A wave of ethnic violence has swept across the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, killing at least 54 people and displacing around 10,000 others, according to officials. The clashes erupted between the Meitei community, which forms the majority of the state’s population, and various tribal groups over the issue of granting tribal status to the Meiteis.
The violence began on Tuesday, when thousands of tribal people from the hill districts of the state participated in a march called by the All Tribal Students Union of Manipur to oppose the demand by the Meiteis for inclusion under the Scheduled Tribe category. The Scheduled Tribe status would give the Meiteis access to reserved government jobs, college admissions and elected seats, as well as rights over forest lands. The tribal groups fear that they may lose their control over their ancestral lands and resources if the Meiteis are granted this status.
On Wednesday, a similar rally by the tribal groups turned violent, sparking unrest in other districts that has since spread. Mobs attacked homes, vehicles, churches and temples, setting them on fire and looting them. Some reports put the death toll as high as 54, though there has been no official confirmation. The state government has issued shoot-at-sight orders in “extreme cases” to contain the spiraling violence.
The Indian Army has flown nearly 10,000 troops and paramilitary forces to Manipur to restore order and security. A curfew is in place in several districts and internet access has been suspended. Neighboring states have begun evacuating their students from Manipur.
Manipur is one of India’s most ethnically diverse states, with more than 30 different groups living there. It has a history of insurgency and violence, but this is the first time that such large-scale communal clashes have taken place over the issue of tribal status.
The state’s BJP-led government has been accused of not doing enough to prevent the violence and address the grievances of the different communities. The central government has also been criticized for its lack of intervention and response to the crisis.
The situation remains volatile and tense, as people fear more attacks and reprisals. Many have fled their homes and villages, seeking shelter in relief camps or neighboring states. The authorities have appealed for calm and peace, but it is unclear how long it will take to restore normalcy and harmony in Manipur.