ASIA/INDIA - More violence in Manipur: residents vote for opposition coalition

Wednesday, 12 June 2024 violence   civil war   ethnic minorities  

Imphal (Agenzia Fides) - In the troubled state of Manipur, in north-east India, there are renewed signs of tension and violence. After the parliamentary elections and the inauguration of Narendra Modi, leader of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in New Delhi, it is clear that the people of the state of Manipur have disavowed the local government (the state's Prime Minister is N. Biren Singh of the BJP) and have placed their trust in the opposition coalition "INDIA" led by the Congress Party, electing two opposition MPs as their representatives. In recent months, the national leaders of the Congress Party have repeatedly expressed the urgency of resolving the crisis in order to ensure peace, and have criticized the BJP for failing to end the violence. The latest wave of violence affected Jiribam district, where village fires were reported between Meitei and Kuki groups: the incident is indicative of ongoing ethnic tensions in Manipur. According to local police, more than 1,000 people belonging to Meitei and Kuki-Zo communities in Jiribam have been displaced and relocated to makeshift shelters in remote areas. The clashes between the Hindu-majority Meitei community and the Christian-majority Kuki-Zo tribe have so far claimed more than 220 lives and displaced another 67,000 people, according to the government.
Observers said the BJP, which had previously led the Manipur state government, was trying to exploit the violence for its political gain, but with the outcome of the recent elections, the people wanted to express their dissatisfaction with the state government, which had only temporarily separated the two communities as a way out. Given the difficult situation, Christian church organizations such as the "All Manipur Catholic Youth Organization" or the "Manipur Interreligious Forum for Peace and Harmony" initiated by the Catholic Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil are looking for common ground.
The Meitei make up about 60% of the population and live in the wealthier areas of the valley around the capital Imphal; the minority tribes Kuki-Zo and Naga live in the hilly districts around the valley. The Indian Constitution lists some historically marginalized tribes (the so-called "Scheduled Tribes") as recipients of specific programs for development, education and land shares. The Meitei had been applying for "Scheduled Tribes" status for several years in order to gain access to these programs and privileges, and received it in March 2023 thanks to a local court ruling. It was precisely because of this ruling that the other tribal minorities organized protest marches that later degenerated into violence and outright civil war. The court order was now overturned in February 2024 by the Manipur High Court, which deemed it unconstitutional. On the basis of this, say the Christian groups, the conflict could and should be defused. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 12/6/2024)