ASIA/INDIA - One year after the outbreak of violence: Ethnic division in Manipur

Monday, 20 May 2024 armed conflicts   civil war   dialogue  

Imphal (Agenzia Fides) - There is no solution in sight to the deep ethnic divide in the Indian state of Manipur, in northeastern India, devastated by the inter-ethnic violence that erupted in May 2023. The riots between two ethnic communities (Meitei and Kuki) left about 200 dead and thousands injured and destroyed 200 villages and 7,000 houses, 360 Christian churches or chapels and some synagogues. The population continues to live in temporary shelters housing 60,000 displaced people organized by the state government and NGOs, while the two warring communities have been separated by a "buffer zone".
The protracted conflict has affected the social and economic aspects of daily life, leading to an increase in the cost of living. It has also caused many citizens to leave the state and move to other parts of India. The impact is also cultural: ties and social relations between the two communities have broken down in many areas, making everyday activities such as farming or fishing difficult, in which people from different ethnic groups worked together peacefully in the past. While the violence that erupted in May 2024 appears to have subsided for now, the underlying issues that sparked it remain unresolved. The temporary solution that the government found to break the cycle of aggression and killings was to separate the opponents in order to create the basis for stability. In the long term, however, this has led to a move to create separate administrative units for Kuki and Meitei in the region. A key obstacle to a return to normality is the widespread presence of armed civilian groups feeding separatist groups and militias that have rapidly militarized society. Over 4,500 weapons were looted from police arsenals following the outbreak of ethnic violence in the state. Since then, only around 1,800 firearms have been recovered or surrendered and, given the resurgence of previously dormant armed groups, there are currently serious difficulties in enforcing the rule of law and social security. In this situation, development projects and investments that existed before the conflict have come to a standstill. Young people are frustrated and, amidst the general instability and tensions, the desire for two separate administrations is growing and strengthening. A small sign of hope in a situation of ongoing separation is the experience of a mixed couple: Donjalal Haokip, a Kuki, and his wife Rebati Dev, a Meitei, run "Ema" (meaning "mother"), a facility for orphans who cares for children from both communities. This shows possible harmony and inspires hope in the community of Manipur. The couple, who also have an interfaith marriage (he is Christian, she is Hindu), run the Ema Home in Keithelmanbi, an area between the Meitei area (Imphal Valley) and the Kuki area (Kangpokpi district). The couple, who have been running the orphanage since 2015, look after 17 children from different backgrounds: including Meitei, Kuki, Naga and Nepalese. “Love and coexistence are the only antidote to violence and the path to peace,” say the two, wishing for “the triumph of reason and the spread of peace, which is the desire and need of all.” (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 20/5/2024)