Unraveling Socio-Historical analysis on Ethnic Conflict in Manipur

Edmund Shinghor R. *

Manipur is surrounded by the beautiful blue hills with an oval-shaped valley at the center, a naturally made Jewel. The land is called ‘’A Jewel land or Land of Gems’’. Manipur is located in the Northeastern part of India. The creator has blessed the land with diverse culture, ethnicity, nature and beauty.

It shares its state borders with Nagaland on the north, Mizoram on the south, Myanmar on the east, and the Cachar district of Assam on the west. The state is geographically divided into two areas, the hilly regions and the plains. The lower hills of the eastern Himalayas are a significant part of Manipur's landscape.

Historical and cultural context

The history of Manipur, date back to about 15th Century BC. Ningthou Kangba was the then ruler of Manipur. The kingdom emerged through turmoil and without rulers for a very long period. After the defeats of the Manipur by the British during the Anglo-Manipuri war of Khongjom, in 1891 AD, the land became Princely state under the British Rule.

The state has numerous ethnic groups, and each has its own cultural and linguistic identity. Enriched by the presence of 33 different tribes, which belong to the Nagas and Kukis, two separate conglomerates of the Manipur tribes, contributing to its vibrant cultural diversity. The two communities have big differences in terms of accents, languages, clothes, traditions, cultures and customs.

The Meiteis and Nagas communities were known to have lived in Manipur since the beginning of time. W. McCullough’s 1859 account indicates that there was a significant migration of the Kuki people at the beginning of the 19th century, who were then living in the Chin Hills (Northwestern Myanmar), were displaced and pushed towards Manipur, where they permanently settled in the Churachanpur district a land which was given by the Maharaja Churachand Singh.

Manipur’s Integration into India and rise of insurgency

During the Colonial era, the British implemented a divide and rule strategy which heightened already-present ethnic tensions. Manipur joined Indian Union in 1947, the year India attained Independence. Later, on 21st September 1949, Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh signed a merger agreement, merging the princely state of Manipur into India.

However, the Manipuri’s desired a separate state because they believed they were being ignored by the Indian government. Manipur was given statehood on 21st January 1972, under the North Eastern Region Re-Organization Act, 1971.

The hill tribes were designated as the “Scheduled Tribes” under Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled extent and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and was given special rights, including the ability to own land and a tax-exempt status.

On the other hand, these rights were not granted to the Meiteis because they were categorized as the “General”. Due to this approached, there is now mistrust and hostility between the Meiteis and the Hill Tribes. Although the Indian government gave Manipur statehood, this did not end the underlying animosity between the various ethnic groups.

The Meitei dominated government was still being opposed by the Nagas and Kukis, who had been calling for their own homeland. In the 1980s, we witnessed the emergence of the armed insurgency organizations in Manipur who sought to create distinct homelands for their respective communities.

An independent socialist state was desired by the Meitei insurgent organizations including the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the United National Liberation Front (UNLF). The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) founded by the Nagas, and the Kuki National Organization (KNO) founded by the Kukis respectively to fight for their homeland.

These groups and the Indian Security Forces often clash each other leading to violence and bloodshed in the past years. The geopolitical location of Manipur, which borders Myanmar, has contributed to the violence. The porous border with Myanmar has made it easy for the insurgent’s groups to smuggle drugs, arms and ammunition, making it difficult for the security forces to contain the insurgency.

Violent Clashes and Government Inaction

The most unexpected violent clashes broke out in Manipur after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organized in the 10 Hill Districts on 03 May 2023, to protest against the Meitei Community’s demand for the scheduled Tribe (ST) status. The violence was preceded by the tensions over the eviction Kuki Villagers from reserve forest land, which had led to a series of smaller agitations.

Hundreds of people have lost their lives, thousands of them injured, thousands of houses were burnt in Imphal and Charuchandpur district, and more than 60000 people took shelter in the refugee camp, fearing death and dangers. The innocent lives were lost; thousands of students cannot get normal education. Large number of churches, administration buildings/quarters, and villages burnt to ashes.

But unfortunately, the cry of the people was unheard by the Modi’s government, and took several months to address the issues of Manipur. All the 10 MLAs from the Kuki community in Manipur including two ministers in the Chief Minister Biren Singh BJP government demanded a separate administration, stating that the state of Manipur has miserably failed to protect the Chin-Kuki-Zomi tribals.

The Centre and the state government have been blamed for their alleged inability to contain and stop the unrest at the very beginning. The internet was shut down in the state for several months to avoid spreading of fake news and creating more problems. The Indian government deployed security forces in Manipur to control situation and maintain law and order.

Spear Corps of the Indian Army expressed concern over women activists (Meira Paibis) in Manipur deliberately obstructing security forces routes and interfering with their operations, emphasizing the adverse impact on the timely responses during this critical situation.

Prioritizing development initiatives, safeguarding tribals rights and ensuring equal representation will pave the way for Manipur’s more peaceful and harmonious future. The Federation of Civil Societies Organization (FOCS) and 13 other CSOs have announced that May 3 will be observed as 'Manipur Gi Puwarida Amamba Numit' (Black Day of Manipuri history) and have urged the public to mark this day each year on May 3.

Path Forward for Peace and Development

Manipur’s violence is a complicated problem with roots socio, political, economic and cultural aspects. To achieve peace and stability in the region, it is essential to address the problems of the various ethnic groups, foster economic growth, and deal with insurgency and militants. The conflict in Manipur must be resolved using a multifaceted strategy that takes these elements into account.

The priority now is to bring complete normalcy, indulging in peaceful talk of both the party. It is the need of the hour that the Leader of the country prioritize addressing current issues in Manipur and finding solutions quickly.

This involves promoting understanding among all groups, resolving past conflicts, and creating an inclusive and peaceful society where everyone can live together in harmony. Let there be peace in our Motherland.

OH Manipur!

* Edmund Shinghor R. wrote this article for
The writer is a Master’s Student, Department of Political Science, St. Joseph’s University, Bengaluru
and can be contacted at edmundshinghor2000(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on April 29 2024.

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