NEW DELHI: Clashes erupted on Wednesday between primarily Hindu Meitei and Christian Kuki communities in India’s northeastern Manipur state over plans to grant tribal status to the dominant Meiti community, according to reports.
Protesting mobs set fire to vehicles, houses, schools, churches, and commercial properties following the Tribal Solidarity March held by the All-Tribal Students’ Union of Manipur to oppose the Meitei community’s demand to be put on the list of Scheduled Tribes.
According to the DGP of Manipur, the situation in the state has improved following the presence of security personnel. According to officials, up to 54 people have died as a result of the violence.
Officials told the Press Trust of India that armed gunmen shot dead a paramilitary commando on leave in his village in Manipur’s Churachandpur district on Friday. Following the death of policeman Chonkholen Haokip, the CRPF asked its Manipur-based personnel on leave in their home state to “immediately” return to their nearest security base with family members.
Churches, schools, and homes are on fire in Manipur.
According to a defense official, 13,000 people were evacuated and sent to safe shelters.
On Wednesday, violence erupted in Manipur’s Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts, resulting in the destruction of homes, temples, and churches. The unrest quickly spread to other districts in the following days.
The Manipur Scheduled Tribes Demand Committee determines the standards for accepting or rejecting tribal status that provides affirmative action. According to the report, the Meiteis, who fall under the Other Backward Class category, were omitted from the Scheduled Tribe list without any constitutional safeguards, effectively marginalizing them in their ancestral country.
The United Naga Council has stated that the addition of Meiteis would violate the purpose of the Scheduled Tribes list, which is to offer protected discrimination for communities that require it.
Manipur has 34 designated Scheduled Tribes, the majority of them are Naga and Kukichin or Kuki tribal communities. The tribal-inhabited hills account for around 90% of Manipur’s total territory, while the Imphal valley, home to the prominent Meitei community, accounts for the remaining 10%. The tribals are predominantly Christian, whereas the bulk of Meiteis are Hindu.
The state’s anticipated population of 3.649 million in 2023 (2.856 million in the 2011 census), of which about 53 percent are Meiteis, is estimated to be settled in the Imphal valley, with the remaining 30 percent living in tribal areas.
The fact that the majority Meiteis occupy 10% of the state’s landmass, along with their inability to purchase land in the remaining 90% of tribal protected hill areas designated to belong to Scheduled Tribes, has contributed to their requests to be put on the list of Scheduled Tribes. However, the tribal group in the state opposes their desire because of its apparent dominance in terms of population and political representation, with 40 of the 60 lawmakers in the state legislature belonging to the Meitei community.
According to the United Naga Council, the Meiteis are an advanced community in India.