Kritika Joshi, student at Dr. BR Ambedkar National Law University, Sonepat, explains the recent ethnic violence taking place in Manipur, India...
A shocking video from Manipur, India, has sparked national outrage. It shows a group of men brutally assaulting and parading two women belonging to the ethnic Kuki-Zo tribe, who were stripped naked. The incident occurred in May, following deadly ethnic riots between two communities. At least one of the women, age 21, was a victim of gang rape, adding to the mounting violence against women in the region. The emergence of the video was delayed due to an internet ban in Manipur, drawing widespread criticism from human rights activists.
Manipur, a hilly state in India, is situated to the east of Bangladesh, bordering Myanmar, and is home to an estimated 3.3 million people. The majority, more than half of the population, are Meiteis, while Kukis and Nagas comprise the predominant minority tribes, accounting for around 43%.
Since May, Manipur has experienced escalating violence, resulting in at least 130 deaths and 400 wounded. Moreover, over 60,000 individuals have been displaced from their homes as authorities struggle to quell the unrest. The violence has also led to the looting of police armories, the destruction of hundreds of temples and churches , and the annihilation of entire villages.
The Kuki and Meitei communities have significant historical ties to Manipur, Myanmar, and surrounding regions. While the Meiteis are predominantly Hindu, with some followers of the Sanamahi religion, the Kukis are predominantly Christian and have spread across the northeast of India, with many tracing their roots back to Myanmar.
Tensions escalated when the Kukis protested against the Meiteis’ demand for official tribal status. The Kukis argue that granting this status to the Meiteis would further augment their already dominant influence on government affairs and society, allowing them to acquire land and settle in predominantly Kuki areas. However, the underlying reasons for the conflict are complex and multifaceted. The Kukis claim that the Meitei-led government’s war on drugs is merely a guise to uproot their communities, and illegal migration from Myanmar has further strained land resources. Additionally, unemployment has also pushed many youths towards various armed militias.
The conflict primarily involves Meitei, Kuki, and Naga militias, who have historically fought over conflicting homeland claims and religious differences. However, the latest wave of violence is mainly between the Meitei and Kuki communities, rooted strictly in ethnicity rather than religion.
Tragically, women have become targets of violence and humiliation amid the ongoing conflict. The recent attack on Kuki women followed false reports of a Meitei woman being raped by Kuki militiamen, sparking a deadly cycle of reprisal violence by Meitei mobs against Kuki tribal women.
Government Response and Judicial Intervention: Seeking Accountability and Long-Lasting Peace
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who remained silent on the Manipur violence until the video emerged, expressed shame over the incident and assured that those responsible would not escape justice. However, many Indians question why it took so long for the prime minister to publicly address the situation in Manipur.
The chief justice of India, Hon’ble Mr. Justice DY Chandrachud, expressed grave concern and deep disturbance over constitutional violations and human rights infractions. The apex court has taken suo motu cognizance of the matter, and the attorney general and solicitor general have been requested to be present. The court demands that the government hold the perpetrators accountable and take preventive measures to avoid such incidents in the future. Moreover, the Union and State governments are directed to submit affidavits outlining the actions taken before the next listing on July 28, 2023.
To quell the violence, the Indian government has deployed 40,000 soldiers, paramilitary forces, and police to the region. Calls for direct rule by tribal leaders have been resisted thus far, but the unrest continues to spread, displacing more villagers from their homes.
Manipur is governed by Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, with N. Biren Singh, a Meitei, serving as the chief minister. Despite representing 53% of the population, the Meitei community controls 40 of the regional parliament’s 60 seats, leading to accusations from the Kukis that Mr. Singh’s government targeted their areas in his anti-drug initiatives.
The shocking video has reignited attention on the deep-rooted ethnic conflict in Manipur, underscoring the urgent need for peace and resolution in the region.
Kritika Joshi is a student at Dr. BR Ambedkar National Law University, Sonepat.
Suggested citation: Kritika Joshi, Understanding Manipur’s Human Rights Crisis Amid Ethnic Violence, JURIST – Student, Professional Commentary, July 25, 2023, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2023/07/kritika-joshi-manipur-ethic-violence/.
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