and resolving disputes through tribal laws. The kings acknowledged this arrangement, fostering a system of tributes and a symbiotic relationship, all while tensions between different communities lingered beneath the surface.

Since Independence, the interactions among the three primary communities of Manipur—Meiteis, Kukis, and Nagas—have been marked by conflict, tensions, and misunderstan- dings. Despite these challenges, the communities have coexisted, with instances of living together and even engaging in inter-marriages.

The potential for reconciliation and peace remains robust. In 1944, young men from the Meiteis, Kukis, and Nagas communities collectively joined Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army in their endeavor to advance into India from Burma. As the INA retreated, many of these individuals returned to Rangoon. Notably, Manipur’s inaugural Chief Minister was among those who volunteered for the war in the pursuit of freedom.

The introduction of education by Christian missionaries in the hills of Manipur elevated the prosperity of the tribal communities. Additionally, the reservation provided to them as Scheduled Tribes further contributed to their socio-economic well-being.

Conversely, the concentration of the most fertile land in the Imphal valley, historically under the dominion of the Meiteis, posed a unique challenge. This circumstance led to the tribals residing in the hill areas, which, while offering nine times more land, had significantly fewer cultivable or habitable regions.

Yet, due to their control over agriculture—the primary industry in Manipur— and their substantial population share, amounting to almost 53%, coupled with an early embrace of modern education, the Meiteis held sway over the majority of the State’s key institutions.

A recent surge in ethnic tension has been simmering since the installation of the BJP-led Manipur Government in 2022. The administration initiated a campaign to displace tribal villagers from areas designated as Reserved Forests by the State, while the Kuki-Zo community asserts these regions as their traditional tribal lands.

The catalyst for the ongoing violence was ignited during demonstrations by tribal groups in early May last year. These protests were in response to an initiative aiming to accord the majority Meiteis the status of a Scheduled Tribe.

While the recent initiative has been overturned, lingering suspicions suggest that Meiteis with Scheduled Tribe status may harbor intentions to displace tribals from their hills—where land ownership is exclusive to tribals—or compete for jobs and publicly funded higher education opportunities acquired through affirmative action.

Conversely, among Meiteis, concerns persist about Kuki-Zo people potentially bringing in relatives from Myanmar, altering the State’s demographic profile, and potentially exacerbating issues such as the illicit trade in narcotics and firearms—a trade that involves armed militants from various communities in the North East.

A potential solution could involve a truth and reconciliation initiative, akin to the approach undertaken in South Africa under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. However, embarking on such an endeavor requires waiting for the cessation of gunfire in the hills and vales of Manipur—a task that may best be undertaken by Central forces, given the accusations of partisanship directed towards the State police.

Until such a resolution materializes, it is likely that 2024 will usher in increased insecurity for the residents of this picturesque yet troubled State. The trend of families seeking refuge away from the challenges resembling a “near war zone” is expected to persist, continuing the exodus observed throughout the preceding year.

* Dipak Kurmi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at dipaknewslive(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 13 February 2024 .

