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Violence In Manipur: Protests Against Scheduled Tribe Status For Meiteis Lead To Deaths And Displacement

The conflict has a long history of mutual suspicion and has been fueled by the BJP-led Manipur government's decision to evict tribal villagers from reserved forests, leading to widespread discontent among the Kuki community and other tribals.

Violence in Manipur
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The northeastern state of Manipur in India has been hit by ethnic violence in recent days, which has led to numerous deaths and injuries, as well as the displacement of thousands of people. The conflict, which has been simmering for some time, was sparked by protests from tribal groups against a move to grant the majority Meiteis Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, which the residents of the hills had been enjoying for decades. The Meiteis are the dominant group in the Imphal Valley, which accounts for around 53% of the state's population, while the tribals, mostly Nagas and Kukis, make up around 40% of the population and live mostly in the surrounding hills.

What led to the protests?

The violence was fuelled by a long history of mutual suspicion between the two groups, exacerbated by the BJP-led Manipur government's decision to evict tribal villagers from reserved forests. The eviction drive, which began in February, was seen as yet another anti-tribal move, leading to widespread discontent among the Kuki community and other tribals who have many villages within reserved forest areas.

The situation deteriorated further after a mob vandalised and set on fire the venue in New Lamka town where the Chief Minister was scheduled to address a function, ahead of his visit to Churachandpur district last week. The mob also partially torched a newly set up open gym which the Chief Minister was slated to inaugurate. The attack took place barely 11 hours prior to a 'total shutdown' called by the Indigenous Tribe Leaders Forum in the entire Churachandpur district.

The Kuki People's Alliance (KPA), which is an ally of the ruling BJP government, has two MLAs in the Manipur Assembly, while the Kukis are represented by 10 legislators, including five BJP MLAs. The Kuki Students Organisation has threatened to socially boycott them if they fail to respond to the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum's call to state their stance on the eviction drive.

Earlier in March, a violent clash occurred at Thomas Ground in Kangpokpi district where protesters tried to hold a mass rally against "encroachment of tribal lands in the name of reserved forests, protected forests and wildlife sanctuary". Five persons were injured in that rally following which the state cabinet withdrew the tripartite Suspension of Operations (SoO) talks with two Kuki-based militant outfits, Kuki National Army and Zomi Revolutionary Army.

Even as discontent grew over the eviction of the villagers, three churches in Imphal's Tribal colony area were demolished on April 11 for being "illegal constructions" on government land, leading to more discontent.

(With PTI Inputs)

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