Manipur Has Been Rendered Voiceless, People Homeless
Civil rights activists urge the PM to break his silence
So what can the thousands of paramilitary forces and the Manipur police do in the volatile and violent border zones of the pristine Valley of Manipur, and the equally sublime hills and meadows? So what can they really do when hundreds of highly motivated women, mostly elderly, who have lived in the backdrop of several insurgencies and armed, militant guerilla groups of various dispensations, block the roads and bylanes, physically, and with no intent of moving?
And how can they enter the deepest terrain when these elderly women have chosen to allow the organised mobs of killers and looters, armed to their teeth with stolen weapons and ammunition from right inside the protected zones of the security forces, to go on a rampage – burning, looting, lining up people and killing, and experimenting with one form of barbarism or another?
The internet is mostly down since the violence began. Mobile phones are not working. Communication channels have been disrupted. Transport is not easy. People are saving their skin, or are choosing to hole up in safe shelters or in their homes.
People are reluctant to speak. “The moment we speak out, we are branded as partisan. It is better to stay quiet,” said a sad human rights activist now based in Delhi.
This reporter was given a frantic panic message by a Delhi University professor when it all started. The message was about some women students trapped in a hostel with a hostile mob knocking at the doors all night. On reaching the girls somehow, and explaining that as a journalist one can try to help out, one of them said that she just can’t talk. She had been rendered speechless.
A progressive academic from Imphal, who has now shifted location, said that she is indeed not aware of what is happening out there. Instead, she seems to be promoting peace forums across religions and communities in Manipur, troubled and unhappy as she is.
One young musician, based in Imphal and very popular both in Manipur and Delhi, was unable to connect with this reporter. Somehow, when he did, he said that Meitei homes were being burnt or captured by the Kukis.
In this atmosphere of distrust, he went off the record. He said that the security forces waited meaninglessly even while the violence erupted in the Valley and the hills. Why did they react in such a lazy manner and why did the ruling regime of this government in Imphal test the patience of ordinary citizens?
The musician said it is time for reconciliation and peace, for healing, a time for ceasefire, consensus and dialogue. But, is anybody listening to him, even within his own community?
No one is listening to his lament. His beautiful music and guitar seems to have fallen silent. Words have been rendered meaningless amidst the war-cry of revenge.
They are instead reshaping old, time-tested tactics. The latest tactic seems new, but veteran masters of guerilla warfare understand it too well. In the parlance of underground armed struggles, they are called unarmed people’s militia; they are the umbrella, the scaffolding, the citizen’s shield, which protects the guerilla forces in targeting the enemy.
In other words, at once, and for protracted periods, they turn the security forces into helpless creatures, unable to move forward, unable to go back, while they know that villages across the blockade are being burnt to ashes.
Last week, with nine killed in cold-blood, across both the communities, the tribal Kukis in the hills, and the dominant Meiteis in Imphal and the adjoining Valley, it is these elderly women who played a key role.
Was this an ambush in the backdrop of a kind of mob-lynching genocide? Or, was it simply a damned narrative of ethnic conflict resurrected from the inherited bad faith of a bad memory embedded in the collective consciousness?
So whatever happened in Imphal East’s Khanellok village when nine people were gunned down, and while an organised and blood-thirsty mob burnt down as many as eight Kuki villages, between Govajant and Khamenlok, along the route which measures approximately 20 km?
The helpless security forces encountered the 600 plus ‘peaceful’ protesters, led by elderly women, who had blocked the road and thereby all the entry points into these remote twilight zones. They knew it was a pattern. This was a woman-made barricade. And while they sensed the barbarism being enacted in the eight Kuki villages, they simply could not cross this barricade!
From a distance of 50 km, from Kangpokpi district, the security forces from Taretkhul were blocked at Chanung, Taretkhel, in what is called the gateway to Khamenlok. They had received confirmed reports of mob-actions in eight villages:
Songjan, Choullophai,Thambol, Jordenphai, Phinom, Khuipung, Aigijang, and Govajang. At least 100 tribal homes were ravaged to the ground.
And this seems to have become a predictable pattern in this internecine and bloody conflict between tribes and communities, geographically far apart, but now united within a damned, condemned, vicious circle of blood-letting which seems to have no beginning and no end. More than 100 dead, the score increases each moment and each day, 1000 plus seriously injured, including a top Kuki advisor to the CM and veteran BJP MLA, now almost physically paralysed in a private hospital in Delhi, and around 50,000 internally displaced in multiple refugee camps manned by the paramilitary troops.