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • Nupi Landa Thaunaphabishing #14 :: Book
  • Violence in Manipur 2023-2024 : Timeline
  • 174th Anniv Maharaj Narasingh #1 : Gallery
  • Ensuring Fair Voting in Hills of Manipur
  • Dr Irengbam Mohendra's latest book :: Rvw
  • NDA has the advantage in both
  • Lok Sabha polls in Manipur #1 : Gallery
  • L Rup's Robot 'Kangleinganbi' in Manipuri
  • Art- means of connecting hearts in Manipur
  • Is it Living Alive or Living Death ? :: Poem
  • Rabies - A preventable zoonotic disease
  • April 19, 2024: The blackest day of all
  • Ugly turns on voting day
  • Children Camp @JNMDA Imphal #2 : Gallery
  • The chasm between TB & HIV continues
  • Parliament and its Members
  • Kimchi for health and glowing skin
  • LS election with a difference
  • To vote, or not to vote ?
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba Chak Katpa #2 : Gallery
  • "ST status for Meetei" at Lamjao, Kakching
  • The Power of Poppy - 27 :: Poem
  • Mother Language based education essential
  • Modi's warriors wear regional hats
  • Nest Asia promoting Northeastern Cuisine
  • Now look beyond LS poll
  • The rot in the system
  • Scientists of Manipur : Laitonjam Warjeet
  • Community seed bank @Umathel : Gallery
  • 10 candidates cracked Civil Services Exam
  • Milk of Paradise: History of Opium : Rvw
  • How plastics find their way into our bodies
  • Condemning attack on Trucks along NH-37
  • Cong looking to buck the trend
  • Saving Manipur
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba: 1 occasion, 2 narratives #2
  • Election Duty :: Travellog
  • 1st Nagas' Meet in Punjab
  • How to select right MP to represent Manipur
  • "ST status for Meetei" at Tejpur
  • Bats are Keystone species for the Planet
  • The '15 days' conundrum
  • Free but not so fair
  • Descent of Radha-Krishna #30: Download
  • Before You Vote : My Rumbling Thoughts
  • "ST status for Meetei" at Kakching
  • Meiraba wins All India Sr tournament
  • Finding light in dark through my daughter
  • Navigating life's unreasonable expectations
  • Test of people's character
  • BJP's election manifesto
  • Athoubasingi Numit #1 : Gallery
  • Black rice & Glycemic Index
  • What Nadda should speak at Dimapur rally
  • Open Letter to CM Office Manipur
  • Meghalaya unveils Strawberry festival
  • Benefits of maths newspapers for students
  • Id-ul-Fitr @Hatta #1 : Gallery
  • Are you a good person ?
  • Physics Academy of NE : Executive Body
  • "ST status for Meetei" at Moirang
  • Cherrapunji Eastern Craft Gin launched
  • Cong on cautious path
  • Botox for Hair
  • Posers voters should raise now
  • The lull before the storm
  • 80th Anniv- Battle of Kanglatongbi @UK
  • Vir Chakra Ngangom Joydutta's bust unveiled
  • Hun - Thadou Cultural Festival : Gallery
  • "ST status for Meetei" at Singjamei
  • Election Eclipses: Ballad of Battle & Loss
  • Our voices are equal at the ballot box
  • Scientists of Manipur : Ngangkham Nimai
  • Urgent Call for Solidarity in Manipur
  • Meitei Nongsha #2 :: An Artwork
  • "ST status for Meetei" at Waikhong
  • About NPF-BJP-NPP alliance & why ?
  • World Veterinary Day, 2024
  • The heavy stake behind the LS polls
  • The politics of lying & deception
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba Chak Katpa #1 : Gallery
  • Hun-Thadou Cultural Fest @ Delhi: Report
  • Appeal to Parties & Candidates
  • "ST status for Meetei" at Wangoo
  • Establishment of community seed bank
  • Awareness Programme on new Criminal Laws
  • Make a right choice at the Lok Sabha election
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba: 1 occasion, 2 narratives #1
  • RIST talk-58 : Support systems of elderly
  • "ST status for Meetei" at Hiyanglam
  • Vote, do not boycott !
  • Lok Sabha election: A new dawn in politics ?
  • IIT-Guwahati Half Marathon report
  • Taking ST demand to the election ring
  • Lesson to be learnt from across border
  • Mirabai: Poised for Paris Olympics
  • Legal position for protection of environment
  • "ST status for Meetei" at Keisamthong
  • Heterocyclic compound & biochemical science
  • Inner, torn between two lovers
  • Certification Music Therapy Workshop
  • NOTA as a choice
  • Caesar's wife must be above suspicion
  • Descent of Radha-Krishna #29: Download
  • World Health Day 2024
  • "ST status for Meetei" at Pangantabi
  • The Power of Poppy - 26 :: Poem
  • Fulbright Fellowship Outreach at Arunachal
  • Id-ul Fitr da namaz nattana..
  • Nupi Landa Thaunaphabishing #13 :: Book
  • Lok Sabha election is coming, be prepared
  • 6th Hun-Thadou Cultural Festival
  • Let There Be Free & Fair Election
  • "ST status for Meetei" at Lamlong
  • Science magazines are important for student
  • Interesting choice of candidates
  • The power of We, the voters
  • Inspirations from Scientists of Manipur #1
