The state government has not acted to restore peace and deliver justice in Manipur, according to a report released by the Karwan-e-Mohabbat team following its four-day visit to the violence-stricken Northeastern state from July 25 to July 28.
The team said that the purpose of the visit was to engage with the communities affected by the escalating turmoil in the state.
During their stay in Manipur, the team said that it dedicated significant time to listening to survivors in seven relief camps, situated on both sides of what has come to be known as a perceived “border” between the Imphal valley, primarily inhabited by the Meitei community, and the hills, where the Kuki and Naga tribal peoples reside. The team interacted with numerous community leaders from both sides of this divide, according to the report titled ‘The Humanitarian Crisis in Manipur’.
The team claimed to have encountered a stark image of Manipur “transformed into a war zone”, where sophisticated weaponry such as rifles, mortars, and bombs have become commonplace. There’s an alarming mobilisation of ordinary citizens into this conflict, they said.
A primary takeaway from their findings was that the state is led by a government that has done “nothing to restore peace and ensure justice against people who kill, rape and destroy homes with unfettered impunity even three months later”. The team said that the state is absent in its foremost constitutional duty to protect civilians. “It is absent from relief camps. Instead, the state government is often perceived to be taking sides in what is quickly escalating into a full-blown civil war,” read the report.
It added that grief, anger, and animosity have reached boundless levels on both sides of the conflict. Interestingly, a common thread emerges in the narratives from both the Meitei and Kuki communities. The “other” community is painted as a threat. The team saw that the Kuki people were being portrayed as foreigners who had illegally immigrated from Myanmar when it spoke to the Meiteis, who also feared that Kuki people would “one day outnumber the indigenous Meitei people to whom Manipur belonged rightfully.”
“They [Meitei] accuse them [Kuki] of endangering Meitei youth by illegal poppy cultivation. They allege that the Kuki people are illegally clearing reserved forests for their farms and settlements and threatening the ecology of the region. They claim that Kuki militants roam freely, and their violence and gun and drug trafficking thrive under the protection of the Assam Rifles,” narrated the team in the report.
“The Kuki people have an entirely different narrative. They allege that their farmers may cultivate poppies for bare survival, but that the drug trade and profits are mostly harvested by politicians and big business in the Imphal valley and beyond. They claim to be legal citizens of Manipur and allege that the Meitei people want Scheduled Tribe status to grab their lands and reduce them to a minority in their mountain abodes. They also want to corner the seats in the legislatures and educational institutions that are reserved for tribal people. They also allege that a militia of Meitei youth is actively supported by the Chief Minister of Manipur and that with open state patronage, it is these militants who ravaged their lands and people with rape, murder and arson. They allege long years of work by the RSS to convert Meitei nationalism into Hindu nationalism implacably hostile to the Kuki people also for their Christian faith,” added the report.
The team also observed that the conditions in the relief camps, despite the disparities, remain inadequate for both Meitei and Kuki residents. Meitei camps, at times, receive government support, while Kuki camps are mainly managed by the local church and community contributions.
While Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit brought the promise of cash compensation for families of those killed during the violence, comprehensive schemes for compensation – encompassing cases of sexual violence, injuries, property destruction, and more – are yet to be detailed and implemented, noted the report.
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