New Delhi, May 6
Though the opposition from tribals to the proposed Scheduled Tribe status for the majority Meitei community was the immediate trigger for the Manipur violence that left 54 dead, distrust between hill tribes and the Meiteis, inhabiting mostly in the Imphal Valley, has persisted for long.
What triggered The ethnic conflict
- Govt in Manipur dominated by Meiteis, mostly Hindus who account for 53% of population; live in Imphal Valley
- Lacks trust from tribal Nagas & Kukis, largely Christians who comprise 40% of population; occupy hills around valley
- Government’s eviction drive in reserve forests in February this year irked the tribals, who then launched protests
- 3 churches in Imphal’s tribal area razed on April 11 for being ‘illegal constructions’
- Ahead of CM’s visit to New Lamka town last week, mob set his event venue on fire
- Amid tension, march by tribals on Wednesday against move to give ST status to Meiteis proved last straw
Shoots of anxieties have appeared off and on through the year, culminating in violence during Tribal Solidarity March called by All Tribal Students Union of Manipur at Churachandpur district Wednesday. The march, thronged by Christian Naga and Kuki communities, was meant to protest Manipur High Court’s April orders to the state government to send a recommendation to the Centre for the grant of ST status to the Meiteis, who are predominantly Hindus and make up 53 per cent of the population.
The opposition from the tribals rests on several premises, mainly Meiteis’ majority status as against Nagas and Kukis who together make up 41 per cent of the state’s population. The tribal communities argue that Meiteis have always dominated the state’s power structure.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh is also a Meitei. Forty of the state’s 60 MLAs are also from the majority groups. The tribals contend if Meiteis get the ST status, they would also seek control of hill areas, currently out of bounds for non-STs.
Meiteis mainly live in the Imphal Valley, which makes up 10 per cent of the state’s geographical mass, the rest of the area being hilly where tribals have resided for years.
Tensions started a while ago when the ruling BJP began an eviction drive against “illegal settlers” in the environmentally sensitive hilly areas.
In March this year, five persons were injured in Kangpokpi during a protest rally against the alleged encroachment of tribal lands in the name of reserve forests.
Following this incident, the state government on March 10 withdrew the Suspension of Operations agreement with two hill-based Kuki militant bodies — Kuki National Army and Zomi Revolutionary Army. The government said the tribal outfits were provoking forest encroachers to agitate and that the rally had outfits’ backing.
Of Manipur’s nearly 30 Kuki insurgent groups, 25 were under this agreement signed on August 22, 2008 to find a political solution to the insurgency.
Importantly, ahead of 2022 state polls, Kuki groups officially supported the BJP with the Government pledging to solve the Kuki issue if elected. The BJP retained the state. Since SoO suspension, agitations by tribals had intensified as distrust deepened.
Importantly, some Manipur BJP MLAs last month arrived in Delhi with complaints against CM Biren Singh. Last month itself, Langthabal MLA Karam Shyam resigned as Chairman of the Manipur Tourism Corporation, citing lack of meaningful responsibilities. Another BJP MLA, Thokchom Radheshyam Singh, resigned as Adviser to CM.
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