The Hindu Meitei community has been demanding that it be included in the Scheduled Tribe category for a long time now. Manipur High Court (HC) issued a directive in this matter on April 19. Following their demand, protests backed by churches and militant groups turned violent across different districts in Manipur.
The rally organized by the All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) witnessed vandalism by miscreants who torched houses belonging to members of the Meitei community. The Manipur government has imposed a curfew in eight districts and suspended internet services across the state for five days.
The violence took place on Wednesday (May 3) in the adjoining districts of Bishnupur and Churachandpur. Reports state that besides torching Meitei houses, the miscreants attacked people including women and children. The perpetrators were also armed with sophisticated weapons and fired multiple bullets.
The people had to leave their homes and flee to nearby Hindu-dominated areas like Saiton, Moirang, Ningthoukhong, Bishnupur and the Imphal capital. As per reports, around 4000 affected Hindus have taken shelter at the Bharatiya army and paramilitary camps. The Organiser quotes an anonymous Torbung resident as saying that the involvement of suspected Kuki militants in the violence has caused apprehension among the residents.
“Following the HC’s directive on April 19 — to recommend for inclusion of the Meitei/Meetei community in the Scheduled Tribe list of the Constitution of India — the state’s tribal groups had expressed their strong opposition. While the ATSUM, the state’s apex tribal body, announced protests against the directive, the Hill Areas Committee (HAC), the autonomous body empowered to monitor legislation and administration of hill areas of the state, unanimously resolved to urge the Government of Manipur and the Government of India to go for Appeals against the High Court order”, The Indian Express reported.
“Demand for Meitei/Meetei community for inclusion for Scheduled Tribes (ST), category gaining momentum and valley legislators openly endorsing the demand, various tribal organisations including apex organisation, students’ organisation and the tribal public of the State have been raising objections to the demand”, ATSUM’s office memorandum said.
ATSUM appealed to all bodies of the hill areas including church leaders. The Tribal Churches Leaders Forum (TCLF) responded to ATSUM’s appeal and endorsed the ‘solidarity rally’ in its May 1 meeting. TCLF’s press release said that ATSUM’s rally was to ‘protect the social, political, & religious interests’ of Manipur’s tribal people.
Assam Rifles have been deployed at Christian and tribal-dominated Churachandpur after the state government requested the Bharatiya army. The army issued a statement confirming the evacuation of the maximum number of people to safer areas while adding that actions are being taken to restore law and order. Security forces also held a flag march.
However, it appears that the Meitei reservation issue is merely being used as a facade by the church that is opposed to the N Birender Singh government’s crackdown on the drug and deforestation menace.
Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh claimed on Tuesday (May 2) that Myanmar immigrants are responsible for deforestation, poppy cultivation, and drug menace in the state. In a series of social media posts, the Chief Minister said that the state government will continue to give utmost priority to the protection of Manipur and its entire indigenous people.
Protesting against the state government’s action to evict tribals from the forest lands and destruction of illegal poppy cultivation in the reserve and protected forests, the tribals had on March 10 organised protest rallies in three districts — Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal, during which five people were injured.
Tribals inhabiting the mountainous areas are mostly Christians by faith and account for more than 40 per cent of the state’s population while the Meitei community is Hindu.