The tense calm in Manipur, with 7,000 troops deployed to control the situation and citizens urged to return looted weapons, is due to a series of events that have unfolded in the state.
According to a report by news agency ANI, the Manipur Chief Minister’s move to protect forest areas has met with resistance from illegal immigrants and drug cartels. Additionally, lawmakers in the valley have openly endorsed the demand by some Meitei organizations for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, causing concern among communities who are included in this reservation category.
The Meiteis, who make up 53% of the state’s population but inhabit only a tenth of its land area, claim that they are facing problems due to large-scale illegal immigration by Myanmarese and Bangladeshis. Meanwhile, the hill districts, which comprise much of the state’s land, are mainly inhabited by tribals, including the Nagas and Kukis, who are mainly Christians and are protected from encroachment by law. They make up 40% of the population.
The tribal solidarity march organized by the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) in ten districts of the state was held to oppose moves for the inclusion of the Meitei community in the ST category. The rallies were attended by thousands of tribals, with village residents from interior hill areas also joining in. In the Naga-dominated Senapati town, local bodies forced a total shutdown of markets and suspended public transport to ensure maximum attendance. People joined the processions, waved placards, and raised slogans.
However, the valley districts dominated by the Meiteis had counter-blockades in support of ST status for the community. Protesters shouted slogans demanding ST status, as well as for the protection of reserved and protected forests. The Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee Manipur (STDCM) is spearheading the movement for ST status for the Meiteis. They claim that the demand is being made not just for reservation in jobs, educational institutions, and tax relief, but also to protect their ancestral land, culture, and identity, which they believe are being threatened by illegal migration from Myanmar, Bangladesh, and people from outside the state.
The conflict began on May 3, when a few Meitei families were attacked during the ATSUM’s ‘tribal solidarity march’ in Churachandpur, triggering retaliatory violence against Kukis in the Imphal Valley. Over 50 people are said to have died, and many others have been critically injured. Churachandpur is now the epicenter of the ongoing unrest in Manipur, with the army facing a riotous mob that tried to obstruct the evacuation of besieged Meitei families from the town.
Despite repeated attempts by army officers to reason with the mob and lift the barricades, the mob refused to let the Army pass. The army was forced to open fire, resulting in the deaths of four people and several others sustaining critical injuries. The situation in Churachandpur remains highly volatile.