(VIDEO) Ethnic Clash or Targeted Violence? Questions & Deaths In India’s Manipur State


Indian media reports have largely attributed this upheaval to a clash between the Hindu-majority Meitei community and the predominantly Christian Kuki-Zo tribes. However, this documentary from ReligionUnplugged.com partner, Newsreel Asia, posits a different perspective.

Although the situation in Manipur may superficially appear to be an ethnic clash, there is ample evidence pointing toward targeted violence, which subsequently evolved into a conflict — one that was not based on equal footing.

Mainstream media coverage has mostly restricted itself to Imphal, the state capital and a stronghold for the Meitei community. Amid media reports reflecting a concerted and continuous propaganda against the Kuki-Zo people, this film has the potential to drastically shift the narrative around the violence surge.

The current bout of violence traces its origins back to a longstanding conflict between the Meiteis and Kuki-Zo people, as well as successive governments and the Kuki-Zo community.

The dispute with the Meiteis primarily revolves around issues of land resources and legal recognition. Despite accounting for about 53% of Manipur’s population, the Meiteis predominantly inhabit the Imphal Valley, an area constituting merely 10% of the state’s landmass. In contrast, the remainder of the state largely comprises of hilly forests, home to tribal communities, including the Kuki-Zomis. Legally, these tribal areas are protected, preventing non-tribal individuals from purchasing land.

Nonetheless, the Meiteis wield significant influence and wealth compared to the tribal populations, owing largely to their numerical dominance in the state legislature and their claim that they are the original inhabitants, who “allow” the tribal people to live. Additionally, the Imphal Valley, where the Meiteis reside, is substantially more developed than the tribal territories.

The feud between the tribes and almost all governments also revolves around the resource-rich hills — the ancestral land of the tribes.

The Kuki-Zo community’s conflict with both the government and the Meiteis heightened significantly after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party assumed power in Manipur in 2017. Under the leadership of Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, a Meitei, the government demolished Kuki-Zo homes in the hill areas and several churches in Imphal, justifying these actions as a crackdown on structures erected on “protected forests” or government-owned land.

The Meiteis’ demand for tribal recognition also intensified under Singh’s leadership. If successful, this recognition would grant the Meiteis similar constitutional privileges as those of tribal communities, including the right to purchase land in hill regions. The Kuki-Zo tribes, seeing this as an attempt to usurp their ancestral lands, took umbrage.

Tensions flared when the Manipur High Court directed the state government in April to consider including the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list. This move led to fear among the tribal groups, prompting them to organize a state-wide peaceful rally on May 3, primarily in Churachandpur, to protest the Meiteis’ demand and the government’s policy towards the tribals.

The demonstration quickly spiraled into disorder and violence when Meitei extremist factions allegedly attacked some tribal protesters and burned the Anglo-Kuki War Centenary Gate in Churachandpur. Subsequent rumors about Kuki-Zo people assaulting Meitei women and killing a child in Churachandpur triggered widespread violence aimed indiscriminately at Kuki-Zo individuals in Imphal Valley. No police complaint corresponds to those alleged incidents.

The violent turmoil in Imphal Valley lasted for four days, until May 6, the day after the Army and federal forces were brought in. Subsequently, sporadic yet lethal attacks involving firearms continued up until the release of this documentary. Emerging videos capturing the period of violence reveal a police presence amid mobs wreaking havoc on the homes of Kuki-Zo individuals.

In Churachandpur, Kuki-Zo individuals also destroyed Meitei homes, but they claim not to have sought retribution by harming Meitei people, allowing them instead to leave the district.

According to reliable sources, the majority of those injured or killed in the violence were Kuki-Zo people. At the time of the documentary’s release, the government had yet to disclose ethnicity-based statistics on casualties and fatalities.

This violence, initially perceived as a mere ethnic clash, has been used as propaganda, painting the Kuki-Zo people as “drug dealers” and “militants” or “terrorists.” Unfortunately, the plight of the tribal people has been overshadowed by limited connectivity in the region and insufficient media coverage.

This documentary provides a platform for the Kuki-Zo people, highlighting their struggle and suffering through the suffering of Kai Neu, a 33-year-old nurse, her family, and Thanghoulal, a local politician’s driver, and his family.

Their stories are recounted from Churachandpur, which largely remained disconnected from the rest of the world, with minimal road access and internet connectivity completely blocked by the government.

The film provides an intimate insight into a world that, although largely obscured from the outside world, would resonate with viewers worldwide. The narrative of conflict between communities over resources, coupled with the politicization of these tensions, is a theme that echoes globally, thus making the content of this documentary universally relatable.

The video unveils the harsh realities of this neglected conflict through the heartrending accounts of the Kuki-Zo victims, thereby amplifying the urgent call for peace, justice, and recognition.

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