Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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File photo of burning down of houses in Churachandpur last year

Even After One Year of Violent Conflict in Manipur, No Normalcy in Sight

Now, the violent conflict that erupted on May 3, 2023 with Kuki-Zomi militants attacking Meiteis in Manipur’s Churachandpur district and its bordering areas of Bishnupur district has completed one year.

Various organisations inside and outside Manipur observe May 3 in different ways to mark the one-year continued violence that shattered the social fabric of Manipur on May 3 last year.

Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM) observes May 3 as ‘Kuki-Zo Awakening Day’, or a day for “introspection” and “self-realisation” while the Thadou Students’ Association (TSA) observes as “Manipur Peace Day”. On the other hand, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) organised this day as a remembrance event at the “Wall of Remembrance” near the DC Office in Churachandpur, featuring prayer sessions and speeches.

The Corordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) convened a public meeting under the theme ‘365 Days of Chin-Kuki Narco Terrorist Aggression’ at Iboyaima Shumang Lila Shanglen, Palace Compound in Imphal. The All Manipur United Clubs’ Organoisation (AMUCO) observes the day under the theme “Revisiting the May 3, 2024 while the Federation of Civil Societies (FOCS) observes the day as “Challenge to Motherland Day”.

The day is observed by vaious organisations under various names, including Anti-Terrorism Day and Indigenous People Awakening Day not only in Manipur but also other parts of the world where Meiteis and Kuki-Zomis settle.

However, Manipur continues to remain in the grip of violent conflict and Imphal Valley remains under siege where the Meiteis and Pangals cannot go beyond Imphal Valley by road to connect with the rest of India while the Kuki-Zomis do not feel secure to come down to the State capital, Imphal.

The gunfights due to Kuki-Zomi militants’s attack on the Meitei villages at the foothills and the defence from the Meitei village defence volunteers still continue though there was a lull during the 18th Parliamentary Elections held on April 19 and 26 in Manipur.

The violent conflict has claimed at least 227 lives including 20 women and 8 children. The violent conflict claimed 54 lives in the first three days from May 3, 2023. At least 61,387 persons have been internally displaced.

According to sources, 11,150 FIRs have been registered in connection with the violence and 495 individuals have been arrested as of May 1.  1,559 persons have been injured in separate incidents of violence over the past year, while another 31 are currently missing and presumed kidnapped or murdered.

Fortunately of unfortunately, within the first week of the conflict, after widescale violence and arson, a mass “exchange of population” was carried out by security forces. Meiteis living in Kuki-Zomi dominant areas such as Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Moreh were transported to Imphal Valley. Kuki-Zomis in Imphal and other Meitei-dominantareas were taken to Churachandpur and Kangpokpi, while many Kuki-Zomis also fled Manipur to neighbouring Mizoram or other states and cities of India.

However, some families belonging to Kukis continued to live in New Lambulane in Imphal East till security forces had moved them out on a night in September 2023 to Kangpokpi.

Since the security forces failed to protect the civilians and the Meitei civilians had no arms to defend themselves from the attacks of the Kuki-Zomi militants with sophisticated weapons, Meitei youths overpowered different state security armouries and stations, primarily in the Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley and looted 5,681 firearms to arm themselves and protect their villages.

However, only 2,030, or 35.7 percent, have been recovered so far. Additionally, out of the 6.64 lakh rounds of ammunition stolen, only 28,000 have been recovered.

According to reports, the arms looted from the state armouries include 245 AK 47s, 250 machine guns, 1,600 Self Loading Rifles, 1,060 .303 rifles, 973 INSAS rifles, 630 carbines, 130 Light Machine Guns and 220 pistols. As of now, among these, it is said that only 85 AKs, 200 INSAS, 35 LMGs, 350 SLRs, 270 .303 rifles, 240 carbines, 8 MP5s, 90 pistols, 8 revolvers and 8 M16 rifles have been recovered.

This suggests that a significant arms and ammunitions still remain in the hands of local people. Moreover, Kuki-Zomi militants are not disarmed yet though the controversial Suspension of Operations (SoO) with the Kuki militant outfits had lapsed on February 29, 2024. And still there is no definitive word on whether the SoO would be brought back again or not.

Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an interview with The Assam Tribune published on April 8 this year has claimed that timely intervention of the Government of India and efforts made by the State Government improved the situation in Manipur.

Despite the claims of returning peace in Manipur by the Government, the intermittent firing continues upon the Meitei villages at the foothills. Two Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed in an attack on CRPF camp attached with the India Reserve Battalion (IRB) at Naransena in Bishnupur district by suspected Kuki-Zomi militants on April 26.

And in another fresh gunfight on April 28, 2024 one Kuki-Zomi militant was killed, while three others were injured in Leimakhong-Kangchup region of the Koubru Hills range area.

While the State (both Government of India and Government of Manipur) fails to protect the people and their properties, the Security Forces have started arrest of Meitei village volunteers and their arms from the vulnerable areas.

Despite the claims made by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren that peace has started returning and the situation in Manipur has been improved, the Meiteis including Pangals are not allowed to go beyond Imphal Valley, no public transport runs through the National Highways connecting with the rest of the country even after one year of violent conflict. There is no situation where Meiteis and Pangals can go beyond Sekmai along Imphal-Dimapur National Highway No. 2; Keithelmanbi along Imphal-Jiribam National Highway No. 37, Phougakchao Ikhai along Imphal-Tipaimukh-Aizawl National Highway No. 150, Pallel along Imphal-Moreh stretch of Asian Highway-1.

The year-long violent conflict has severely hit businesses mostly small scale establishments, schools, colleges and other institutions, besides disrupting transportation and communication networks. Thousands of people are left jobless and homeless. It also affected the agrarian sector, considered the mainstay of Manipur’s economy. Farmers cannot go to their paddyfields particularly at the foothills and the time for ploughing has become late. The firings may have simmered down now but sporadic incidents continue to occur and affect the normal lives of the people.

Nevertheless, even after the violent conflict has passed one year, there is no sign of a firm political commitment and determination of the Government to end the violent conflict and bring normalcy in the State.

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