Since May 3, 2023, Manipur experienced ethnic turmoil and violence. The Government of India dispatched its central armed forces and army to halt the spate of violence. However, the last seven months saw people reeling under the shadow of the gun with no sign of return to peace.
Simmering tension started veering into a violent phase by April-end with a mob setting an open-gym on fire at PT Sports Complex, scheduled to be inaugurated by the Chief Minister in Churachandpur. The chief minister was forced to cancel his visit to Churachandpur on April 28. Besides, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) called an 8-hour shutdown in the Churachandpur district and resolved to not cooperate with the government in all its programmes.
The chief minister, once a trouble-shooter for the erstwhile Congress Government, took a tough posture and vowed that all those involved in the violent act would be dealt with strictly. The unrest spilled over till the next day with the stand-off between protesters and the police spreading to multiple locations leaving several protesters and cops injured. The unrest reportedly spread to New Bazar, Tui-bong, K Salbung and Karpang on April 29. A mob torched the Range Forest Office at Tuibong Forest Gate around midnight and burnt tyres on the streets. The situation took an alarming shift as some miscreants destroyed Meitei temple and tore Salai Taret flag, which is sacred to the Meetei/Meitei community, at Thingkangphai on April 29, 2023. To prevent further flare up, the District Magistrate clamped night curfew prohibiting the movement of any person outside their respective residences until further orders.
ATSUM, in a statement issued April 28, said that the “violent street protest” was not a spontaneous phenomenon but an outburst of growing dissent against the “adverse and regressive policies” of the Government of Manipur. “The forest and land survey, with an objective of evicting villages in the survey areas, is a direct affront to tribal hill people,” it added.
On April 30, ATSUM announced that it will hold a Tribal Solidarity March on May 3 in Manipur hill districts – Senapati, Ukhrul, Kangpokpi, Tamenglong, Churachandpur, Chandel and Tengnoupal. The march with its theme “Come now let’s reason together” was taken out against the demand for inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the ST list.
Many CSOs and student bodies — Sadar Hills Tribals Union on Land and Forest, Tribal Churches Leaders Forum, Anal Lenruwl Tangpi/Anal Naga Students’ Union, Churachandpur District Private Schools & Colleges Association, Senapati District Students’ Association – extended support to ATSUM’s ‘solidarity rally.
Meanwhile, the attack on the Meitei temple and the tearing of the Salai Taret flag drew sharp reactions from Meitei CSOs. The Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) issued a statement saying that some organizations, in the name of making demands to the Government, are trying to ignite ethnic tension and damage the unity of the people and the State’s integrity. It sought strict and appropriate actions to be taken against organizations promoting hatred towards other communities. The AMUCO had also appealed to all community leaders to take serious note of the matter and take up necessary measures to preserve the integrity of Manipur and promote cordial relationships among all the communities. Meetei Society, Churachandpur urged the police to arrest the culprits at the earliest to avoid the rerun of similar unwanted activities and ensure the peaceful coexistence of all communities in Churachandpur. People’s Alliance for Peace and Progress, Manipur (PAPPM) demanded a judicial enquiry into the conspiracy behind the violence and arson in Churachandpur town and Tuibong area on April 27 and 28.
May 3, the day which will be etched in history for the flare-up of chain of ethnic violence in Manipur,, thousands of people came out on the streets to attest their support to ATSUM’s solidarity march taken place in Churachandpur, Senapati, Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Noney, Tengnoupal, Kangpokpi and Chandel districts.
At the same time, counter protests were also organised in different parts of the valley, including Uripok Kangchup Road up to Phayeng, Pangei, Chingarel Tejpur, Kadangband, Khurkhul, Phousakhong and Kanto among others.
The march turned violent, several persons were injured and houses were burnt in different areas in Churachandpur, Moirang, Motbung and Moreh resulting in injuries to several persons and loss of properties. Violence also erupted in some parts of Imphal East district and of Imphal West with vehicles torched by angry mobs before police dispersed them by firing tear gas shells.
Given the tense situation, the State Government imposed a public curfew in Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, Pherzawl, Tengnoupal, Bishnupur, Imphal West, Imphal East, Thoubal and Jiribam districts by 7 pm. As photographs and video clips of the acts of violence went viral on social media igniting a string of violent incidents, mobile data services were suspended with immediate effect.
Violence raged on for the second consecutive day on May 4. The armoury of the Manipur Police Training Centre at Pangei in Imphal East and 9th Mahila India Reserve Battalion (IRB) at Khuman Lampak were looted; hundreds of service weapons were taken away by a rampaging mob of thousands of youths on May 4. A large number of Rapid Action Force (RAF) troops arrived at Imphal to control the situation and bring normalcy. Retired IPS officer and former CRPF chief Kuldiep Singh was appointed as its security advisor. The Manipur Government has designated Ashutosh Sinha, IPS, ADGP (Intelligence), Manipur as the Overall Operational Commander. The order said that Ashutosh Sinha will work under the guidance and supervision of Kuldiep Singh.
