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As Manipur continues to burn, UN and ITLF issue statements even as Union Home Minister Amit Shah visits state

There seems to be no let-up in the violence in Manipur, and as Union Home Minister Amit Shah visits the state to assess the situation, the violence has garnered international attention, with the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights expressing concern. As is usually the case in such situations, durable solutions can only come from local voices, and in this context, the statement by Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) blaming the state machinery for the violence gains significance.

ON Tuesday, on his second day of visit to Manipur, according to a press release by the Press Information Bureau, Union Home Minister and Minister of Cooperation Amit Shah reviewed the security situation with senior officials of the Manipur police, the Central Armed Police Forces and the Indian Army. He said that the peace and prosperity of Manipur is his top priority, and instructed the officials to strictly deal with any activities disturbing peace, as per the press release.

Shah’s visit comes in the wake of the violence that ensued in the Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts of Manipur on May 3, leading to the loss of lives, and the destruction of homes, temples and churches that quickly escalated to other districts of the state over the following days. On May 24, Manipur reportedly saw a flare-up in violence in the Bishnupur and Imphal West districts. Over 70 people have been estimated to have lost their lives, with more than 200 injured and thousands displaced from their hometowns, as a result of the violence in the state this month. 

The order of a single judge of the Manipur High Court, Justice M.V. Muralidaran, directing the state government to send a recommendation for the inclusion of the Meitei community in the list of Scheduled Tribes to the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs is alleged to have sparked the tensions between members of the Kuki tribe and the majority Meitei community of the state.

The violence followed the Tribal Solidarity March, organised by the All Tribal Students’ Union of Manipur to protest against the demand of the Meitei community to be included in the list of Scheduled Tribes.

Continued Mayhem 

According to an activist, who wished to remain anonymous, rumours are having a field day in absence of reliable sources of information, because the internet has been discontinued in several parts of the state and there are no independent assessments of the consequences of the violence in Manipur.  

Giving an account of the current situation, the activist said that even if not directly targeted, a great sense of fear and danger prevails among the people in Manipur. They stated that properties continued to be burned down, and since fire brigades are not allowed inside certain areas, the fires are doused with other, less effective means. “As more violence has continued to ensue over the last 28 days, law and order has completely collapsed,” they said. 

The activist gave an account of the desperation and hopelessness that has allegedly seeped into the lives of the residents of Manipur. They shared that while the houses and properties of the residents are being burned down to the ground, the residents have reached a state where they are grateful that at least their lives were spared. “Both sides of the community are equally suffering,” they stressed.  

On the cause of the violence and clash in Manipur, the activist remarked that they consider it a complicated conflict area with “deep-rooted structural problems” that need to be addressed slowly and gently. However, they added that there was a failure to focus on sorting the issues between the communities. 

Delving into the issue of continued violence despite the deployment of security forces, the activist clarified, “We do not want the forces to enforce a draconian approach in quelling the tension.” They, however, raised the question of the inability of the forces to restore normalcy by instilling confidence in security for the people.  

It must be noted that as per the status report submitted by the Union and state governments to the Supreme Court on May 9 of the steps taken by it in restoring normalcy in Manipur, 52 companies of the Central Armed Police Forces and 105 columns of the Assam Rifles were deployed in the violence-affected areas. 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

During a press conference marking the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on May 24, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Austrian lawyer Volker Türk stressed on the unabated violence in Manipur. In the midst of reference to the continued human rights violations against Rohingyas in Myanmar, and the repression of civilian rights in Sudan, Uganda, Italy, Greece, the United States, the United Kingdom, Lebanon, China and Afghanistan, Türk also specified the tensions in Manipur. 

His address referred to the situation in Manipur as the “consequences when different groups incite and stoke hatred and division between communities” that “revealed the underlying tensions between different ethnic and indigenous groups”. Further, he urged Indian State authorities to respond to the crisis quickly, including by investigating and addressing the root causes of the violence in line with their international human rights obligations.

ITLF blames government of leading the violence

On Monday, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), a conglomerate of recognised tribes in the Churachandpur district, released a press statement condemning the Manipur state government forces for complicity in the violence, and demanding the imposition of President’s rule in the state. 

The statement by the ITLF gave a background on the alleged atrocities against the tribal people. The ITLF stressed that since May 3, the Manipur state government and the state forces carried out ethnic cleansing against tribal people in different tribal villages. 

The ITLF’s statement claimed that tribal villages were burnt down to ashes and many innocent tribals were murdered. Further, it alleged that underground cadres from the valley, disguised in police uniforms, acted as perpetrators in leading the “endless horrific crime” against the tribals.

According to the statement, the Suspension of Operations (SoO) groups are in their designated camps. The SoO arrangement, or political negotiation, is a tripartite agreement among the Union government, the state government and two armed insurgent groups in the state— the Kuki National Army and the Zomi Revolutionary Army— over establishing a ceasefire and availing of political dialogue to address the groups’ demands. 

The ITLF, however, emphasised that the handful of the single barrel and licensed guns that poor tribal villagers allegedly used to defend their villages were collected from them by the Army. This left the tribal villagers helpless to die at the hands of the State-led machinery, it claimed. 

Further, the press statement alleged that besides the ongoing ethnic killings and cleansing, the security forces have started combing operations in tribal villages after allowing the looting of arms from 7 Manipur Rifles (MR), 8 India Reserve Battalion (IRB), 3 IRB, the Manipur Police Training College, and 9 MR. The injuries suffered by village volunteers imply that such looted sophisticated weapons were used, it indicated. 

In conclusion, the ITLF condemned the actions of the Manipur state government forces. It has appealed to the Union government to deploy more central forces in the villages to protect innocent tribal villagers whose lives are claimed to be in danger.

Expressing its disappointment over the current Bharatiya Janata Party-led government with N. Biren Singh as the Chief Minister, the ITLF urged the immediate imposition of the President’s Rule in Manipur.

Meanwhile, even as Shah meets the civil society organisations and leaders of the Meitei and Kuki communities, in the presence of Chief of Defense Staff and National Security Advisor, in search for lasting peace, violence in Manipur continues unabated as houses were burnt in over four districts of the state on Wednesday.