Who knows the real count of this countdown on the ground, between the dying and the dead, even while a clueless double-engine regime in Imphal and Delhi, seems to be washing its hands dry of the clotted blood which has ravaged the sublime landscape of Manipur, like a painting gone all wrong and awry.
Indeed, can the ‘safe zones’ of the refugee camps manned by the paramilitary forces, protect the communities, trapped as they are in what seems an eternal civil war? One tribal boy, his Meitei mother, and a relative, took shelter in an Assam Rifles refugee camp: Tonsing Hangsing, 8, Meena Hansing, 45, and Lydia Lourembam, 37.
The child had a bullet injury. Their ambulance was ambushed by a mob. The women pleaded for mercy – but who would listen to a mother in this mad thirst for mindless revenge? They were all burnt to death – the father found nothing but their bones.
Meanwhile, the drugs angle has yet again surfaced. Apart from clichéd metaphors like the ‘Bermuda’s Triangle’, the ‘Melting Pot’, and that the refugees from across the border in Myanmar, the small country ravaged by a civil war after a ruthless junta has killed and jailed thousands, are actually involved in this new form of terrorism, and in drug trade through the twilight zones in the borders of Thailand etc.
The refugees, coincidentally, share ethnic identities with the Kukis, and are now largely sheltered in Mizoram, where the locals find an ethnic affinity with them as well. So Mizoram, too, aligned with the Kukis, and touching the borders of Mizoram, is another pot boiling and, perhaps, waiting to erupt.
But, who cares? The Union Home Minister, terribly reluctant, and obsessed with the Karnataka elections, chose to arrive in Manipur 25 days too late. The Prime Minister, obsessed with selling the fake propaganda cinema of the ‘Kerala Story’ in Karnataka, and raking up the mythical persona of ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’, has also chosen to remain tightlipped as ever on a burning Manipur.
That, of course, is his original style-statement: tweet on all miscellaneous issues, but keep mum on issues that rock the nation – the protracted and peaceful struggle of our world champion women wrestlers, for instance.
The play-up and promised peace process initiated by the home minister failed before it could start. Some communities refused to join in what they called a fake enterprise. The changes in the top brass of the security forces etc, accused of being partisan, has not helped one bit. The reinforcement of troops in what is an alien terrain has not stopped the mobs, or the armed groups on all sides. In other words, Operation Manipur of this Double-Engine Sarkar has flopped and collapsed like a pack of cards.
Political observers, who don’t want to be named, said that the divide within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is sharp and categorical – the divide between the Meitei and Kuki MLAs, for instance, within the ruling BJP. So much so, the tribal BJP MLAs are seeking a separate administration – literally calling for a separate state within a state!
Said a political observer: “A Meitei militant leader has openly called on television for a civil war. What does he mean? There is already a civil war on, and he is one of the catalysts behind it, and the whole world knows it!”
A mob burned down the residence of Manipur minister Nemcha Kipgen in Imphal West as fresh violence erupted. Other BIP leaders’ homes have been attacked. No one is safe in this war zone, not even ministers of the ruling regime.
Meanwhile, another unsavoury controversy has broken out involving the biggest deal-maker in Assam, a former, ambitious Congress politician, and, now, the BJP chief minister of Assam, who has been speaking and enacting a form of extremist discourse and praxis which can only please and appease the RSS leadership in Nagpur.
“He wants to be in the good books of the top brass in the BJP and RSS, though he never belonged to the Sangh parivar. Even his colleagues in the party and government are aghast at this sudden, hyperbolic extremism,” said a Guwahati-based journalist. Now, he too, seems to be in a soup of his own making, with considerable help from the central leadership in Delhi.
A Kuki militant leader has suddenly emerged from nowhere claiming that he had struck a dubious deal in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and in the 2017 Assembly elections with the great king-maker in Guwahati. And what was this dubious deal?
SS Haokip, self-styled chairman of the United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF), has allegedly claimed about assisting the BJP in a written representation to the Union home minister on June 7, 2019. The explosive letter was apparently submitted with an affidavit in a National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Imphal on June 8, while dealing with missing arms and ammunition. The self-styled chairman is an accused in the case filed in 2018, and he has been charge-sheeted one year later. He has now sought exemption.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has tweeted: “This is explosive. What has long been believed is now proven in black and white. It reinforces what I have been saying all along: Manipur is burning today because of the politics of the RSS/BJP.”
Haokip has stated that “as agreed upon” in 2017, by none other than RSS big shot Ram Madhav and ‘Hemanta Bishwas Sarma’, his militant outfit effectively helped the BJP candidates win on the ground in the polls. A journalist pointed out to this reporter that what he is saying is folklore in Manipur.
