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India: Manipur conflict fuels demands for separate state

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The ongoing ethnic conflict in Manipur, a state in north-east India, has intensified the demands for a separate state by the minority Kuki tribe, who claim they are being discriminated and persecuted by the majority Meitei community.

The violence, which began in May, has claimed more than 130 lives and displaced over 60,000 people, as the two communities clash over land, resources and political representation. The Kukis, who are mostly Christian, have accused the Meitei-led state government of pursuing policies that threaten their security and identity, such as granting the Meiteis tribal status and allowing them to buy land in the hills, where the Kukis predominately live.

The Kukis have also alleged that the government’s war on drugs is a pretext to evict them from their ancestral lands. The Meiteis, who are mostly Hindu, have denied these allegations and accused the Kukis of being illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, who are trying to carve out a separate homeland at their expense.

The Meiteis have also blamed the Kukis for instigating the violence by protesting against the court ruling that granted them tribal status. The conflict has drawn international attention and condemnation, as shocking videos of atrocities committed by both sides have surfaced on social media. One such video showed two Kuki women being paraded naked by Meitei men after their village was burned down. Another video showed a Meitei man being hacked to death by Kuki militants.

The Indian government has deployed thousands of troops and paramilitary forces to restore law and order in the state, but has failed to contain the violence or initiate a dialogue between the warring parties. The state has been bifurcated along ethnic lines, with the Meiteis in the valley and the Kukis in the hills, each defending their territory with their own militias and weapons.

The situation has been described as a “civil war” and a “test of India’s unity” by local media and analysts. The Kuki National Organisation (KNO), an umbrella group of several Kuki militant outfits, has declared that it will not accept anything less than a separate state within India, which they call “Kukiland”.

The KNO has also threatened to intensify its armed struggle if its demands are not met. The Meitei groups, on the other hand, have opposed any division of Manipur and have demanded that the central government revoke the tribal status of the Meiteis and deport all illegal migrants from the state. They have also warned of more violence if their demands are not met.

The conflict in Manipur poses a serious challenge to India’s federal structure and its secular ethos, as it reflects the deep-rooted ethnic divisions and grievances that plague many of its north-eastern states. It also exposes the failure of the state and central governments to address the historical and contemporary issues that have fuelled the insurgency and unrest in the region for decades. Unless a political solution is found soon, Manipur may slide into further chaos and bloodshed, with grave consequences for its people and for India’s stability and security.

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