‘Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding’: Albert Einstein.

My Initial reaction on watching Manipur turning into a war front was, “as if there are not enough problems, why step into the battlefield?” But amidst the killings, lynching, torching, butchering, curfew and senseless carnage, a hazy picture of champion boxer Mary Kom pleading with everyone about how her “State was burning” slowly came into focus.

But even so, if you really love your country, as a concerned citizen, violence in any remote corner of it, should be a natural cause for worry. Even if we feel helpless, the least we can do is to be aware of the situation. Or at best, try to understand the geography, the history and the context of the entire problem.

The geography is simple. Even with 16 districts, the State is basically divided into two regions: the ‘Valley’ and the ‘Hills’. The Nagas and the Kukis are tribes occupying the Hills, while the Valley comprises mostly the Meiteis. Both have aspirations and insecurities but their problems are intensified with government rules and Acts.

While the Meiteis have long demanded to be included in the Schedule Tribe list, the Tribals don’t view them as an ‘ethnic group of Manipur’. The Meiteis feel it is wrong that they cannot buy land in the hill areas whereas the Tribals are free to buy land in the Valley.

But the Tribals say that the Meities are well educated, and politically powerful so the bulk of the budget and development work is only being focused on the Valley. The Meities want to stop the ‘human encroachment’ but the Tribals argue that they are being unconstitutionally robbed of their ancestral land, which they are ‘spiritually connected’ to.

The history is a lot more complicated. Among the Tribals, there are tribes within tribes. Even the Nagas and the Kukis don’t always see eye to eye; because Nagas come from a strong warrior tradition, whereas the Kukis are a sub-family of Tibet-Burma group, also related to Mizos from Mizoram and Chins from Myanmar.

But all Tribals rally behind a common cause because their kinship and ethnic ties are strong. For them borders don’t matter so they welcome their refugee kin with open arms. But the Meitei people are not sympathetic towards the migrants.

The Chief Minister belongs to the Meitei. So in spite of the geography, the history, the insecurities and the opportunities at play, politics has also set its foot in.

While the immediate trigger for the violence stemmed from the protest rally, tension has always simmered in Manipur. But we were given to understand that everything is ‘changa si’! So what was the new development that has triggered these old grievances?

The general view is the targeting of one community; a slow and steady addition of everything undesirable gradually being heaped onto their proverbial Kuki back.

1. The multiple eviction drives without warning, robbing them of their precious ancestral forest reserves.

2. The recent withdrawal of the government from the Suspension of Operations (SoO) peace agreement.

3. The heavy crackdown and a relentless push for NRC, to find out who is legal and who isn’t.

4. The huge clampdown on poppy cultivation, which the government feels is fuelling the drug problem.

5. The High Court’s judgement order to the Government to consider the inclusion of the Meitei community in the ST list within four weeks.

6. And finally the peaceful protest rally that suddenly turned violent.

That was the last straw on their back. The Kukis now felt that they were being attacked from all directions. The illegality of their identities, eviction from their sacred lands, signing of the Peace agreement, cutting off of Internet and Wifi, the Army being deployed, shoot-at-sight orders, protests at the Valley, all went beyond a point of no return to culminate into arson and rioting.

With a sudden burst of anger and frustration from both sides, the violence soon spread from the hill districts to other parts of the state, including the Imphal valley. The mobs went on a rampage, burning churches, houses, vehicles, and properties, targeting the Kukis.

Meanwhile, in the Hill districts such as Churachandpur and Kangpokpi, pockets with Meitei residents were also allegedly under attack.

So what could have been avoided? And. What is the solution now? When any region, especially the North East, with such a bloody and wounded past, has their residents feeling insecure and under threat, there are bound to be repercussions.

It is the obligation of leaders to constantly stay in touch with the ground reality. It is their responsibility to keep thinking of ways to negotiate.

As for the solution, the only answer I can think of is ‘economic interdependence’. When different communities live together, if one party specializes in the production of a specific good and another has the provision of a specific service, then the exchange necessary to fulfil the needs of both becomes inevitable.

This is the only way communities can be economically dependent on each other. This is the only way they can live together. This is the only way they will feel threatened by each other.

But for that, first the hatred and the fear being planted into the minds of people with ‘yeh khatre mein hai, woh khatre mein hai’, thus turning friends into enemies, has to change. Viewing each other not as capable humans, but as termites who are a menace to society, is only the sad beginning of a tragic end.

When two or more individuals, people, groups, businesses, companies or countries transact with each other, exchanging goods and services to satisfy each other’s needs; only then can they become economically dependent too. If jobs are created; if citizens feel wanted and are kept occupied; only then can we live in peace and harmony.

But if your biases keep burning; if you fail to recognise the truth; if the contexts of every issue keeps changing; then ultimately the solution itself becomes a problem. And once that happens, there is no cure.

So the moral of the Manipur Story is not to take Democracy for granted. Not to take People for granted. And never to take Peace for granted!

Views expressed are the writer’s own.