Even as the day long solidarity rally called by tribals groups in Manipur erupts ended peacefully on Wednesday afternoon without any untoward incidents reported during the process, the situation turned ugly soon after with reports of arson, mob violence and attacks on people’s houses in both the valley parts of the hill districts of the state. The situation threatens to spiral out of control with increasing reports of arson and attacks on people in both the valleys and some hill districts.
So far one person is said to have succumbed to his injuries at the Churachandpur hospital while over 20 others are been badly injured with a couple of them reported to be critical condition. The Churachandpur district hospital was abuzz with injured young and elderly men being brought in throughout the evening.
Public curfew has been clamped in the many parts of state in order to bring the situation under control. The district administrations of Churachandpur, Imphal West, Imphal East and Jiribam issued a statement in the evening informing about the clamping of curfew in these districts with immediate effect. Government agencies involved in the enforcement of law and order and maintenance of essential services will not be affected.
The Manipur home department has decided to suspend Internet services in the entire state for five days starting with immediate effect. A notice issued by the home department said that the temporary suspension of telecom services has been necessitated to prevent rumours from being spread on social media which could incite violence and disturb peace and public order.
The “Tribal solidarity march” as it was called was organised by the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM) covering all the hill districts – Ukhrul, Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, Senapati, Pherzawl, Tamenglong, and Chandel of the state. Most tribal organisations cutting across various ethnicities including the Nagas, Hmars and Kukis supported the rally.
Although the build-up to the rally comes in the wake of the controversy surrounding the demand by the Meitei speaking valley based groups to be included in the tribal list and categorised as Scheduled Tribes (STs), it also coincides with some recent developments concerning the push by the Biren Singh led government to carrying out eviction of allegedly illegal settlements in areas demarcated as forests in mostly the hill districts. The government had also carried out demolition of number of churches in Imphal which were categorised by a officially committee constituted as unauthorised religious structures wee hours recently prompting condemnation from various Christian organisations and tribal groups.
Throughout the day tension was palpable as valley based Meitei groups began protests and rallies to counter the tribal solidarity march. Groups based out of Imphal valley blocked the Imphal-Ukhrul, Imphal-Kangpokpi-Senapati, and Imphal-Churachandpur roads. Police personnel were deployed in strategic points in Imphal to ensure that any untoward incident does not take place.
However, violence erupted towards the latter half of the day with unidentified people, mostly young men in their 30s and 40s resorting to arson and violence in both the hill districts and the valley. Unidentified men attacked tribal houses in Kangvai along the Bishnupur-Churachandpur border. Police personnel could be seen following the mob as it went on rampaging and vandalising houses.
In parts of Churachandpur, properties of the forest department was vandalised and set on fire. There were reports of similar incidents of violence from the India-Myanmar bordering town of Moreh. Some of the areas in Churachandpur which were badly affected include Kangvai, Tuibong and Khumujamba Meitei Leikai.
Videos of houses on fire, mob violence and use of pistols and small arms on street sides and highways were circulating throughout the day on social media.
Until filing of this report the situation kept worsening, report of death of a person who succumbed to his injuries at the Churachandpur district hospital.
To make matters worse the police force stationed in two districts that is Bishnupur and Churachandpur are said to have got into a rough patch amongst each other. So far the outcome of this bizarre incident is yet to be confirmed.
There were also reports stray incidents arson from in and the Churachandpuur district. The Forest Beat Houses in Mualtam, Singngat, and Saikot were set on fire by unknown persons.
Meanwhile, the ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ witnessed a massive turnout of locals in Sadar Hills (Kangpokpi), Tengnoupal, Chandel, and Churachandpur. In Ukhrul, hundreds of school students and women in attendance at the rally convened near the mini secretariat and the Deputy Commissioner’s office, to voice their concerns about the ongoing ST status demand for Meiteis. The Tangkhul Katamnao Long (TKL) played a crucial role in organizing the rally at Ukhrul.
In Churachandpur, the rally saw a crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 people, including school children from standard ten and above, who volunteered to participate. The Lamka public ground, gallery, and neighbouring areas were filled with crowds singing to the tunes of “We Shall Overcome“ and chants of “Hallelujah”. However, no rallies were reported in the tribal pockets of the Imphal Valley.
In Senapati district head quarter the rally began at 10 in the morning, with shops in the main markets closed due to the mass gathering. The rally proceeded from the Traffic Point to the Council Office and back to the Traffic Point. A police constable in Senapati, said on condition of anonymity that “students from various colleges and schools participated in the rally to show their full support against the ST demand.” Fortunately, no untoward incidents were reported during the rally, and the police were instructed to maintain control over the situation by their higher-ups.
A representative from the Zomi Chief Association said, “We have been here even before the British colonizers came”. Mang, a well-known leader of the Zomi Students’ Federation also expressed how they have attended this rally in large numbers as a testament against what he termed as “the alienation of tribals from their own lands by the state government.”
In the midst of the swelling crowd and protests a banner prominently advocating for “the implementation of the 6th Schedule” could be spotted. The demand for the 6th Schedule has been pending for a long time from the hill areas of Manipur.
Large crowds were observed holding placards with slogans reading, “No Protection for our Land if Meitei becomes ST”, “Together we are strong, we are United and “Meitei already enjoy SC, OBC and EWS. Meiteis can’t eat all the pie and have it too”. Other placards had messages such as “Forest is for the Tribal, Forest is our birthright”, “Respect Tribal Land Rights & Chief Rights”, “There is no government land in the hill areas”. According to some senior participants in the rally “these demonstrations were held to express dissatisfaction and opposition to other controversial policies of the Manipur government.
The rally concluded peacefully in Churachandpur after leaders of Zomi and Kuki civil and students’ organizations submitted a Memorandum for the President of India and Prime Minister through the Deputy Commissioner, Churachandpur at 1 PM.
The North East Students’ Organisation (NESO) has expressed concern over the incidents of violence in Manipur. The NESO also took exception to what it called “the government of Manipur is evicting the indigenous settlers belonging to the Zo community. The NEO statement that while the government carried out the eviction on the pretext that the people evicted had settled on reserve forest areas, but that they have indigenous settlers “had been residing in these areas for ages.”