The Ongoing Manipur Crisis: Thousands Displaced, Army Camps Short of Food and Basic Supplies

Vehicles in flames after violence broke out in Manipur's Imphal on Thursday.
Vehicles in flames after violence broke out in Manipur's Imphal on Thursday.Credit: PTI

Life in Manipur is slowly returning to normalcy after a recent outbreak of violence left at least 54 people dead. Shops and markets have reopened and traffic on the roads has resumed with an increased presence of army troops, rapid action force, and central police forces.

Meanwhile some six thousand tribespeople are said to be stranded in military camps with limited food, medicines and water supplies. These people have been waiting to be rescued to safer places which seems to be difficult for now, sources claim.

Neighbouring states have been making efforts to rescue their students from the violence. Over 1,100 individuals from Manipur's Jiribam district and nearby areas have fled to Assam's Cachar district, crossing the inter-state border due to the violence. The Chief Minister of Mizoram, Zoramthanga, has reportedly, arranged for aircraft to evacuate stranded Mizos in Imphal. The state government is chartering aircraft through both civil aircraft companies and the Indian Air Force to rescue the students, media reports claimed..

Civil organizations in Nagaland, including church bodies, have called for the restoration of peace in Manipur. These groups condemned the acts of violence on innocent people, particularly the killings of Christians, burning down of churches, and vandalism of private houses. The Ao Baptist Arogo Mungdang (ABAM) has stated that these sorts of acts create religious and social unrest in the area.

Vehicles in flames after violence broke out in Manipur's Imphal on Thursday.
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The Home Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Bamang Felix, announced that efforts are being made to ensure the safe return of students from the state who are currently stranded in Manipur. The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has cancelled trains to Manipur due to the ongoing law and order situation in the state. The NFR CPRO, Sabyasachi De, stated that the decision on resuming the train service will be made after evaluating the situation.

Panic after the Shoot at Sight order

The Manipur government had issued a "shoot at sight" order on Thursday in "extreme cases" to contain the escalating violence in the state between tribals and the majority Meitei community. The violence has resulted in over 9,000 people being displaced from their villages. The order has been issued as a measure to control the violence by any means necessary. However, this order leaves many questions about the safety of innocent civilians caught up in the crossfire. 

On Friday, a spokesperson for the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) announced that trains to Manipur have been cancelled with immediate effect due to the ongoing law and order situation in the state. The only two trains that connect Manipur have been cancelled for a period of two days till Saturday. The NFR CPRO, Sabyasachi De, stated that the decision on resuming the train service will be made after carefully evaluating the situation.

The protest rally in Churachandpur.
The protest rally in Churachandpur.Credit: PTI

Over 6000 stranded, food - medicines scarce

A Manipuri researcher from tribal community, based in the United States presently, spoke to The Mooknayak about the grim conditions of his people who are stranded in various military camps in Manipur. "The situation seems to be dire, with reports of security convoys attempting to export the Meiteis in the hills in Churachandpur, resulting in the death of three tribal women who were shot at by security forces. Over 35 people were hospitalized, with some in critical condition" he informed.

The tribals in Imphal are  facing similar threats, as they are not guaranteed safety outside of the city. There are demands from Meitei mobs to hand over tribal people stranded in army camps to them. The situation is alarming, as there are no attempts to escort tribal people to safety despite the constant threat to their lives.

In a recent incident, 60 Meiteis in paramilitary camps in Sinzawl, Churachandpur, were escorted by the Assam Rifles to Mimbung village in Mizoram between 5-6 am. However, no such attempts have been made to escort the tribal people stranded in Imphal.

"The people have lost faith on the state government and seek immediate centre intervention. President's rule seems to be the only option to restore peace and secure lives of the tribal people" the worried researcher said. He further added that the tribal people are asking when they will receive the same protection as the Meiteis in Manipur, as their lives are under constant threat. 

Ethnic Violence in Manipur: A Result of Long-standing Mutual Suspicion and Political Dominance of Meiteis

The ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur is the result of a long-standing mutual suspicion between the tribal and Meitei communities. The conflict has been simmering for some time, with the government's recent move to evict tribal villagers from reserved forests and grant the Meiteis Scheduled Tribe status being the spark for the latest flare-up. The government has always been dominated by the Meiteis, causing distrust among the tribal communities who make up a significant portion of Manipur's population and live in the surrounding hills.

Vehicles in flames after violence broke out in Manipur's Imphal on Thursday.
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The Meiteis makeup around 59 % of the population and mainly reside in the irregular oval-shaped Imphal Valley, while the tribal communities, mostly Nagas and Kukis, constitute about 40% of Manipur's population and live in the hills surrounding the valley.

The Meiteis, who are known to be a affluent community, have been demanding the grant of Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for several years.

The All Tribal Students' Union Manipur (ATSUM) organized the rally as a show of solidarity against the demand for the Meitei community's inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category, following an April 19 ruling from the Manipur High Court. This decree  reignited age-old ethnic conflicts between the plain-dwelling Meitei community and the hill tribes.

During Wednesday's rally in Churachandpur district, the demonstrators clashed with a group of individuals, leading to violent unrest. Subsequently, unidentified perpetrators set fire to houses belonging to a specific group, although there are no official accounts of any fatalities. The situation remains tense, but the police and security forces are maintaining cautions.

The violence, which has led to deaths and injuries, forced many to flee their homes, and resulted in the deployment of Army, Assam Rifles, and central police forces to control the situation.

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