  • The Case for Amendment of Article 371-C
  • Meitei Nongsha #1 :: Artwork
  • Link between forest & conflict in Manipur
  • Final Call for Application MFA - Phase-2
  • ST for Meiteis call before elections
  • Passing the buck
  • Beating of the Retreat #1 : Gallery
  • Life of our Lives in Ethnic Strife Era! :: Poem
  • IIT-Guwahati annual Half Marathon
  • Follow up: European Parliament on Manipur
  • Yoga & Kegel exercise: Pelvic floor workout
  • Opting for the NOTA button
  • Yearning of the displaced people
  • Kenedy Khuman (Singer) : Gallery
  • 5th NE Women's Peace Congregation
  • World Autism Awareness Day 2024
  • Election fever grips Manipur despite unrest
  • Looking for a decent election hustings
  • Clock ticking towards voting day
  • An exemplary directive
  • Children Camp @JNMDA Imphal #1 : Gallery
  • Memo to Election Commission of India
  • Easter & Holi echo in Nilgiris
  • Holiday Camp for children at JNMDA, Imphal
  • Zero waste is our moral responsibility
  • Elections & loyalty vis-a-vis Manipur crisis
  • Show of strength without unity
  • Yaoshang Pichakari #2 : Gallery
  • Panthoi Chanu : 1st to play in Australia
  • Intensive labs in film preservation
  • Building bridges with books
  • Need of the hour: Political maturity
  • Accepting defeat before the election
  • Descent of Radha-Krishna #28: Download
  • April Calendar for Year 2024 : Tools
  • Natural packaging from bamboo : Gallery
  • The Power of Poppy - 25 :: Poem
  • Everyone has their own Bharat Ratna
  • Nupi Landa Thaunaphabishing #12 :: Book
  • Demand- Manipuri as classical language
  • The Drummer from Odisha
  • Beauty benefits of lemon
  • Yaoshang Mei Thaba #2 : Gallery
  • Manipur's original Ponies : Gallery
  • Yaoshang & Dance of Democracy loom
  • Symposium on Jagadguru Shankaracharya
  • Choosing ITI as a campus after X
  • Yaoshang Pichakari #1 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang @Nabadwip Dham : Gallery
  • How oral health affects your pregnancy
  • Two faces of Holi
  • Prawaas 4.0, Multimodal Transport Show
  • A decade of development of higher education
  • Yaoshang Mei Thaba #1 : Gallery
  • Our Eternal Kangleipak :: Poem
  • Micro-livestock for livelihoods: For NE States
  • The fun of Holi used to be monotonous
  • 2nd Annual Art Exhibition #1 : Gallery
  • About the "Meitei" community from Manipur
  • Unveiling the medicinal benefits of honey
  • The incalculable value of wildlife
  • Promises of true love
  • Trends, Alliances, & Challenges in Elections
  • Meitei Goddess Ngaleima : An Artwork
  • Water is the most precious gift of God
  • Bharat needs a strong 'India'
  • Transformation of railway stations
  • Not quite the final countdown
  • Missing of 'The Saffron' from electoral colour
  • Descent of Radha-Krishna #27: Download
  • 3rd North East Games: Manipur champion
  • The Power of Poppy - 24 :: Poem
  • EBTC & JCRE signed MoU
  • Early Detection Program at Toubul
  • How Holi affects our mood & mental health
  • Lamta Thangja @ Imphal : Gallery
  • Manipur cinema legacy shines at ARCUREA
  • The pulse of politics amidst conflict
  • Forest is most important vital organ of Earth
  • Tips to play safe Holi
  • Politics of naming candidates
  • Disappearing of spring from season cycle
  • Meira Paibis of Manipur
  • Demand for ST status by Meiteis
  • Project Personal Opening @Assam University
  • World Poetry Day at Manipur University
  • Green skills for sustainable world
  • Supportive interventions during exam time
  • Interesting run up to LS polls
  • Onus definitely on PM to restore peace
  • Nupi Landa Thaunaphabishing #11 :: Book
  • Water, water everywhere ...
  • 21st March - A special day for Forest
  • RI imprisonment to Rapists at Silchar
  • Arrests threaten fragile ceasefire
  • The Valor Within :: Poem
  • Monitoring the rehab centres
  • True colour of politicians
  • North East Film Festival #2 : Gallery
  • Linthoingambi- 'Jury Honourable Mention'
  • Meitei Goddess Phouoibi : An Artwork #3
  • Formation of Wesean Student Federation
  • 20th March- International Day of Happiness
  • A call to first time voter youths
  • Playing the card close to its chest
  • Targeting FOCS and ITLF
  • Students @ Class X Exam : Gallery
  • Saroi Khangba @ Kangla : Gallery
  • Special scholarship scheme for girls
  • Imphal Book Fair 2023 #3 : Gallery
  • Protest for scrapping SoO #2 :Gallery
  • Maharaj Narasingh Statue @Kangla :Gallery
  • Shopping List for Shivaratri : Gallery
  • N Tombi Equestrian C'ships #1 : Gallery
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2024 #1: Gallery
  • Radio E-pao: Manipuri Film OST (130+ song)
  • Save Manipur : Protest [Feb 15] #3 : Gallery
  • Naorem Roshibina- Wushu Medallist : Gallery
  • GHOST of PEACE :: Download Booklet
  • List of Kings of Manipur: 33 - 1984 AD