The government issued a ‘shoot at sight’ order in “extreme cases” as the spiralling violence claimed several lives and displaced over 9,000 people from their villages.
Many organisations, groups and political leaders expressed serious concern over the violence and appealed to all the communities residing in the State to refrain from any form of violence and come together for a peaceful solution.
The Chief Minister said that the State Government was closely monitoring the unfolding situation round the clock, in coordination with the Indian Army, Assam Rifles, CRPF and BSF deployed in the State. He also appealed to the people of Manipur not to circulate unfounded rumours, fake photos and videos as well as unverified information which have the potential to flare up the crisis. But the barrage of violent incidents was reported on the third day on May 5 with the death toll crossing 50.
An all-political party meeting held on May 6 resolved to form a peace committee in every Assembly Constituency with the respective MLAs as chairmen to implement peace initiatives at the grassroots level and to take the displaced families to safer places. BJP National spokesperson Sambit Patra stated that the Centre and the State Government are working collectively round the clock to restore peace and normalcy in Manipur.
The situation saw some improvement with no report of casualty. The district administrations relaxed the curfew for some hours on May 8. Several relief camps were opened in various places across the State to shelter the internally displaced people owing to the violence and arson. Calls for peace continued to pour in. Security Advisor to the Manipur Government Kuldiep Singh informed that violence claimed the lives of 65 people and displaced 35,000 people so far since May 3.
Kuldeip Singh said on May 10 that Joint teams of Assam Rifles and Manipur police started inspection of designated camps of Kuki militant groups under SoO agreement. 284 arms and 6700 rounds of ammunition snatched from security forces were recovered.
Violence continued unabated though several CSOs called for peace and unity. The CSOs of Kangpokpi district on May 11 met AK Mishra, the Interlocutor the SoO talks and made it clear their “no separate political administration, no rest” stand.
A press statement was issued by 10 Kuki MLAs on May 12 demanding separate administration drawing mixed reactions. Many organisations and political parties strongly condemned the move of the MLAs while Zomi Students’ Federation (ZSF) supported the demand.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh, Education Minister Th Basanta Kumar, RD & PR Minister Y Khemchand, Power Minister Th Biswajit, Works Minister K Govindas and BJP State unit president A Sarda rushed to Delhi in a chartered flight on May 14. Briefing the media on May 15, the CM said the union home minister gave assurances that there will be no such situation which will affect or alter the integrity of the state. Nine out of the 10 Kuki MLAs met Amit Shah on May 15 and submitted a memorandum demanding separate administration. In the memorandum, they accused the Meetei community of carrying out ethnic cleansing of the Kuki tribes.
34 MLAs from BJP and its alliance partners submitted a three-point demand to the Central government on May 17. They demanded the deployment of adequate security in Moreh, Churachandpur and other areas of the state in order to ensure adequate security to people of all communities, immediate withdrawal of So0 agreement signed with the armed Kuki armed groups by the Central government, and deployment of central security forces in sensitive areas of the state.
Former rebel leader RK Meghen said on May 19 that one big lesson which the Meiteis can learn from the conflict with the Kukis is to start unification and work towards a common goal.
Kuldiep Singh said on May 22 that altogether 39,405 displaced people are currently taking shelter at 235 relief camps. Cry for CM’s resignation gained momentum.
The Co-ordination Committee (CorCom), the conglomerate of underground groups operating in Manipur on May 23 said conflict is not a sudden outburst but the culmination of the never-ending process and long-planned sinister plot of the government of India through some divisive elements.
Peace remained elusive as reports of heavy exchange of fires continued to pour in. MoS for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai and BJP national spokesperson Dr Sambit Patra took stock of the situation. They visited Churachanpur and Kangpokpi. They interacted with leaders of several civil society organizations.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah arrived at Imphal on May 29 night on a three-day visit. He held a closed-door meeting with the Chief Minister, Union MoS for Home, Council of Ministers, Sambit Patra, Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Secretary (Home), Tapan Kumar Deka, Director of Intelligence Bureau (DIB), Chief Secretary and Security Advisor. He met representatives of CSOs and student organisations at the CM secretariat the next day. During the meeting, he reiterated the commitment to protect the territorial integrity of Manipur. But, he did not utter a word about withdrawal or continuation of SoO. Amit Shah informed that the central government would constitute a committee headed by retired Chief Justice of a High Court for investigation into circumstances leading to outbreak of violence in the state.
