Manipur: Dogged Disorders

The data suggests that both the communities - Meiteis and the Kukis - have faced severe losses.

4 mins read
A vehicle burned during ethnic violence in Imphal, Manipur, India, May 4, 2023. © 2023 AFP via Getty images

On December 4, 2023, at least 13 people belonging to the Meitei community, suspected to be cadres of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), were killed in a gunfight with suspected Kuki militants near Leithao village near Saibol in the Tengnoupal District near the Indo-Myanmar border. The place where the bodies were recovered is a Kuki-Zomi dominated area. An official said after the incident, “A group of militants on their way to Myanmar were ambushed by another group of insurgents dominant in the area.”

This is the highest single day insurgency-linked fatality in Manipur since the ethnic violence commenced on May 3, 2023.

The largest single-day toll in the state before this incident was reported on July 27, 2023, when 10 suspected Kuki militants were killed and several others injured, following fierce gunfights that took place between State Police and central forces, on the one hand, and Kuki militants, on the other, at various places under the jurisdiction of Phougakchao Police Station in Bishnupur District. Other single-day tolls in excess of or equal to five fatalities included:

May 28, 2023: At least nine people, including six civilians, two policemen and a suspected militant, were killed overnight in Imphal East and Kakching Districts of Manipur.

June 13, 2023: Nine people were killed and 10 injured when suspected militants attacked Agijang Village in the Khamenlok area on the border between Imphal East and Kangpokpi Districts.

June 22, 2023: At least seven Kuki militants were killed and two civilians and two Security Force (SF) personnel were injured in a gun battle that took place at Poljang/Boljang Village in Kangpokpi District.

August 8, 2023: Five Kuki militants were killed in a gunfight with policemen and village volunteers in Phubala in Bishnupur District.

August 30, 2023: Five Kuki militants were killed in a gunfight between Kuki militants and the State Police and India Reserved Battalion (IRB), at Naranseina in Bishnupur District. Two soldiers of the IRB and four village volunteers (civilians) and a Kuki militant were also injured in the gunfight.

The last incident, prior to May 3, 2023, in which five or more than five people were killed, was reported on November 13, 2021, when insurgents ambushed an Assam Rifles (AR) convoy in the Churachandpur District of Manipur, killing a Commanding Officer (CO), his wife and their five-year-old son and four AR personnel. At least six AR personnel were also injured in the attack. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF) had jointly claimed responsibility for the ambush.

Between, November 13, 2021, and May 2, 2023, no major incident (involving three or more fatalities) was reported. During this period, a total of 11 fatalities, including six civilians, one trooper and four insurgents were reported in 10 incidents of killing. On the other hand, since May 3, 2023, Manipur has recorded a total of 153 insurgency-linked fatalities, including 70 civilians, 17 SF personnel, 65 insurgents and one Not Specified, in 71 incidents of killing. 20 of these incidents were ‘major’ (each involving three or more fatalities), including the seven mentioned above.

It has been over seven months since the ethnic violence in Manipur flared up, yet such major incidents continue to occur, in addition to the occasional smaller incidents of killings of civilians or SFs at the hands of insurgents.

Moreover, according to available government statistics, a total of 175 persons, including women and children, were killed in ethnic violence in the state between May 3 and September 14, 2023, while 1,108 persons, including women and children, sustained injuries in the violence, and 32 persons were on the missing list. No further details were provided, so it is not possible to assess how many of these casualties were linked to insurgent violence.

Meanwhile, on November 28, 2023, information released by the Manipur Government to a Supreme Court-appointed Committee headed by former Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) High Court, Gita Mittal, stated that, of the 166 civilians killed in the Manipur violence till October 7, at least 98 were identified as members of the Kuki-Zo community, while 67 hailed from the Meitei community. In addition, one woman was from the Naga community. In all, 19 women from both communities (Kuki-Zo and Meitei) had been killed in the ethnic violence till October 7. Data also shows that most of those killed were in the age group of 30 to 40 years, while five were minors, including a seven-year-old boy.

The data suggests that both the communities – Meiteis and the Kukis – have faced severe losses. Despite the gravity of the situation, there have been continuous attempts by the ruling dispensation, as SAIR noted earlier, to engage in divisive politics. Astonishingly, efforts were made at the highest level, to pin the blame exclusively on the Kukis. While State Chief Minister N. Biren Singh has bene doing this since the very outset, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, during a discussion in Parliament on August 9, 2023, claimed that, after the unrest in Myanmar,

Around 10,000 Kukis started coming in, leading to security concerns in Manipur. The rapid increase in population created insecurity within the Meitei community. Rumors began circulating on April 29, resulting in unrest. The Manipur High Court’s April judgment further escalated the situation. Subsequently, clashes erupted, leading to the current state of affairs.

It may be noted that Manipur’s population is over three million, and an influx of 10,000 could hardly amount to a “rapid increase in population”. There is, moreover, no evidence to indicate that this influx of refugees has been involved in any activities to destabilize the state. Significantly, neighbouring Mizoram, with a much smaller population of an estimated 1.37 million, has received and accommodated over 32,000 refugees from Myanmar since the military coup of February 2021, without any disturbances.

Meanwhile, on September 27, 2023, the Government extended the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the whole State of Manipur — except in the jurisdiction of 19 Police Stations in seven Districts of the Imphal Valley — for another six months. Further, in a notification dated November 13, 2023, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) extended the ban on Valley-based Meitei Insurgent Groups, including the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), stating that these groups were “engaging in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India and employing and engaging in armed means to achieve their objectives.” Surprisingly, despite these observations, a peace agreement was signed with the UNLF on November 29, 2023. The agreement, however is, frail.

Meanwhile, on December 3, 2023, the Manipur government announced the removal of the internet shutdown in most parts of the state, except in the ‘buffer zones’ — areas that connect Valley districts with Hill districts – citing improvements in the law-and-order situation. Though curfews and restrictions on public gatherings remained in force in several parts of the State, there has been some relaxation in curfew hours in several districts. Through these steps, the government has, of late, started portraying the security situation in Manipur as significantly improved, suggesting that peace is around the corner. The latest incident, may however, have punctured any hope of establishing even a tenuous reconciliation in the conflict-ridden State.

Afsara Shaheen

Afsara Shaheen is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, India

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