The north-eastern Indian state of Manipur has witnessed a surge of ethnic violence and unrest in the past week, leaving more than 150 people dead and many more injured. The clashes erupted between the Meitei, Naga and Kuki communities over the demand for tribal status by the Meiteis, who form the majority ethnic group in the state.
The Meiteis, who are mostly Hindu, have been seeking recognition as a Scheduled Tribe under India’s constitution, which would grant them special benefits in education, health and government jobs. However, the other tribes, who are mostly Christian, have opposed this demand, fearing that they would lose their rights over forest lands and resources.
On 3 May, thousands of tribal people from the hill districts of Manipur staged a rally in the state capital Imphal to protest against the Meitei deman. The rally turned violent when some protesters attacked vehicles, buildings and places of worship belonging to the Meiteis. The violence soon spread to other parts of the state, with mobs torching houses, shops and churches.
The state government, led by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has imposed a curfew and suspended internet services in several districts to prevent further escalation. It has also deployed thousands of troops and police to restore law and order. The government has issued “shoot-at-sight” orders for “extreme” cases of violence.
The Supreme Court of India has also taken cognizance of the situation and asked the state government to submit a report on the steps taken to protect lives and property. The court has also appointed a senior lawyer as an amicus curiae to assist it in the matter.
The violence in Manipur has drawn attention to the long-standing ethnic tensions and conflicts in the region, which has a history of insurgency and separatism. Manipur, which borders Myanmar, is home to an ethnically diverse population of communities, each with its own language, culture, and religion. The state was incorporated into India in 1949, but many groups resisted integration and demanded autonomy or independence.
The current outbreak of violence is one of the worst in recent decades and has raised concerns about the stability and security of the region. The central government has appealed for calm and dialogue among all stakeholders to resolve the issue peacefully.