The home minister also visited Churachandpur and held talks with tribal as well as church leaders, including Kuki MLAs and ITLF representatives. The ITLF demands included “separate administration” and imposition of President’s Rule in Manipur. He asked the tribal leaders not to use arms and maintain peace for 15 days. He assured a permanent political solution within 15 days, said ITLF.
He interacted with the displaced people from Churachandpur and Moreh who are taking shelter at the relief camp set up at Ideal Girls College in Akampat under Thongju Constituency on May 31.
Thousands from the Meitei community held a peace demonstration at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi on June 4. They called for restoration of peace and normalcy in Manipur. Former Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Prof Meijinlung Kamson cited the State’s inability to tackle influx as one of the major reasons for the unrest witnessed in Manipur. The Naga MLAs met Amit Shah in New Delhi on June 7 and told the Centre that the Naga areas “should not be touched” if any arrangement is made for any community to settle the ongoing unrest. The MHA approved a Rs 101.75 crore relief package, according to a statement issued by Kuldiep Singh on June 8.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma landed in Imphal on June 10 and held rounds of meetings with his counterpart in Manipur and different civil society organisations (CSOs) to discuss the backdrop of the ongoing violence in Manipur.
A total of 1,040 arms, 13,601 ammunition and 230 bombs of different types have been recovered till date, said Kuldiep Singh through a statement on June 13. At least nine civilians were killed and 11 others were injured in one of the most violent attacks carried out allegedly by Kuki militants in Kangpokpi district’s Khamenlok village bordering Meitei villages of Imphal East district.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi arrived at Imphal on June 29 on a two-day visit. He had to take a helicopter ride to reach Churachandpur district after Bishnupur district police stopped his convoy citing law and order issues. After reaching Churachandpur, he met people displaced by the ethnic strife in a relief camp and interacted with the inmates. Rahul Gandhi met Governor Anu suiya Uikey on June 30. He held talks with representatives of different civil society organisations and appealed to all sections of the society for peace in Manipur stating that “violence is no solution”. Rahul Gandhi, accompanied by some AICC and MPCC leaders, went to Moirang by helicopter and met the inmates of two relief camps.
The Chief Minister was stopped by his supporters from resigning on June 30 amid high-voltage drama. N Biren decided to step down from the CM post after the Central government reportedly reprimanded him with strong words for his failure to control the violence.
Violence and protests raged throughout July. After remaining shut for nearly two months, schools reopened for classes I to VIII in Manipur on July 5. A joint delegation of CPI and CPI (M) arrived at Imphal on July 6 to oversee the situation. They visited Churachandpur and met violence-hit people in the district the next day. The joint delegation comprising four MPs also visited several places in Imphal and met the people in distress.
Governor Unusuiya Uikey revealed that external forces including from Myanmar are involved in the ongoing violence in Manipur drawing a sharp reaction from the Kuki Inpi Manipur. It demanded evidence about the presence of external forces.
In his first statement on ethnic violence in Manipur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on July 20 that the incident of women being paraded naked in Manipur had shamed 140 crore Indians and “can never be forgiven”. a two-month-old video that emerged on July 19 sent nationwide shock and outrage. Six persons, including one juvenile, were arrested by July 22. The case was handed over to the CBI on July 30. The CBI took custody of four alleged accused persons arrested in connection with the case.
The 21 MPs of INDIA, an alliance of Opposition parties, arrived on a two-day visit on July 29 to assess the present law and order situation and visit people affected by the conflict. The delegation visited various relief camps in Churachandpur, Bishnupur and Imphal districts where they met the violence-affected people. Briefing media persons at the Raj Bhavan gate, Deputy CLP leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that the Manipur violence is now a national issue.
Kukis started preparing the ground for the burial of those killed in violence at Torbung Bangla on August 1 drawing strong opposition from displaced Meitei locals and several organisations. A sea of womenfolk gathered at Bishnupur’s Torbung area against the Kuki’s move. High Court order stopped a planned mass burial of deceased Kukis at an area in Torbung Bangla on August 3. The ITLF issued a statement saying that it had decided to delay the burial by five days “on the request of the Home Minister”.
The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) and all Kuki-Zo tribals “feel let down” by Home Minister Amit Shah, said the Kuki leaders’ forum in a statement on August 10. Amit Shah attributed the reason for rising tension between Meiteis and Kukis in Manipur to “increasing Kuki population in the State, owing to their exodus from neighbouring Myanmar and started settling here, narcotic trade from Myanmar picked up” etc.
The much-awaited Assembly session was conducted on August 29. However, it was adjourned sine die by the Speaker after 10 minutes amid protests by opposition members for violating the rules of procedure and conduct of business, and the absence of an agenda for discussion on the ethnic crisis in the state. None of the 10 Kuki-Zo MLAs take part in the session.