Almost all the sundry underground outfits, apart from extortion and other shady affairs, are the chief protagonists working for certain political parties and politicians during all kinds of polls in the state. They claim to shift votes from here to there, as this militant leader is now claiming, that he actually helped the BJP win the polls, and in no way could the BJP win if he had not worked to shift the votes in its favour.
While the heat builds up on Ram Madhav and Himanta Biswa Sarma, with the Congress charging them openly, there is again a conspiracy of silence from all sides inside the ruling regime, in Delhi, Nagpur and Guwahati. Did they or did they not, that is the question. This is because, now, Manipur is up in flames, and it is in some ways due to the partisan politics played by the BJP in this sensitive border state.
It all suddenly started with a single-bench Manipur high court judge pronouncing a verdict which left all concerned surprised and shocked. Meiteis were given the status of Scheduled Tribes, suddenly and at one go, which would otherwise require a long process of complicated consensus-making between various communities and much legal wrangling within the constitutional process. It is well-known that powerful and dominant as they are, the Meiteis’ brief runs in Imphal and in the Valley around, which is just a small part of the larger terrain of Manipur, whereby, the larger geographical area in the hills are controlled by the tribes.
Now the catch is that the Meiteis can’t buy land in the hills, whereas the tribes can buy and settle down, and do business in Imphal. That is the rupture which has created this apocalyptic scenario, a rupture which has torn asunder the peaceful coexistence paradigm in the state, however tenuous, between Imphal and the hills.
Meanwhile, over 550 civil society groups and concerned individuals from across the country have called for an immediate end to divisive and polarising politics in Manipur and to move toward a permanent ceasefire. They have called upon the PM to break his silence.
They have stated: “Manipur is burning today in very large part due to the divisive politics played by the BJP and its governments at the Centre and the State. And on them lies the onus to stop this ongoing civil war before more lives are lost… In the present scenario, the worst of the violence against the Kukis has been perpetuated by armed Meitei majoritarian groups like the Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun, accompanied by genocidal hate-speech and supremacist displays of impunity. There are also news reports about frenzied mobs chanting ‘rape her, torture her’ while attacking women that urgently need to be verified…”
The signatories have demanded, among other things, that the PM must break his silence, a court-monitored tribunal must be formed to establish facts, and prepare the ground for justice and healing of the gaping wound that separates the communities, a fast track court be set up for all cases of sexual violence by state and non-state actors, as recommended by the Verma commission that personnel guilty of sexual offences in conflict areas should be tried under ordinary criminal law. They also demanded that there should be the provision of relief by the government to those forced to flee and thereby guarantee their safe return to their villages, and so that they can rebuild their homes and lives.
Meanwhile, an Interfaith Forum for Peace and Harmony was launched at the Lainingthou Sanamahi Temple, Imphal. The forum has been launched with the objective of giving relief, healing and restoration of humanity to all people affected by the violent conflicts in Manipur. Altogether, 34 persons, including religious leaders representing diverse faiths in Manipur — Christian, Sanamahi, Manipuri Gauriya Vaisnav, Islam, Tingkao Ragwang, and various spiritual communities, the Divine Life Society, Art of Living, Brahmakumari, Bhakti Seva Lup and Ekta Parishad attended the meeting.
Members of the forum resolved to imbibe on a journey of interfaith understanding and the culture of peace by taking moral and social responsibilities of the sufferings caused to thousands of people in both the hills and valley of Manipur.
Latest News Update From Manipur
On Friday night, Minister of Ştate, MEA, RK Ranjan Singh's house was burnt to ashes in Imphal. Singh was not at the house at the time of the attack, officials told the media. “There were nine security escort personnel, five security guards and eight additional guards on duty at the minister's residence at the time,” officials told the media.
According to a report in NDTV, “security personnel at the minister's house said that the mob threw petrol bombs from all directions during the attack”. The mob reportedly “managed to reach the minister's house at Kongba despite a curfew in Imphal”.
On Thursday, Trinamool Congress Member of Parliament Derek O’Brien called for an “urgent meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs” to discuss the situation in Manipur. O’ Brien is a member of the panel and said that “first-hand insights into the situation” will be possible at the standing committee’s meeting.
O’ Brien wrote to BJP MP and committee chairperson Brijlal, stating, “The State is reeling under the consequences of ethnic violence. Ground reports from church authorities indicate that multiple churches have also been vandalised. This is an unprecedented situation. Prices of essential commodities have shot up and there are long queues in front of ATMs… It is imperative that we understand the ground reality and assess the extent of the violence.”