The law and order situation at Manipur remains critical and the state government on Thursday issued "shoot at sight" orders. These orders were issued after violence continued to spread through the state and has reportedly reached the capital city Imphal.

Social media has been agog with images of burning buildings lighting up the skylines and various details of the attacks. By Thursday evening first talks, then images of the order “shoot-at-sight orders in extreme cases whereby all forms of persuasion, warning, reasonable force, etc. had been exhausted”, signed by the Manipur Governor began doing the rounds of various social media platforms and whatsapp groups as well.

The violence had reportedly begun on Wednesday when a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ by the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) was underway in the Torbung, Churachandpur district. The march had been called to “protest the demand of non-tribal Meiteis, who dominate the Imphal Valley, for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status,” stated news report. However violence and arson ensured. Scores of churches were also attacked, stated reports.

By Thursday evening the office of Manipur Governor Anusuiya Uikey issued the “shoot at sight” orders. The order signed by commissioner (home) T Ranjit Singh has empowered and directed district magistrates, sub divisional magistrates, executive magistrates, special executive magistrates to “issue shoot at sight orders in extreme cases whereby all forms of persuasion, warning, reasonable force etc. had been exhausted under provisions of law...and the situation could not be controlled”.

It also empowered the state's magistrates to issue Around 500 personnel of the Rapid Action Force, a riot control police, flown into Imphal. They join the army, Assam Rifles, the Central Reserve Police Force and the state police, who have reportedly “been struggling to contain the violence that started on Wednesday,” stated news reports.

However, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha), Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala commented that the Narendra Modi government had failed to control the situation in Manipur, and insead issued the order with “such draconian language for ‘shooting its own citizens’”.

He alleged that the Prime Minister and Home Minister were “busy electioneering in #Karnataka as #Manipur_is_burning!”

The Indian Army also sounded an alert about fake videos circulating about the situation in Manipur, calling them “inimical elements for vested interests.”

Situation in Moreh & Kangpokpi brought under control and stable. All efforts underway to restore normalcy in Imphal & CC'Pur. Precautionary build up of additional troops in Manipur to continue. Additional columns also re-deployed from Nagaland @adgpi

Spear Corps also tweets that the situation was being brought under control and the “@IAF_MCC will be undertaking flying operations to induct additional #IndianArmy columns”

Meanwhile BJP Leader and Chief Minister, Manipur N.Biren Singh issued an “appeal to everyone in the State to cooperate with the Government in maintaining peace & harmony at this hour.”

Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga also wrote to N. Biren Singh Thursday urged that Singh bring an “end to the violence”. and also assured the cooperation of the government and the people of Mizoram. “I write with reference to recent events in Manipur that have made it to the national news headlines and have shattered the peace in the Northeastern region,” wrote Zoramthanga adding that, “Mizoram, a lifelong neighbour that has much in common with Manipur in terms of history and culture, I am deeply pained by the violence that has flared up in parts of your State and the underlying tension between the Meitei community and tribals there”.

“My state Manipur is burning, kindly help,” tweeted Women's Boxing Champion, Olympic Medalist M.C. Mary Kom. She is also a Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament, and told a news agency that the state and centre should work together, “I ask the state and central governments to take steps and (to) maintain peace and security... this is my request.”

The boxer added, “I respect all people. Why can't all of us live in peace... This is my question. If we live in peace it will be better for all of us. It is also unfortunate some people have lost family members in this violence.”

What Happened On Wednesday, May 3?

According to a Manipur-based group who have put together a sequence of events as they say it. They stated, on condition of anonymity, that it is tribal groups “especially Kuki, Zomi, and Hmar” who are being targeted. They alleged that this is “a well calculated spell of violence” in the capital city of Manipur and churches have been destroyed, and homes vandalised.

They recalled that the May 3 rally was organised by All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) to “condemn the Scheduled Tribe status demand by the dominant Meitei community of the state” had begun peacefully.

The rally was reportedly attended by “thousands of people” who came to join it in all the 11 hill districts. “ Everything was peaceful, until some miscreants burnt an Anglo-Kuki Centenary gate near Leisang village in Churachandpur. This village is close to the border of Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts,” recalled a local.

“This resulted in a clash between villagers from Churachandpur and Bishnpur, around Kangvai. Houses were burnt and hundreds of villagers are in nearby forests for shelter.

In retaliation, youths attacked Meitei neighbourhoods in Churachandpur. They were shot at by armed men with sophisticated weapons. Most Meitei neighbourhoods were already evacuated. It all seemed like a pre-planned event,” alleged a local leader who added that many had been injured in the violence, and there have been three deaths too.

According to the locals the violence spread quickly and “by evening, all tribal neighbourhoods in Imphal were under attack. CrpC 144 was declared, but to no avail.

Localities like Checkon, New Lambulane, Langol, Paite Veng, Game Village and Korengei were attacked by mobs. Churches desecrated, houses burnt, tribals injured,” said the source.

A local Catholic leader explained the situation further, “in Manipur, we have two distinctive ethnic groups. The Metei's who live in the plain areas constitute about 53% of the population, and on the other hand, we have a conglomerate group of tribals who live in the hill districts. The hill tribes are the Nagas, Kukis, Hmars, Peiteis, Beiteis, and others.”

This is reflected politically also, “out of 60 MLA seats, 40 are dominated by the Meiteis. They are the rulers,” said the source. However, Meiteis cannot own land in the hill districts and this is “a bone of contention,” as “all others can own land in the plains”.

While this issue has been simmering in the past few years, it was only recently that the Meiteis demanded that they be included in the Scheduled Tribes list. “The hill tribes rose to oppose the proposal, and many peace rallies were held. But it seems to have backfired.

