Manipur: Ethnic Cauldron

Manipur is going through a difficult time of ethnic strife between the Kuki and Meitei communities.

5 mins read
Violence in Manipur [Photo: Special Arrangement]

On March 9, 2024, two civilians, Jangminlal and Jangminlen, were brutally assaulted by armed militants suspected to be Kuki Revolutionary Army-Unification (KRA-U) cadres, at Motbung Bazaar under the Sapermeina Police Station in the Kangpokpi District of Manipur. They succumbed to their injuries on the same day. KRA-U militants came to Motbung Bazar from their nearby camp and started beating some youths mercilessly on the charge of being suspected drug users. A third person sustained multiple injuries during the incident.

On February 23, 2024, one civilian, Oinam Kenegy (24), was killed and another two sustained injuries in an Impoverished Explosive Device (IED) explosion outside DM College at Thangmeiband in the Imphal West District of Manipur.

On February 13, 2024, two village volunteers, Sagolsem Loya (25) and Likmabam Damocha (28), were killed and another three sustained injuries in exchanges of gunfire with Kuki militants at various villages, including Khamelok, Pukhao Shantipur, Shabungkhok Khunou, Sangrram, Khamelok, Sanasabi, Saibol Maning, and Simol, along the borders of the Imphal East and Kangpokpi Districts of Manipur. At least two Kuki militants were also killed in the gun battles.

According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, Manipur has already recorded 27 insurgency-linked fatalities – 23 civilians, two Security Force (SF) personnel and two militants – in 15 incidents in 2024 (Data till March 17).

In 2023, Manipur recorded 163 insurgency-linked fatalities – 72 civilians, 73 terrorists, 17 SF personnel and one in the non-specified (NS) category – in 77 incidents. In 2022, Manipur recorded just seven insurgency-linked fatalities – five civilians, one trooper and one terrorist – in seven incidents. The 2022 tally was the lowest number of fatalities recorded in a year (along with 2020), since 1992, from when insurgency-related data is available for the state.

The sudden spike commenced after the outbreak of ethnic clashes between the Kuki and Meitei communities, first in the Churachandpur District of the State on May 3, 2023. The clashes spread rapidly across the state and continue till date. The outbreak was triggered by the Manipur High Court’s decision in April 2023 directing the State Government to take a decision on the demand to include the majority Meitei community in the list of Scheduled Tribes (ST) ‘within four weeks’. Inclusion in the category would give Meiteis several advantages, such as government employment quotas, and would remove the legal restriction that prevents them from purchasing land in the state’s Hill areas, which are predominantly inhabited by the Kukis, the Nagas and a smattering of other tribal communities. Protests by Kukis soon escalated into full-fledged riots on both sides, with reports of looting, arson and mass killings.

Indeed, prior to the outbreak of the clashes on May 3, 2023, between January 1 and May 2, 2023, Manipur had recorded four insurgency-linked fatalities (one civilian and three insurgents). On the other hand, between May 3, 2023 and December 31, 2023, 159 fatalities (71 civilians, 17 troopers and 70 insurgents, one Not Specified) were recorded. As mentioned above, another 27 fatalities have been added in 2024 thus far.

Significantly, on February 28, 2024, Manipur Governor Anusuiya Uikey revealed that 219 people have been killed in ethnic violence in Manipur since May 2023. No further details were provided, and it is likely that there would be some overlap with the SATP category of insurgency-linked fatalities.

On March 5, 2024, Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh disclosed that a total of 1,555 individuals sustained injuries during the violence. This included 1,429 civilians, 98 police personnel, and 28 Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) personnel. Of these, 334 individuals suffered gunshot wounds. The Chief Minister also stated that, of the 63 missing persons cases documented, 26 individuals were discovered deceased, while nine were successfully located alive. However, 28 persons still remain missing. Earlier, on March 1, 2024, Chief Minister Singh had stated that, since May 3, 2023, a total of 12 SF personnel – nine State Police forces and three CAPF personnel – had lost their lives while another 167 – 98 state police and 69 CAPF personnel – sustained injuries. He added that no government records were lost during the crisis and that about 80 per cent of government records had been digitized and government documents, especially in the border town of Moreh, were kept in a secure place.

