As the situation turns grim in Manipur, the army was called in to control the violent state of affairs that has ripped through the capital city of Imphal where multiple vehicles were set on fire and several places of worship were vandalized.
According to information received, the most affected areas are Churachandpur and Imphal. Manipuri boxer and Olympic medalist Mary Kom took to Twitter to write, “My state Manipur is burning, kindly help", requesting immediate action from PM Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah in the matter.”
The army was requisitioned on Wednesday night to be in force till Thursday until further orders of extension. A joint force of Army and state police intervened and managed to bring the situation on the ground under control last night. With additional forces coming in, the situation was further pacified by the morning.
Around 4,000 villagers were taken to shelters in Army-run and state government-owned premises. Flag marches were also conducted to keep the situation under control.
Curfew was imposed in eight districts of Manipur over the violence that broke out during a tribal agitation on Wednesday, officials said.
The violence had broken out during ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ that had been called by All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) Torbung area of Churachandpur district to protest the demand of non-tribal Meiteis, who are dominant in the Imphal Valley, for Scheduled Tribe (SC) status. Agitators in thousands took to the streets to protest when violence between tribals and non-tribals was reported in Torbung area, a senior police officer informed.
The officer said that police had to resort to firing several rounds of tear gas shells in a bid to control the mob. He said that even though the situation remains tense, many agitators are returning to their homes in different parts of the hills.
Agitated youths were seen gathering at Canchipur in Imphal West district and Soibam Leikai in Imphal East in the Valley calling for retaliation, but heavy deployment of police forces has been ensured and the non-tribal agitators have been asked to return to their homes, informed the official. A curfew has been imposed in non-tribal dominated Imphal West, Kakching, Thoubal, Jiribam and Bishnupur districts and tribal dominated Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal districts.
Mobile internet services in the entire state were suspended for five days with immediate effect, while broadband services remained operational.
An order issued by Commissioner (Home) H Gyan Prakash mentioned, “To thwart the design and activities of anti-national and anti-social elements and to maintain peace and communal harmony and to prevent any loss of life or danger to public and private property, it had become necessary to take adequate measures to maintain law and order in public interest by stopping the spread of misinformation and false rumours through various social platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter on phone.”
It further said, “The order is being passed ex-parte in view of the emergent situation and shall be in force for the next five days with immediate effect.”
The ATSUM had called for a march in all the 10 hill districts of Manipur to oppose the moves for inclusion of the majority Meitei community in the ST category. Earlier, lawmakers of the Valley had openly endorsed the demand by some Meitei organizations for ST status for the majority community in Manipur, which had caused the communities who figure in the Scheduled Tribe list to feel threatened.
Meiteis, who make up 53 per cent of Manipur’s population, inhabit the Valley, which accounts for about a tenth of the former princely state’s land area. They claimed that they were facing problems due to the large scale illegal immigration of Myanmarese and Bangladeshis.
The hill districts of Manipur, which make up for most of the state’s land area, is mostly inhabited by tribals including Nagas and Kukis and are protected from encroachment by various laws. Tribal villagers from remote areas came in buses and open trucks to the nearest hill district headquarters to attend the rallies.
In Senapati town, which is mostly Naga-dominated, the district headquarters with the same name and located some 58 kilometers from Imphal, a total shutdown of markets and suspension of public transport from 10 am to 1 pm had been enforced by the local bodies in a bid to ensure that maximum number of demonstrators participated in the rally. Thousands of tribals, about 40 per cent of Manipur’s population, joined the processions, waved placards and raised slogans against the granting of ST status to the Meitei community.
Senapati District Students’ Association representatives also held a meeting with the deputy commissioner and apprised him of their concers.
In the second-largest town in Manipur, Churachandpur, people defied prohibitory orders and gathered at the public ground and took a rally till Tuibong. Prohibitory orders had been imposed for an indefinite period in the town last week in the wake of violent protests against a drive carried out to evict villagers from reserved forest areas. Security forces had been rushed to the town from other parts of the state to control the situation following the vandalization of a venue where Chief Minister N Biren Singh was scheduled to address a programme. Similar rallies were taken out at Tengnoupal, Chandel, Kangpokpi, Noney and Ukhrul, where among the participants were school students, said police.
Moreover, counter-blockades were put up in the Valley districts, including at Sugnu in Kakching district, in support of granting ST status to Meiteis. Protesters shouted slogans demanding ST status for the majority community in addition to protectionof reserved and protected forests.
The Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee Manipur (STDCM) which is at the forefront of the movement for the inclusion of Meiteis in the ST category, said that the demand is being made not merely for reservation in jobs, educational institutions and tax relief but “more to protect our ancestral land, culture and identity”, which according to them is being “threatened by illegal migration from Myanmar, Bangladesh and by people from outside the state”.