*(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer. Contactemail: cedricprakash@gmail. com)
To say that ‘Manipur is burning’ is not merely a gross understatement, but belies the terrible reality which has gripped the tiny State in North-East India since 3 May. For an alarming amount of time now, Manipur has been experiencing unprecedented violence and mayhem; more than one hundred people have been killed, thousands have been rendered homeless; there has been burning, arson and looting of houses, Churches and other institutions. There is a complete breakdown of law and order; a scarcity of essential commodities with the prices of the little available, skyrocketing! Fear, despair and helplessness have gripped vast sections of Manipur, particularly the poor and vulnerable! The violence continues, unabated!
One does not need too much of intelligence, to know and to understand who is responsible for this current spate of unbridled violence: without doubt, the BJP and their henchmen, who today rule both the Manipur State and the Central Government, are behind what is happening in Manipur today. Political analysts, social scientists, human rights defenders and all those concerned about what is happening in Manipur- are unanimous and unequivocal in their conclusion. How else can one explain that the Central Government has not deemed it appropriate to dismiss the State Government and impose President’s rule in the State? How come that people in the valley have such easy access to loot Government armoury with sophisticated weapons, despite top security? How come the Prime Minister has not said a word in condemning the violence? Above all, why has the violence been allowed to escalate despite the might of the military being present? These and many more obvious questions, which clearly point out to those culpable and complicit for what is happening there!
Voices of concern have been pouring in from all sections of society through public rallies, solidarity marches and protests; there have been incisive editorials, op-eds and public statements; social media is flooded with comments, pictures and videos of the ground reality (plenty of ‘fake’ news doing the rounds too!). A former Indian Army Chief, General(retd) VP Malik has called for “urgent attention” to the situation in Manipur. He was referring to a tweet by Lieutenant General L Nishikanta Singh (retired), a resident of Imphal who tweeted, “I’m just an ordinary Indian from Manipur living a retired life. The state is now ‘stateless’. Life and property can be destroyed anytime by anyone just like in Libya, Lebanon, Nigeria, Syria, etc. It appears Manipur has been left to stew in its own juice. Is anyone listening?” His tweet came a day after the house of Union Minister RK Ranjan Singh was set on fire in Imphal by a rampaging mob. When the violence began in Manipur both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister were busy campaigning for the Karnataka Elections: they were then busy criss-crossing Karnataka State, holding road shows and ferrying people to their rallies at enormous costs to the tax-payers and putting the ordinary citizens to great inconvenience. They were determined to win power in that State by hook or by crook. The violence which had erupted in Manipur was not their concern; besides, they were not interested in stopping the terrible violence, they knew that at the receiving end were the tribals, particularly the Christians. Finally, Amit Shah did make a belated three-days visit to the place; a so-called ‘peace committee’ which he put together to apparently restore normalcy, was outrightly rejected both by the Meteis and Kukis. After his visit, violence has escalated in the State.
There is the blatant role being played by Meitei groups like Meitei Leepun and Arambai Tenggol and their all-out efforts to annihilate the Kukis. Pramot Singh – the chief of the Meitei Leepun – has said in a widely publicized national interview that, “if the government, either in Delhi or in Manipur, does not intervene quickly, there will be civil war and the Kukis will not be able to defend themselves”. On 28 April (almost a week before the violence) he tweeted “Let’s annihilate our traditional rival on the hills.” There is recorded evidence that Singh’s organisation and the Arambai Tenggol have both played critical roles in the present troubles in Manipur and there are several accusations on both, of violence, looting of armouries and burning of churches. It is so obvious that both these Meitei organisations are heavily protected by the state in Manipur by Biren Sigh and at the Centre with the obvious blessings of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister.
The Central Government is of course not listening to anybody! Recently, the Chairman of a Kuki militant outfit alleged in a letter to the Home Minister, Amit Shah that his organisation and another Kuki group rendered help to BJP candidates in winning Assembly elections. He alleged that an agreement was made with Ram Madhav and Assam CM, Himanta Biswa Sarma. He also alleged that they rendered help to the BJP even in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Shocking allegations indeed! Significantly, in his weekly ‘mann-ki-baat’ radio programmes, the Prime Minister has not uttered a word on Manipur; interestingly, a video clipping has been going viral showing how Manipuris have been destroying their little transistor radios and shouting anti-Modi slogans, whilst the ‘mann-ki-baat’ programme was being radioed.
