Imphal (Agenzia Fides) - The death toll in the ongoing violence in the Indian state of Manipur (in northwest India) between the Kuki and Meitei ethnic communities has risen to 98 people killed, the Manipur Chief Minister's office reported. More than 300 people have reportedly been injured, more than 4,000 cases of arson have occurred, and about 37,000 people are currently in relief shelters. According to other local sources, there are more than 200 victims, as cases of violence continue to be reported on a daily basis. On 2 June, more than 200 houses were burnt down in the Sugnu area, while about 300 buildings, churches, chapels or Christian worship halls (of different denominations) were damaged or destroyed.
The ethnic conflict between the Kuki and Meitei communities began on May 3 and since then the situation has remained unstable (see Fides, 9/5/2023). The violence began after a protest march attended by more than 60,000 people, organized by the Manipur Tribal Students Union. The students were opposing a request by the Manipur High Court to the state government to send a recommendation to the central government to include Meitei communities in the category of 'Scheduled Tribe', which would allow them access to benefits and especially land reserved for other indigenous groups.
On 30 May, the Union Minister of Home Affairs, Amit Shah, visited the state and asked both communities for 15 days of peace. Despite this, the violence has not stopped. The Indian central government has set up a commission to investigate the causes and spread of the violence. The commission is expected to submit its report within six months. According to some local civil society organizations, Prime Minister Biren Singh is among those responsible for the escalation of violence. The Kukis claim that security forces are working with the Meitei to attack their communities, whereas they are only acting in self-defence.
There is a widespread belief in the tribal communities that there is a clear bias in the way the media has reported the violence: according to press reports, the latest cases of violence have been carried out by Kuki militants, leading to clashes with Manipur security forces. In a press conference, Prime Minister Singh also stated that 'over 40 Kuki 'terrorists' were killed by security forces in defence operations". However, it is noted in the local communities that currently, due to the Internet blockade, extended until 10 June, and due to the lack of access in the hilly areas, the media only have access to the Meitei community narrative.
In this delicate and intricate situation, the local Catholic communities note that there is a significant need for humanitarian aid. Although the government has announced aid packages, the communities claim that very little aid has reached the tribal areas. The Archbishop Emeritus of Guwahati, Thomas Menamparampil, noted that the violence has continued for over a month and it is clear that measures taken so far have not been sufficient to stop it and manage the crisis. In order to ensure the protection of vulnerable communities and displaced persons, the Archbishop has begun monitoring the situation and arranged a visit to some of the areas that can be reached, to make use of his vast experience in inter-ethnic relations, and sow the first seeds of a movement for dialogue, rapprochement, reconciliation. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 9/6/2023)