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Despite Supreme Court’s directions, why has violence in Manipur not abated?

As per a status report filed on May 17 by the state and Union governments at the Supreme Court, the situation on the ground in Manipur was “substantially” under control. However, on May 24, it was reported that violence had erupted again in two districts, leading to the loss of life of at least one person. What needs to be done to bring the situation under control, and ensure a lasting peace?

ON May 24, Manipur reportedly saw a flare-up in violence in the Bishnupur and Imphal West districts, where at least one person was killed and the house of state minister Govindas Konthoujam in Bishnupur’s Ningthoukhong town was vandalised.

The flare-up is an extension of the violence that ensued in the Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts of the state on May 3 that had quickly escalated to other districts of the state over the following days, leading to the loss of lives, and the destruction of homes, churches and temples. 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 off tensions between the Kuki tribe and the majority Meitei population of the state.

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

Supreme Court directions

On May 17, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, comprising the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, perused a report filed by the Manipur government and the Union government regarding the status of law and order in the state. The CJI-led Bench was hearing petitions that challenged the aforementioned order of the Manipur High Court and prayed for the Supreme Court to direct evacuation and ensure the safety and protection of those affected by the violence, protect places of worship, and set up a special investigation team to probe the violence, among other things.

As per the report filed on May 17, the situation on the ground in Manipur was “substantially” under control. The report said that the government had enhanced security measures at religious places such as shrines, temples and churches. Apart from adopting security measures in every district, Manipur Rifles and Assam Rifles had been deployed in critical areas, it said.

The Bench directed the authorities entrusted with monitoring law and order in the state, particularly the chief secretary and the security advisor, to take into account the apprehensions raised by the petitioners, who feared an imminent attack in certain villages, and to take appropriate measures to foster confidence and ensure peace. It also directed the state government to file a fresh status report on the violence after the court’s vacation.

On May 9, on the steps taken by the state government to restore normalcy, the state government had apprised the Bench that 52 companies of the Central Armed Police Forces and 105 columns of the Assam Rifles were deployed in the violence-affected areas. It also said that a retired senior police officer had been appointed as security adviser by the Manipur government, and one senior officer had been repatriated from the Union government and had taken over as chief secretary of Manipur.

The Bench had directed the government to take remedial measures in the form of, firstly, the provision of all basic amenities in terms of food and medicine at relief camps; secondly, taking necessary precautions for the rehabilitation of displaced persons; and thirdly, protection of places of religious worship. It had further directed that due and necessary arrangements were to be made to meet the medical needs of persons at relief camps, including by making provisions for care at army hospitals or other suitable hospitals.

Law and order

An activist, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke with The Leaflet on the continuance of violence despite the Supreme Court directions for the law enforcement to ensure peace, and the government claiming the situation is “substantially” under control.

According to them, the violence signifies the simmering and contentious nature of the relationship between the Meitei and Kuki communities. He emphasised that the measures to control the violence should have been taken when violence first ensued on May 3, which was, in their words, “sharp and sudden”.

In reflecting on the current situation, which is an extension of the previous violence, they said that there is an ongoing transfer of population of Kukis from the Meitei-dominated Imphal valley to the hills and of Meiteis from the Kuki-dominated areas of the hills to the valley, making it harder to control the tensions. Such a transfer of population, which is speeding up due to the continued violence, is indicative of a permanent social division, he stated.

It should be noted that Manipur consists of 34 recognised Scheduled Tribes, broadly falling under the Naga and Kukichin or Kuki tribal groups. The hills, inhabited by the tribals, amount to around 90 percent of Manipur’s total area whereas the Imphal valley, where the dominant Meitei community primarily resides, makes up the remaining 10 percent of the state’s area. The tribals are largely Christian, while the majority of Meiteis identify as Hindus.

The activist explained that despite Manipur being a heavily militarised state, the violence has not been abated. Hence, it is not “just a matter of law and order”, since the law and order machinery is seen as an entity that is not interested in peace but in merely preventing crime and violence, they emphasised. They further opined that the machinery is not seen as independent of its biases. The Union government has completely failed in controlling the violence from the time it began, they noted.

On the data on the loss of lives and destruction of property, he shared the need for an independent fact-finding mechanism, particularly on account of the ban on internet services that makes it harder to understand the situation on-ground. He stated that since people are not believing the extent of destruction, a third-party independent view on the ongoing tensions is important.

The Leaflet