The level violence of violence has subsided considerably – of the total of 186 fatalities since May 3, 2023, 131 fatalities were recorded in the first five months. However, the current scenario in the State is far from satisfying, with occasional incidents of killings of civilians as well as SFs at the hands of insurgents or unidentified assailants, continue to occur.

The relative improvement in the situation is due to some operational successes by the SFs. 44 militants – including nine of the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL); seven of the Kangleipak Communist Party-People’s War Group (KCP-PWG); six of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF); four each of the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and Kangleipak Communist Party-Noyon faction (KCP-N); three each of the United People’s Party of Kangleipak (UPPK), Koireng faction of United national Liberation Front (UNLF-K) and UNLF-Pambei faction (UNLF-P); two of the KCP-Taibanganba faction; and one each of the and Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), KCP-Lamyanba Khuman faction and National Revolutionary Front of Manipur (NRFM) – have already been arrested in Manipur in 2024. Between May 3, 2023 and December 31, 2023, 59 militants were arrested – including UNLF, 12; KCP, 10; KCP-PWG, eight; United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF), seven; PREPAK and Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), four each; People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak-Progressive (PREPAK-Pro), three; Kuki Liberation Army (KLA) and People’s Liberation Army (PLA), two each; and one each of KYKL, Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), Kuki National Organisation (KNO), Kangleipak Communist Party-Noyon faction (KCP-N), UNLF-P and Kuki National Army (KNA). 10 militants also surrendered between May 3, 2023, and December 31, 2023, including five each of KCP-N and PLA.

72 insurgents have been killed between May 3, 2023 and March 17, 2024. In the preceding period corresponding – June 20, 2022 to May 2, 2023 – three militants were killed.

Significantly, on November 29, 2023, the Government of India (GoI) and Government of Manipur signed a Peace Agreement with the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), in New Delhi. UNLF was the deadliest among all the active insurgent groups in Manipur. Union Home Minister (UHM) Amit Shah termed the signing of the peace agreement a “historic milestone.” He expressed the hope that this would encourage other Valley-based insurgent groups (VBIGs) to participate in a peace process. Interestingly, just 10 days earlier, in a notification dated November 13, 2023, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) had extended the ban on valley-based Meitei Insurgent Groups, including 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.” Other Meitei rebel groups include PLA and its political wing, the Revolutionary Peoples’ Front (RPF); UNLF’s armed wing, the Manipur Peoples’ Army (MPA); PREPAK and its armed wing, the Red Army; KCP and its armed wing, also called the Red Army; KYKL; the umbrella Coordination Committee (CorCom); and the Alliance for Socialist Unity Kangleipak (ASUK).

Earlier, on March 10, 2023, the Manipur government had decided to withdraw from the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with two Kuki militant groups – KNA and ZRA. The remaining 23 Kuki groups, which had simultaneously entered into SoO agreements in August 2008, remain under these agreements.

On February 28, 2024, Manipur Governor Anusuiya Uikey revealed that 198 CAPF companies and 140 Army columns had been deployed, along with State Police Forces, to maintain law and order in the State.

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.

Manipur is going through a difficult time of ethnic strife between the Kuki and Meitei communities. Insurgents from both the Kuki and Meitei communities have taken advantage of the situation, resulting in a surge in insurgency-linked incidents. The signing of the Peace Agreement with UNLF is a significant, but in the inflamed environment of the state, unlikely to bring the present disturbances to any proximate end. There is, moreover, little evidence of political mischief being brought to an end, with aggressive ethnic ‘social organisations’ taking the lead in escalating the polarizing narrative, initially pushed by Chief Minister Singh, and then adopted by extremists on both sides of the ethnic divide. Sage political intervention is urgently required to stop the State from returning to its history of violent insurgency but there is little evidence of such initiatives in sight.

Afsara Shaheen

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

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