Central Manipur Conflict: Unraveling the Tensions Between Meiteis and Kuki-Zomis

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The Meiteis in the Valley and the hill tribes of Kuki-Zomis have been pitted against each other, leading to a four-day deadlock in Parliament. The Union Home Minister attributed the violence to “some court orders and some incidents.” Tension between the two communities has simmered for decades, but a set of incidents and the N Biren Singh-led government’s response have brought the fault-lines to the fore in the past year.

The flashpoint came in the form of the arrest last year of a human rights activist from Churachandpur, the tribal district at the center of the current conflict. The activist was arrested from his home in 2022 under various sections of the IPC and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act over his social media posts that allegedly promoted communal disharmony. The arrest led to outrage, fueled by the Chief Minister calling the activist a “Myanamarese,” and his subsequent bail on May 28 this year.

Another flashpoint occurred when a group of Meiteis visiting the Thangjing Hills were allegedly prevented from going to the top by some local Kuki men. This led to tensions, as the Thangjing hills are considered sacred by the Meiteis. The Biren Singh government also issued notices claiming that 38 villages in the hill districts were illegal, which angered the Kukis who claimed that the declaration was made without proper notification.

Before these troubles began, the state had seen the rise of two hardline Meitei organizations, the Meitei Leepun and the Arambai Tenggol. The government also accused village chiefs in the hills of settling illegal immigrants by creating new villages, causing massive deforestation.

The magnitude of both these problems has been disputed by the Kukis, who claimed they have been blown out of proportion to evict legitimate Kuki populations from their land in order to grab their natural resources.

The violence during an eviction drive in Kangpokpi district led Singh to declare the withdrawal of the state from the Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement with Kuki militant organizations. The April 14 order of the Manipur High Court, which asked the state government to send recommendations for grant of ST status to Meiteis, added fuel to the fire.

As the protest march began on May 3, incidents of scuffle between Meiteis and Kukis were reported, leading to escalating violence and a spiral of rumors that fueled further violence.

For someone who rode to his poll victory on the back of a campaign called “Go to Hills,” Singh’s fall in the eyes of the hill people has been rather dramatic, and the climb ahead may be tougher than it was a year ago.

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