Twenty-four residents of New Lambulane were evicted forcibly by a team of uniformed armed personnel claiming to be acting under directions from the Home Department in the intervening night of September 1 and September 2. KIM declared ‘total separation of Kukis and Meiteis’ with their evacuation. Meanwhile, widespread protests erupted in valley districts against the legal notice served to the Republican Party of India (Athawale) National Secretary, Maheshwar Thounaojam by the Assam Rifles.
AMWJU and EGM rejected the Editor Guild of India’s report on September 3. The two apex bodies of journalists in Manipur have also issued a point-by-point rebuttal to the EGI’s allegations. Taking strong exception to the report of EGI fact-finding committee on Manipur violence, that the State Government has lodged an FIR against the EGI for their ‘one sided narration’.
IGP (Administration) of Manipur police K Jayanta said on September 14 that the death toll of the ongoing violence stood at 175 of which the particulars of 165 have been identified. As many as 5,172 cases of arson were also reported in the course of the violence. 254 Churches, 132 Temples and 4786 houses were reduced to ashes, he added.
After nearly five months, the ban on mobile internet service was lifted with effect from September 23. However, the government shut it again on September 25 after some photos of the two teens, who went missing since July 6, purportedly showing them alive while in captivity of some people armed and their lifeless bodies lying near a boulder in a forested area went viral on social media, triggering fresh protests.
For the first time in the country, pellet guns were used by CAPF for crowd control on protesting students in uniform on September 29, drawing mass condemnation from all over.
The CoTU Sadar Hills lifted the month-long economic blockade along highway stretches passing through Kangpokpi district and total shutdown was imposed along National Highway-37 on October 4. CoTU reportedly decided to lift the blockade to pave the way for a political solution of the Kuki-Zo people ‘as it considers that the political dialogue between the Government of India and the UPF-KNO has reached an advanced stage’.
Kuldiep Singh said on October 9 said, “As per instructions from the Central Government, I have been presiding over meetings of the Unified Command.” Governor Anusuiya Uikey inaugurated a pre-fabricated houses complex named Mandop Yumpham Relief Camp on October 16 at ISTT, Khurkhul and visited relief camps located in the foothills of Imphal West.
In a daring attack, one Sub- Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) of Manipur Police posted at Moreh was shot dead by Kuki terrorists on October 31 morning. Further, additional commando personnel sent from Imphal were ambushed by Kuki terrorists on the way leaving three of them injured.
Mass protests erupted in Imphal as two teenagers went missing and remained untraceable from November 4 morning after they went to attend an oath-taking ceremony of a group at Sekmai.
For the first time in history, no usual sound of bursting firecrackers and instead pitch dark streets and localities adorned Imphal and all districts in Manipur’s valley on Diwali, the festival of lights. After the mute and dark Diwali, Manipur witnessed an exceptionally sombre Ningol Chakkouba day as womenfolk across the valley district, including at relief camps carried out hunger strikes on November 15 and extended solidarity to all the Meetei people taking refuge at relief camps.
The number of Myanmar Nationals fleeing the neighbouring country and seeking refuge at Kamjong district has surged to 1,383 with 375 Myanmar Nationals crossing the porous border and seeking shelter in the district, said a highly placed source in the Government on November 29.
Citing improvement in the law and order situation in the past few days and taking into consideration inconveniences faced by the public due to the protracted suspension of mobile internet service, the state government announced on December 3 lifting of the prohibition across the state, except for the stretch of 2 km radius along the adjoining areas of some districts.
At least 13 people have been killed in an ambush laid by suspected Kuki militants near Leithao village, Tengnoupal district under Machi police station on December 4. A convoy of BSF averted a major tragedy along National Highway (102) at around 9.15 am on December 12 as they detected and seized 45 bombs (IED) from a particular place in between Sinam and Bongyang on the Imphal-Moreh stretch of the highway under Tengnoupal police station.
Altogether 64 dead bodies which were lying in the morgues of JNIMS and RIMS were taken out by the State police and paramilitary personnel in the wee hours of December 14 and they were later airlifted from Imphal to Churachandpur, Imphal to Kangpokpi. Four bodies in the Churachandpur district hospital morgue were also airlifted to Imphal in an Indian army helicopter.
Around 30 persons sustained injuries in a clash between Zomi and Kuki communities at Thingkangphai village and Sielmat Bridge of Churachandpur district on December 18 night. Considering the highly volatile and tense situation, the District Magistrate, Chura-chandpur has imposed prohibitions under CrPC 144 and banned internet service in the entire district for five days.
The Manipur State Transport (MST) bus service along the Imphal-Kangpokpi-Mao and Imphal-Churachandpur routes resumed on December 23 after eight months. However, the MST buses on both routes returned to Imphal without reaching their destinations due to roadblocks by the Kuki people.