Context: The article is discussing the prevailing social and ethnic tensions in Manipur. It highlights the creation and nurturing of divisions among a small population belonging to the same ethno-linguistic family. It specifically mentions the “Naga-Kuki clash” that occurred in the 1990s, where hundreds of innocent people were killed based on their identity rather than their actions. The article points out that even though the Christian communities involved should have adhered to the biblical teaching of “love thy neighbour,” political motivations had fueled the violence. It warns that a similar situation is emerging once again, this time between the “Kukis” and the “Meiteis” in Manipur.
Manipur Mayhem, a Manufactured Schism Background
Understanding Manipur Insurgency:
Merger of Manipur with the Union of India:
The merger of Manipur with India took place through a process that was marked by negotiations, agreements, and ultimately, the signing of the Merger Agreement.
- Before 1947: Manipur was a princely state under British colonial rule. The Maharaja of Manipur, Bodhachandra Singh, was the ruler of the state.
- 1947: India gained independence from British colonial rule. The British withdrew from India, and the various princely states were given the choice to join either India or Pakistan or remain independent.
- August 1947: The Maharaja of Manipur signed the Instrument of Accession, agreeing to accede to the Indian Union.
- June 1948: The state of Manipur held an election based on universal adult franchise, and a constitutional monarchy was established.
- September 1949: The Government of India pressured the Maharaja of Manipur into signing the Merger Agreement, which effectively merged Manipur with the Indian Union.
- 21st January 1972: Manipur, along with Meghalaya and Tripura, became a full-fledged state under the North Eastern Region (Reorganisation) Act, 1971.
Ethnicity of Manipur:
- The Meiteis are the largest community in Manipur. There are 34 recognized tribes, which are broadly classified as ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ and ‘Any Naga Tribes’.
- The central valley in the state accounts for about 10% of the landmass of Manipur, and is home primarily to the Meitei and Meitei Pangals who constitute roughly 64.6% of the state’s population.
- The remaining 90% of the state’s geographical area comprises hills surrounding the valley, which are home to the recognized tribes, making up about 35.4% of the state’s population.
Who are the Meiteis?
- Meiteis are the dominant community of Manipur, found majorly in Imphal plains. They can also be found in the states of Assam, Tripura, Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Mizoram. Some of them reside in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
- Religious affiliation: A majority of them identify as Hindu, while about 8% are Muslim.
- Language: They speak the Meitei language, which is officially known as Manipuri. It belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language family.
- Manipuri was included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution in 1992.
- Art and Culture:
- Maliyafam Palcha Kumsing is the traditional calendar of the Meitei community, which has 12 months and a 7-day week, like the Gregorian calendar.
- The classical Manipuri dance form has its roots from the Lai Haraoba dance form.
- Martial art form Tang-ta originated from Meitei Knights.
- Sagol Kangjei, which is the earliest form of modern-day Polo, traces its origin to Manipur and Meiteis.
- Mukna Kangjei is a type of traditional wrestling popular amongst the Meiteis.
Meitei’s Demand for ST Status:
- Recent Plea:
- There was a recent plea before the Manipur High Court by the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union, seeking directions to the Manipur government to submit a recommendation to the Union Ministry for Tribal Affairs for the inclusion of the community in the list of Scheduled Tribes in the Indian Constitution, as a “tribe among tribes in Manipur”.
- Arguments in Favour:
- “Tribal” Status pre-independence: In their plea before the High Court, the petitioners argued that the Meitei community was recognised as a tribe before the merger of the princely state of Manipur with the Union of India in 1949, and that it lost its identity as a tribe after the merger.
- To preserve their culture: It was also argued that the demand for ST status arose from the need to “preserve” the community, and “and save the ancestral land, tradition, culture and language” of the Meiteis.
- Constitutional Safeguard: There has also been an organised push in support of this demand since 2012, led by the Scheduled Tribes Demand Committee of Manipur (STDCM).
- The STDCM stated that because of being left out of the ST list, “the community has been victimised without any constitutional safeguards to date.
- Decline in Population: It claimed that the Meitein/Meetei have been gradually marginalised in their ancestral land and that their population which was 59% of the total population of Manipur in 1951 has now been reduced to 44% as per 2011 Census data.
- Meitei community members had also filed contempt proceedings against the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) of the Manipur Assembly for passing a resolution opposing their inclusion under Scheduled Tribe (ST).
Hill Areas Committee (HAC):
- HAC is the highest decision-making body in Manipur at the legislative level to oversee the planning, implementation and monitoring of all development activities in the hill areas.
- HAC is constituted under the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) order, 1972. It comprises of all MLAs elected from the hill areas of the State as its members.
- Powers: Manage resources, sanitation services and primary education, public health and undertake administrative and welfare services including development and economic planning.
Manipur High Court’s Ruling:
- The court directed the government to consider the inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the tribe list of Manipur.
- It observed that the petitioners and other groups have been fighting for a long time for this inclusion, suggesting that it is an important issue for the community.
