Ethnic Violence in Manipur - Violence broke out due to economic benefits and quotas for affirmative action [Image via AFP].

Decoding Ethnic Violence in Manipur

The ethnic violence in Manipur, between the Kuki and Meitei groups, results from long-standing historical grudges. Moreover, abject frustrations have stemmed from territorial conflicts, ethnic rivalries, and conflicting claims to land and resources. Over the last year, the violence has wreaked havoc causing colossal damage, and underscoring the region’s unsolved challenges.

Historical Context and Grievances

To understand the existing conflict, one must consider the historical backdrop. For instance, the Meiteis, who are mostly Hindu, live in the Imphal Valley. This valley covers around 10% of the state but is home to roughly 60% of the people. The neighbouring hills are home to the Kukis (mainly Christians) and other indigenous people, including the Nagas. This geographical difference has created a sense of exclusion and rivalry for resources. The dispute has its roots in colonial times when the British administration’s actions sowed seeds of strife among the groups. Following independence, the central government’s initiatives, including land reforms and administrative divides, have frequently worsened conflicts.

The lack of a unified and inclusive approach to governance under the Hindutva mindset has exacerbated tensions between Manipur’s Kuki and Meitei groups.

Ethnic Violence in Manipur: Recent Triggers and Escalation

The April 2023 judgment of Manipur High Court urged the State Administration to advocate the Meitei group inclusion on the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list. This decision sparked the current unrest. Consequently, the tribal groups, notably the Kukis, saw this initiative as a danger. They feared it would shift the balance of power and access to resources in favor of the already dominating Hindu Meiteis.

On May 3rd, 2023, the All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) organized a solidarity march. This march took place through several districts to condemn the court’s judgment. This march became violent, resulting in extensive burning, looting, and loss of life. The Federal Government’s use of Article 355, permits it to meddle in the state’s internal affairs. Despite the presence of Army and paramilitary troops, the violence persisted, demonstrating the strong distrust and hostility between the groups.

People rally in Imphal, organized by COCOMI, demanding peace restoration in Manipur [Image via AFP].
People rally in Imphal, organized by COCOMI, demanding peace restoration in Manipur [Image via AFP].

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Governance and Leadership Failures

The reaction of Chief Minister N Biren Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been criticised for its limited emphasis and bias against minorities. Additionally, his stress on illegal migration as the major cause of the violence draws attention away. Furthermore, it diverts from more pressing concerns like socioeconomic inequality, ethnic conflicts, and government failings. Besides, the idea that displaced people should simply accept government help ignores the complexities. Their problems include violence, instability, and loss of livelihood.

Singh’s criticism of worldwide awareness campaigns also appears inappropriate. In a globalised society, it is critical to recognise and address the international implications of ethnic conflicts. Geopolitical dynamics and human rights considerations are essential for understanding and tackling such situations effectively.

India, often regarded as the world’s largest democracy, is under fire for its governance and human rights problems. The endemic challenges of corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, and the weakening of democratic institutions have hampered its growth.

The government’s handling of the ethnic violence in Manipur reveals long-standing inefficiencies and a lack of forethought in resolving sociopolitical problems. Furthermore, the growing repression of dissent and restrictions on journalistic freedoms indicate a disturbing trend toward authoritarianism. These problems highlight a striking contrast between India’s democratic ideals and actual reality, needing immediate reforms to protect its fundamental principles and promote equal growth for all of its population.

Also See: A Decade of Modi: India’s Democratic and Diplomatic Conundrum

Ethnic Violence in Manipur: Way Forward

Abandoning the Hindutva ideology might be a critical step towards resolving Manipur’s ethnic strife and creating a more inclusive and peaceful society. Furthermore, Hindutva, which emphasises a homogeneous Hindu identity, exacerbates divides by alienating other populations and instilling suspicion and hostility. By moving away from this exclusionary mentality, India’s leaders may promote a vision of nationalism that welcomes the country’s many cultural and religious traditions. This inclusive approach has the potential to solve the problems of marginalised groups like the Kukis and other tribal people in Manipur, ensuring that their rights and aspirations are recognised and respected.

Moving beyond Hindutva will not only reduce ethnic tensions but also reaffirm India’s commitment to secularism and pluralism, setting the framework for a more equal and peaceful society.

Ethnic violence in Manipur is a complicated topic with deep historical origins and several facets. In conclusion, addressing it requires more than simply remembering the victims; it necessitates a committed effort toward resolution and reconciliation. The state’s leadership must take a comprehensive strategy that goes beyond the limited emphasis on illegal migration and addresses deeper socioeconomic and governance concerns.

The route to peace in Manipur is via comprehensive conversation, genuine reconciliation initiatives, and meaningful actions to address the root causes of violence. Only then can the state expect to create long-term peace and unity, guaranteeing that the awful events of the previous year do not recur again. As we move forward, let us honour the memory of those who have lost their lives by working tirelessly towards a future where all communities in Manipur can coexist peacefully and flourish.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.

Waleed Sami

Waleed Sami is a postgraduate student specializing in Strategic Studies at the Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS), which is housed within the esteemed National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad. Prior to pursuing his postgraduate studies, Waleed earned his bachelor's degree in International Relations from the National Defence University Islamabad (NDU).

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