A semblance of normality returned on Saturday with the Assam army and rifles continuing flag marches amid renewed fears that the crisis could turn into full-blown armed struggle between the Meitei, the majority population, and the tribals Nagas AND Kuki communities if “valley-based insurgent groups” holed up in camps across the India-Myanmar border enter the volatile situation. “This could be detrimental to the ongoing efforts to restore normalcy in Manipur,” a security source said.
“The security forces are making every effort to thwart the nefarious plans should they manifest themselves. Assam Rifles is improving its deployment position, 24-hour border surveillance, while Army UAVs and helicopters are engaged for aerial surveillance.
It is suspected that peaceful protests by tribal groups against the MeiteisDemanding the community for Scheduled Tribe status turned violent on May 3 due to the involvement of armed Kuki militants. The fear now is that the Meitei insurgents may react. Sources say Manipur cannot afford a breaking of the peace as many lives have already been lost and many people have been displaced by the latest round of violence.
Violence in Manipur: curfew in eight districts; suspended internet
Over 13,000 people have been evacuated by the Assam Army and Rifles in the past two days, while many of the interstate border areas have fled to Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Assam. Hundreds, mostly students, were seen camping out at Imphal airport trying to flee the state, while thousands were in makeshift camps.
“84 weapons seized, 10 held so far in Manipur”
Retired IPS officer and former CRPF chief Kuldiep Singh, who was rushed to Manipur on Thursday as a security adviser after violence erupted in the state, told reporters: “The confirmed death cases they are 28 to 30. We are checking further. As we verify this and find out that it is because of the violence, we will confirm it.
A PTI report put the death toll at 54, saying 16 bodies were stored in the mortuary of Churachandpur district hospital, while 15 were in the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal East district. The protest that sparked the current crisis was called after the Manipur High Court last month asked the state government to send a recommendation to the Center within four weeks on the Meiteis’ application for ST status.
During a march in Torbung, an armed mob allegedly attacked people from the Meitei community, prompting reprisal attacks in valley districts, which escalated violence across the state, police said.
The state government has sent executive magistrates and senior police officers along with paramilitary forces to remote areas of the hills to identify and arrest those involved in the violence. Security Advisor Singh said, “The problem still lies in some pockets of Imphal city and Churachandpur, Moreh, Kangpokpi areas. So far we have recovered 84 weapons and arrested 10 of them”.
Manipur is known for its ethnic and cultural diversity, but has been plagued by insurgencies and internal strife for decades. There are 35 communities, with the Meitei living in a smaller, disc-shaped valley bordered by hills being home to most of the state’s 34 tribal groups. Most of the Meitei are Vaishnavites and the community has ruled the land for centuries.
They represent about 53% of the population, but lately they feel threatened by non-natives settling on their ancestral land, which is the ground for asking for protection under the scheduled tribe reservation.