This mayhem and vandalism is the result of the culminating issues of differences and mistrust,” stated the source.

“Christians constituted about 26-30% of the total population (mostly hill tribes), and the retaliation by the Meiteis is not particularly against the Catholic institution but against the tribals at large. We have a few thousand Catholics from the Meitei community. This kind of gruesome behaviour has not been witnessed in Manipur.”

“Earlier, the Catholic Church was a target by other denominations in the hill area. It was an intra tribe or inter tribe conflict because of the denominations. But the current situation is likely to escalate. It is likely another testing ground by the BJP to annihilate minorities to extinction or subjugation,” added the local Catholic leader.

Locals claimed that even inside Manipur University, tribal students were singled out. Around 150 tribal people are taking shelter at MU Army camp right now. Dy Registrar David Zote house was attacked, and he escaped narrowly. The attackers (50-100 men) barged into Girls Hostel by breaking the doors and locks. Checked ID cards. Some students jumped from the balcony.”

According to sources on May 3, in Moirang, Manipur a group of Christian Jesuits priests were also attacked when they “were returning home after house blessings”. Their vehicle was reportedly “stopped near Moirang by an angry mob” which then allegedly “broke the windshields and started assaulting” the priests and a local teacher who was with them. The group was rescued by some locals who then “moved them to the police station, where they spent the night” stated the source.

Locals, on conditions of anonymity, stated that “for the last few days trouble had been brewing between the Meiteis and the Kuki tribals. The Kukis have been upset with some of the recent policies of the government, which they feel, are going to affect their lives. In protest, they organised a peace rally two days ago, following which some Meiteis were killed. This angered the Meiteis and led them to retaliate.”

However, the local priests who are educationists have alleged that it is just “some people with vested interests are now turning the whole issue into a communal one. They are going round destroying churches in the Imphal Valley. A few churches have been destroyed even in the Moirang area. Some of them even wanted to destroy our campus chapel at Moirang. Fortunately for us, the local people, especially the Parents Body members and teachers have been in full support of us. They have been guarding our campus since last night”.

The priests have also called for peace and appealed that everyone “help contain the spread of violence and ill feeling through whatever way”.

Some groups have shared a list of Churches that were attacked/ransacked/burnt in Imphal and Moirang areas, allegedly by the majority Meitei community. These include:

1. EBCC Game village

2. CBA Game village

3. KBC New Lambulane

4. EBCC Paite veng

5. Catholic Church, Paite veng

6. Mizo Presbyterian Church, Checkon

7. Catholic Church, Canchipur

8. MEBCC, Thamnapokpi Moirang

9. EFCI, Sangaiprou

10. KBC Game village

11. ECA

12. KCC

13. GVCC

14. Chongthu Baptist Church, New Lambulane

15. Langol Christian Church

16. EBCC Lamphel

17. EBCC Langol

18. ZCBC, Tribal Colony

19. Meitei Christian Church, Tribal Colony

20. EBCC, Tribal Colony

21. Catholic Church, Tribal Colony

22. MELC, Tribal Colony

23. St. Paul Church, Koirengei

24. EOC, ZPC, Tribal Colony

According to another source, a teacher, locals have also claimed that the “violent conflict has broken out in some parts of the state regarding tribal identity and land rights. The entire issue has acquired a communal colour as the tribal communities in Manipur are Christian. Some miscreants from the Meitei community (non tribals) have attacked the homes and properties of Christian tribals in Imphal and Churachandpur”.

A doctoral student told his mentors that he and his family had to flee in the middle of the night to a safe house. “Since Christian institutions are being attacked he says that they may have to escape to an army camp or the forests,” said the teacher.

According to locals “All tribals living in Lamphel are put in 2 camps inside the CRPF camps”, they are asking “where are the tribal MLAs/ Ministers now?”

Reverend Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary, Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) issued a strong statement following the violent events that have unfolded in Manipur and called for peace. “We mourn the loss of innocent lives, destruction of homes, property, and the burning of multiple churches. Our hearts ache for the families left grieving.

“We call for peace and an end to the violence and unrest in the region that has caused such devastating consequences and immense suffering to the people. We urge the government to take immediate measures to restore peace and ensure the safety and security of all its citizens.

“As a Christian body, representing evangelicals in India, we stand for the values of love, peace, and justice. We believe that every human being is made in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. The recent incidents of violence go against these values and have caused great harm to the people of Manipur.

“We call upon all parties involved to exercise restraint and work towards a peaceful resolution of the issues. We urge the people of Manipur to avoid forces that instigate division and cause polarisation. We also appeal to the state and the union government to engage in constructive dialogue with all stakeholders to address the underlying causes of the conflict.

“We pray for God's comfort and healing for those who have been affected by the violence and commit ourselves to work towards a just and peaceful society for all. May the peace of Christ be with us all.”

A statement has also been issued by United Christian Forum of Northeast India following the large-scale violence, arson, demolition of property, and loss of life including desecration of religious places in Manipur. “The United Christian Forum of NEI would like to express its deep pain and concern by these acts of unrest. We urge all parties involved to exercise restraint and work towards a peaceful resolution to the situation.

“As a Christian organisation, we believe in the value of human life and the importance of respecting the dignity of every individual. We call on all members of society to refrain from engaging in violent acts and to instead engage in peaceful dialogue to address their concerns.

“We extend our condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives in this unrest and call on the authorities to take appropriate measures to bring the perpetrators to justice. We also call on the government to take steps to address the underlying issues that have contributed to this situation and to work towards a lasting solution.

“As a forum representing the Christian community in the North Eastern Region of India, we stand in solidarity with all those affected by this unrest and pray for peace and reconciliation in the region,” it stated via its spokesperson Allen Brooks.

Cover Photograph East Mojo News