- The court has directed the government to submit its recommendation after considering the case of the petitioners, preferably within four weeks of receipt of the order.
Reasons for Opposition by other Tribal Groups:
The demand for ST status for the Meitei community has long been opposed by the state’s tribal groups.
- Dominance of Meiteis: One of the reasons cited for the opposition is the dominance of the Meiteis, both in population and in political representation, since 40 out of 60 Assembly constituencies of the state are in the valley.
- Risk of Job Opportunities: The ST communities of Manipur have been consistently opposing the inclusion fearing the loss of job opportunities and other affirmative actions granted to STs by the Constitution of India to a much advanced community like the Meitei.
- Academically Advanced Groups: The tribal groups say the Meiteis have a demographic and political advantage besides being more advanced than them academically and in other aspects.
- Other arguments: These include the fact that:
- the Manipuri language of the Meiteis is included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution and
- that sections of the Meitei community which is predominantly Hindu are already classified under Scheduled Castes (SC) or Other Backward Classes (OBC), and have access to the opportunities associated with that status.
Other Reasons for the Insurgency:
- Another major reason for the discontent has been the state government’s notices claiming that 38 villages in the Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest area (in Churachandpur and Noney districts) are “illegal settlements” and that its residents are “encroachers”.
- Following this, the government set out on an eviction drive claiming that the people living there “were encroaching reserved forests, protected forests and wildlife sanctuaries for poppy plantation and drugs business”which resulted in clashes.
- Kuki groups have claimed that the eviction is a violation of Article 371C, which confers some administrative autonomy to the tribal-dominated hill areas of Manipur.
Decoding the Editorial
History of Conflicts:
- The article is discussing the history of massacres and violent conflicts in the state of Manipur.
- The violence between the tribal communities of Manipur have always resulted in the destruction of places of worship, villages being burned down, and the displacement of thousands of people.
- The article states that the violence was driven by political motivations and can be described as genocidal.
- It also highlights that the ‘Kuki’ community has been involved in similar clashes with neighbouring communities over the years.
- The conflicts with the Dimasa (2003) and the Karbis (2004) in the neighbouring state of Assam, as well as with the Paites (1997-98) within Manipur itself.
- This suggests that the ‘Kukis’ have a history of being involved in violent conflicts with different communities in the region.
Reasons for Outbreak of Violence:
- Several factors have contributed to the recent outbreak of violence involving the ‘Kukis’ in Manipur.
- One factor is the demand by the Meiteis, another community in Manipur, for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
- This demand, along with the state government’s survey of forest areas and attempts to remove illegal occupants from protected forests, are seen as triggering factors or “sparks” that have ignited the violence.
- For these sparks to escalate into a full-blown inferno, there must be underlying material or conditions.
- In this case, the manufactured divide between the hills and valleys of Manipur is highlighted as the underlying material. This division, which has been artificially created, is described as a historical reality that continues to exist and influence the present situation.
- Topographical Dichotomy:
- Another reason for violence and the manufactured divide in Manipur is rooted in an invented topographical dichotomy between two geographical features: the “hill” and the “valley.”
- These features exist within the same elevated mountainous fold that was formed by the collision between the Indian plate and the Eurasian plate.
- The areas of Imphal, Manipur’s districts (such as Churachandpur, Ukhrul, Chandel), and neighbouring states like Nagaland and Mizoram are all part of this elevated mountainous fold.
- On the other hand, the Brahmaputra valley is described as a “depression” that was created by the same collision of plates.
- This topographical division, artificially created and imposed, has contributed to the social and ethnic divisions within Manipur.
- The use of the term “invented” implies that this division is not inherent to the geography itself but rather a construct imposed on the landscape.
- It highlights the arbitrary nature of the division and its role in shaping the current situation in Manipur.
- Another reason for violence and the manufactured divide in Manipur is rooted in an invented topographical dichotomy between two geographical features: the “hill” and the “valley.”
- Classification by Erstwhile Planning Commission:
- The erstwile classification of states in northeastern India was made by the former Planning Commission.
- According to that classification, states like Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram were classified as “hill states,” while Assam was considered a “state with hill areas.”
- However, it is to be noted that when discussing the relationship between the “Imphal valley” (located at an elevation of 790 meters) and the surrounding “hills” in Manipur (such as Churachandpur at around 922 meters), it is often presented as if the relationship is similar to that between the Brahmaputra valley/Guwahati (at roughly 50 meters) and higher-elevation areas like Kohima (1,444 meters) or Aizawl (1,132 meters).
- This presentation overlooks the significant difference in elevation between the Imphal valley and the surrounding hills in Manipur, which are relatively close in height.
- In contrast, the difference in elevation between the Brahmaputra valley/Guwahati and higher-elevation areas like Kohima and Aizawl is much more pronounced.
- By highlighting this discrepancy, the statement questions the validity of treating the relationship between the Imphal valley and the hills of Manipur in the same way as the relationship between the Brahmaputra valley and higher-elevation areas.
