By Asad Ali
The use of violence for political gains is a highly controversial and unethical approach that goes against the principles of democracy, human rights, and peaceful coexistence. While it is true that history has seen instances where violence has been used as a means to achieve political objectives, such actions are widely condemned and are considered to be detrimental to societies and individuals.
The Indian state of Manipur has witnessed a history of violence, which has impacted the region socially, politically, and economically. The state of Manipur has been affected by various insurgent movements seeking greater autonomy or independence. The major insurgent groups in the region include the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF). These groups have engaged in armed struggle against the Indian government, demanding self-determination or secession.
The insurgency movements in Manipur have led to frequent clashes between the militants and the Indian security forces. The armed conflicts have resulted in casualties, displacement, and a sense of insecurity among the local population. The region has also witnessed allegations of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and disappearances, both by the insurgents and the security forces.
Manipur is a diverse state with multiple ethnic communities, including Meiteis, Nagas, Kukis, and others. Inter-ethnic tensions and conflicts over land, resources, and political representation have added to the complexity of the situation. These tensions have at times escalated into violent clashes between different communities, further exacerbating the overall violence in the state.
As per media reports, recent violent clashes, largely between the ethnic Meitei and Kuki communities, have left at least 70 people dead and 35,000 displaced, and destroyed over 1,700 houses. Skirmishes broke out in the state capital Imphal on 3 May 2023 after thousands of people from the Naga and Kuki tribes took part in a rally against the majority Meitei ethnic group being afforded special status under India’s “Scheduled Tribe” grouping.
Indian authorities should immediately and impartially investigate ongoing killings by ethnic groups and security forces in India’s northeastern Manipur state and work with community leaders to restore security, Human Rights Watch said today. Renewed violence on 28 May 2023, resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer, in separate incidents. Following the recent violence, 10 Kuki legislators–including 8 from the BJP–called for a separate administration for the hill areas, saying the state of Manipur has miserably failed to protect us.
Tensions had been simmering for several months between the Kuki community, which is predominantly Christian, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government. The BJP promotes Hindu majoritarianism and most Meiteis are Hindu. Local activists accused groups affiliated with the government of targeting Kuki properties, businesses, and churches.
The BJP is playing divisive politics in the state because of its own ideology. Even Christian Meiteis are being targeted. The authorities had earlier evicted tribal villagers from forest areas, accused Kukis of illegal poppy cultivation and of being outsiders, and ordered the demolition of three churches in Imphal.
The persistent violence and insecurity in Manipur have had adverse effects on the state’s economy. The region’s development has been hindered due to disrupted infrastructure projects, reduced investment, and limited access to basic services. The tourism sector, which has the potential to contribute significantly to the state’s economy, has been adversely affected by the prevailing violence. Likewise, the state government’s complete internet blackout has also severely hindered information gathering and reporting by the media and civil society groups. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged the authorities throughout India to end broad, indiscriminate internet shutdowns. The shutdowns undermine a range of fundamental rights including to receive and impart information, express views on political issues, contact relatives, access medical care, and conduct e-commerce, online banking, and other economic activities.
In response to the violence in Manipur, the Indian government has deployed security forces and implemented the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in certain areas. The AFSPA grants extensive powers to the armed forces, including immunity from prosecution for actions taken during counter-insurgency operations. However, the AFSPA has been a subject of controversy and criticism, with concerns raised about its potential for abuse and human rights violations.
The violence in Manipur has had far-reaching consequences on the region and its people. While efforts for peace and reconciliation continue, addressing the root causes of the conflicts, promoting dialogue between communities, and ensuring respect for human rights remain essential for achieving lasting peace and stability in the state. However, Modi government has been sidelining Manipur government and refused to assist the administration in mitigating challenges. The recent violence has triggered ethnic protests where worship places of Christian community are set on fire.
Indian security forces have been involved in the violence as well as they undertaken discriminatory policies against the local ethnic communities. There are credible reports that security forces are involved in the killings of local people. These reports must be investigated thoroughly and those responsible for the violence and killings of civilians must be held accountable. Labeling members of a community militants and shutting down the internet can fuel further violence through rumor and fearmongering.