A note on the current crisis in Manipur

A note on the current crisis in Manipur

Issued by Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR, Delhi) for public debate

The democratic and secular “Indian State” is challenged time and again by individuals like Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, who abuses the power of the State against minority groups. Latest to join him is Okram Ibobi Singh, Chief Minister of the ruling Congress government in Manipur. He is responsible for inciting communal violence and killing innocents – something brutally displayed in the death of two Naga students at Mao-Gate (Manipur-Nagaland border), on May 6, 2010. The same event and location also witnessed unspeakable violence by the State machinery where hundreds, mostly women, were injured and more were displaced.

Manipur is a conglomeration of Kukis, Hmars, Nagas, Paites, Gangte, Simte and other peoples in the hill districts and Meitei and Meitei-Pangal (Muslims) people in the valley. The tribal population of the hills lives in 5 districts (composing of 20095 Sq. Km.) surrounding Imphal Valley (2238Sq.Km.). Out of the 60 people’s representatives in the Manipur Legislative Assembly, only 20 are from the tribal populations.

Manipur is also a heavily militarised state under the jurisdiction of the notorious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Here human deaths in the hands of State and non-State armed groups take place every second day and impunity is rampant. The political climate of the state leads to endless bandhs, strikes, blockades called even by various armed groups, political movements and even mainstream political parties. For instance as many as 53 days between April and July 2006 remained under intense blockade of the National Highway 39. In the same period 81 days saw a statewide or partial bandh. Each day of bandh cost Greater Imphal residents Rs. 2.41 crores and 7.5 crores was the calculated amount for the entire state population[1].

These reflect very deep-rooted political and social problems that are not addressed and hence continue to fester. Manipur continues to be a battlefield where there are regular and myriad conflicts between State and non-State actors, State and the civil society, civil society groups and others etc. In such a milieu of complex political conflicts, definitions are blurred and at certain times State violence against some communities also sees support from others.

The recent incidents of violence (May 6) in Manipur are highly symptomatic of the deep divisions that exist in the state. As the violence whipped up immense media interest, truths, as always, were suppressed and media reports reflected only the dominant views. For instance, the media reported that the two students died in a stampede when they were actually shot dead at point blank range. It is of utmost importance that such information regimes are challenged and one looks at the turn of events that led to a crisis, with no solution presently visible.

The decision of the Government of Manipur (GoM) to bar Th. Muivah, General Secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), from visiting his ancestral village is only a point of precipitation. The real issues between the GoM and tribals in the state, and the Naga peoples in particular, are both historical and political in nature. The present crisis, therefore, stems from the reality where people in the hills of Manipur have been historically and politically wronged by the successive governments in the state.

What is emerging from the shallow reportage in the media in Manipur, however, is the selective issue of the economic blockade imposed by the All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur (ANSAM) – a blockade in protest against the discriminatory Manipur (Hill Area) District Council Act (Third Amendment) 2008 which takes away the traditional rights the powers of the tribal villages. In actuality, it is not in interest of the Naga people to impose an economic blockade where the worst sufferers are the hill populations who anyhow do not enjoy the support of the State. An attempt to solve the crisis either through arrest warrants issued against the student leaders or airlifting supplies without addressing issues at the roots will only add to the problems. The civil societies condemning the blockade should, with equal anger and strength, press upon the GoM to address the fundamental issues and initiate a dialogue with the various peoples in the hill districts.

Friday 28 May 2010
New Delhi

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