- It implies that this oversimplification may contribute to the misunderstandings and misconceptions surrounding the social and ethnic dynamics of Manipur.
- False Topographical Perspective of the British:
- The British introduced the false topographical perspective in Manipur by extending a scheme that differentiated the Brahmaputra valley from the Naga and Lushai Hills in then Assam.
- However, the distinction brought about by the British was primarily in terms of ‘population’ rather than ‘territory’.
- Thus, while revenues were generated from both the hills and valleys in Manipur (e.g., house tax), the people were divided and governed under different regimes of law.
- This geographical misrepresentation was further consolidated by classifying a section of the people as ‘hill tribes’ who were governed by a separate set of criminal and civil laws of the State of Manipur, irrespective of whether they lived in the hills or valleys.
- Post Colonial Regime:
- The post-colonial Indian state, far from reversing the colonial schemes, has not only reproduced but also expanded these false dichotomies during the 1950s and early 1970s.
- Thus, the colonial category of ‘hill tribes’ has been re-rendered as ‘scheduled tribes’ (ST) and the rest as general category (later on, many of these people have been reclassified as Other Backward Classes) along with a small section, as Scheduled Castes.
- In fact, this has accentuated the division among the people by introducing a division of land though pieces of legislation such as the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 and Article 371C.
- Even the State legislature was also divided by introducing a ‘mini assembly’ — ironically called ‘Hill Area Committee’ — within the Assembly of a ‘hill State’.
- Global Scenario:
- Nowhere in the country, perhaps even in the entire world, have such abnormal and fabricated divisions been officially created and nurtured among a minuscule population belonging to the same ethno-linguistic family inhabiting a small and compact mountainous region.
- Over the years, this anomalous and concocted divide has come to shape known as ‘social imaginary’ — that is, ‘the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit with others’ in the State.
- Consequently, the topographical reality of ‘hills-valleys’ that mark a mountainous terrain has become ‘hills and valley’ inhabited by ‘different peoples’.
- Such ‘social imaginary’ feeds, and is fed by, a political culture that disables the people in the State from realising and pursuing common goods.
- Role of Politics: Politics has played a major role in exacerbating the divide in Manipur and contributing to the recent violence.
- Politicians and certain social elites, particularly among the Scheduled Tribes (STs), have manipulated people’s sentiments by creating a communal narrative that blames the Meiteis for perceived differential development patterns in the state.
- The recent violence aligns with the characteristics of genocidal violence, involving attempts to mark out territories and cleanse the “other” from those spaces.
- The orchestrated violence is believed to serve certain sectarian interests, rather than promoting coexistence and the integrity of the state.
- Even as the violence subsides in the valley, attacks on Meitei villages in the periphery continue.
An impartial judicial inquiry is necessary to uncover the sequence of events and assign responsibility for the violence.
Beyond the Editorial
Importance of NE Region and steps to curb NE Insurgency:
Northeast region of India is strategically important for India in several ways:
- National Security: The region shares a long international border with neighboring countries like China, Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Therefore, the region’s strategic location is significant for India’s national security.
- Economic Importance: The Northeast region is rich in natural resources such as oil, natural gas, coal, limestone, and forests, and has great potential for tourism and exports. The region is also known as the “growth engine” of India due to its economic potential.
- Carbon Sink: The dense forest cover of the Northeast region plays an important role in mitigating climate change as a carbon sink. The region’s forests absorb a significant amount of carbon dioxide, thus helping in reducing the carbon footprint.
- Act East Policy: The Northeast region has the potential to act as the Indian ‘Gateway to Southeast Asia’ under India’s Act East Policy. The region’s proximity to Southeast Asian countries could provide new economic opportunities for India.
- Cultural Diversity: The Northeast region is home to various ethnic groups and has a rich cultural heritage. The region’s unique cultural identity is an important part of India’s diverse culture and heritage.
Steps to Curb Insurgency for a Secure North East:
- Addressing the root causes of insurgency: It is important to address issues such as unemployment, poverty, discrimination, lack of infrastructure, and basic amenities in the region to prevent the emergence of new insurgent groups.
- Dialogue with insurgent groups: The government should initiate a dialogue with the insurgent groups to understand their demands and find a peaceful solution to their grievances.
- Strengthening intelligence and security operations: Effective intelligence gathering and security operations can help prevent insurgent groups from carrying out attacks.
- Repeal of AFSPA: The controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) should be repealed to improve the human rights situation in the region.
- Encourage people’s participation: The government should encourage the participation of the people of the region in the decision-making process to promote a sense of ownership and belonging.
- Strengthening the legal system: The government should ensure that the legal system is fair and transparent to avoid the abuse of power by security forces. The Assam Rifles and the Indian Army since independence have been working towards creating a peaceful environment for the civil government to function.
- Strengthening ties with neighboring countries: Strengthening economic and diplomatic ties with neighboring countries can help promote regional stability and security.