Politicians across the party divide have been doing their best to get the Government to stop the violence. Senior Member of Parliament, Derek O’Brien ( who is also a leader of The All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), has written to the chairman of the Standing Committee for Home Affairs demanding a discussion urgently on the situation of violence in Manipur. O’Brien writes, “The recent incidents of violence in Manipur have raised concerns about the safety and wellbeing of the people residing in the region. Reportedly, many are dead and thousands have been displaced. Shoot-at-sight orders have further added to the atmosphere of fear in the State. It is imperative that we understand the ground reality, and assess the extent of the violence. In this regard, holding a standing committee meeting to discuss the ongoing violence in Manipur would provide first-hand insights into the situation;” adding, “I urge you to call for a meeting of the Standing Committee on Home Affairs to immediately address the issues that Manipur is facing. I remain hopeful that, together, we can work towards ensuring that normalcy is restored.” Obviously, there has not been a positive response to this urgent call for discussion and action.
Some days ago, more than 550 civil society groups and concerned individuals, in a powerful show of solidarity, from all corners of the nation joined forces to denounce the escalating violence in Manipur. In a joint statement, they called for an immediate end to the divisive politics perpetuated by the state and security forces while urging all parties involved to declare an immediate ceasefire. The statement, born out of deep concern for the ethnic violence that has plagued Manipur since early May 2023, emphasises the need for the Prime Minister to break his silence on the ongoing civil war in the hills and valley areas of the state. The signatories demand an immediate halt to the violence, which has caused significant disruption, displacement, and loss of life. More than 50,000 people are in over 300 refugee camps, while countless others have been forced to flee their homes.
The statement unequivocally holds the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its governments, both at the central and state level, responsible for the prevailing situation. It accuses the BJP of playing divisive politics, deepening historical tensions between the Meitei community and the tribal Kuki and Zo communities without making meaningful efforts to facilitate dialogue and resolution. Concerns are raised over the violence perpetrated by armed Meitei majoritarian groups like Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun against the Kukis. Reports of genocidal hate speech, supremacist displays of impunity, and the urgent need to verify claims of mobs chanting violent slogans, including threats of rape and torture against women, have surfaced. The statement demands several key actions from the government, including the Prime Minister’s accountability for the current situation in Manipur. It calls for a court-monitored tribunal to establish facts, promote justice, and foster healing between the communities. The signatories also insisted on the establishment of a fast-track court to address cases of sexual violence perpetrated by both state and non-state actors, as recommended by the Verma Commission.
The demands include :
- • The Prime Minister must speak up and take accountability of the current situation in Manipur.
- • A court-monitored tribunal must be formed to establish facts, and prepare the ground for justice and healing of the gaping wound that separates communities of Manipur to mitigate the divisiveness and hatred being engineered.
- • A fast-track court be set up for all cases of sexual violence by state and non-state actors, as recommended by the Verma Commissionthat ‘personnel guilty of sexual offences in conflict areas should be tried under ordinary criminal law.
• Provision of relief by the government to those forced to flee and guarantee their safe return to their villages; rebuild their homes and lives. Provision of ex-gratia compensation to those who lost loved ones, suffered injuries and loss of home, grain, livestock and so on. This process of return, rehabilitation and compensation should be overseen by a panel of retired judges who know the region closely, perhaps appointed by the High Court or the Supreme Court.
Since those mostly affected are the tribals and particularly the Christians, it is imperative that Christian Leadership (representing the three major Christian organisations of the country: the CBCI, the NCCI and the EFI and others too) should come together:
• to hold a joint Media Conference immediately: this has to be done in the National Capital Delhi and also simultaneously in every State Capital. The Media Conference in the Capital must be addressed by the main Office bearers of the CBCI, NCCI and EFI and demand:
the restoration of law and order and peace in Manipur immediately;
– the safe return of all tribals/Christians ousted from their land and homes;
– an adequate and just monetary compensation for rebuilding homes, Churches, institutions destroyed;
– the booking and appropriate punishment for all responsible for the violence (even if they have powerful connections)
• to go to Manipur NOW (at least one hundred and more Christian Leaders); together, at the same time. Be in the midst of the affected people- hear their cries: take a visible and vocal stand on their behalf!
• to organize a National Protest Day in order to highlight what is happening to the minorities, the Adivasis, the Dalits and the other vulnerable groups of the country. Have a huge gathering in a public maidan in New Delhi – with as many Church Leaders (Bishops and others) as possible and people coming from all over the country. Request other civil society groups /movements to join in; On this National Protest Day – let there also be public protests in all Dioceses/States of the country.
Peace must come back to Manipur immediately. Several civil society groups and individuals, human rights defenders, academics and writers and a whole range of concerned citizens, are doing their part, often at great risk! Much more needs to be done immediately! Tokenism and cosmetic acts will only add fuel to the fire! The Government has abdicated its responsibility and clearly does not have the political will to resolve the problem. In fact, both the Centre and the State are responsible for this violence. The Prime Minister has already gone to the US; he will certainly not have a press conference there.; besides he will not be able to answer any question on the Manipur violence or for that matter, the state of the minorities in India today!
What is happening in Manipur today is a foretaste of tomorrow: a sign of possible things to come! The citizens of India must wake up now – before it is too late! Manipur is burning: the fires there must be extinguished immediately!