Before Manipur transformed into a jumble of feuding ethnic zones with streets-on-fire sequences, there had been an eerie calm over its hills and its valley, sheathing undulating anger.
The Biren Singh government had ostensibly failed to see the warning signs – signs that were too clear in the last week of April. Even when the venue of a sports complex, which was set to be inaugurated by Chief Minister Singh in Churachandpur, was attacked by angry protesters from the Kuki community on two consecutive days.
Manipur, after all, had been simmering for years.
Sections of the Kuki community had seen the BJP government’s forest eviction drive as a bid to target them, and there was anxiety about a fresh court order suggesting that the Meitei demand for ST status – a longstanding flashpoint between tribals and the majority community – be considered. Trouble had been brewing since 2015, when the erstwhile state government, also headed by a Meitei, cleared three laws that were seen as pro-Meitei.
What did not help was also incumbent CM Singh’s anti-tribal image, bolstered by several remarks about “outsiders” – which some saw as a dog whistle for Kukis.
So tensions ran high when a Kuki BJP MLA invited the CM to the inaugural event in Churachandpur on April 27. Protesters first set fire to a gym that was part of the sports complex which was to be inaugurated. Demonstrators vandalised the venue again the next day, hours after the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum – a tribal umbrella outfit led by Kuki leaders – called for a shutdown in the district.
The authorities then suspended internet services and prohibited unlawful assemblies for five days in the district.
But on the day the curbs were lifted, the All Tribal Students Union of Manipur announced a solidarity march to protest the demand for ST status to Meiteis. And the violence that was unleashed on this day sent law and order and social harmony into a downward spiral, with Meiteis attacking Kukis in the valley areas dominated by them, and Kukis targeting Meiteis in the hill areas where they had higher numbers.
Normalcy is far. Just earlier this month, around and two were killed in gunbattles in Tengnoupal and Kakching districts.
While the government has told the Supreme Court that no community is solely responsible for the series of events, Kukis and Meiteis continue to blame each other.
In first three days, 61 Kukis among 69 dead
Kuki groups say the violence began when Meitei miscreants burnt down the Anglo-Kuki war centenary gate around 2.30 pm in Leisang village in Churachandpur, but a series of FIRs seen by Newslaundry dispute the claim.
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