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Manipur violence deepens distrust between communities

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The northeastern state of Manipur in India has been rocked by ethnic violence in recent months, as two of its three major ethnic groups, the mostly Hindu Meiteis and largely Christian Kukis, have clashed over access to educational, employment and other economic benefits. The state has since fractured along ethnic lines, and at least 152 people have been killed in the violence and tens of thousands displaced.

The violence erupted in May, when the Meiteis, who dominate the Imphal valley, launched a campaign to demand the ‘scheduled tribe’ status, which would grant them special privileges and reservations in government jobs and educational institutions. The Kukis, who inhabit the hill areas, opposed this move, fearing that it would erode their own rights and resources.

The situation escalated into armed clashes, as rival militias set up blockades in some areas to keep out members of the opposing community. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s federal government has deployed tens of thousands of additional soldiers from elsewhere to patrol towns and highways. Authorities have also imposed a curfew and internet shutdown.

Rights groups have accused the state government, led by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of not doing enough to stop the violence. They also allege that the BJP’s policies promoting ‘Hindu majoritarianism’ have contributed to the problem.

Some Kuki members, including lawmakers from the community, are now calling for the creation of a ‘separate administration’ for the districts where they’re in a majority. They say they no longer have any connection with the valley people and want to be governed by the central government.

The 10 Kuki legislators in the 60-member assembly, including seven from the ruling BJP, refused to attend a special session of the state legislature on Tuesday. They had earlier announced their decision to skip the session, saying the ‘Imphal Valley has become a valley of death and destruction for the Kuki people’.

The session lasted just an hour, as a war of words erupted between ruling party and opposition legislators over the tense and volatile situation in the state. Speaker Thokchom Satyabrata Singh adjourned the session indefinitely.

The brief session was slammed by the opposition Congress party. ‘This is a mockery. Let us save democracy, let us save the constitution,’ said Ibobi Singh, party leader and former chief minister.

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