Sunday, May 26, 2024

‘No peace, no vote’: As violence continues in Manipur, Kuki-Zo communities boycott elections

With first phase voting underway, intensity of election campaigns has increased in the country. In Manipur, however, the Kuki-Zo-Hmar community are boycotting the elections today, as both the Union and the state governments failed to find solutions to the ongoing ethnic violence here.

Speaking to Maktoob, many youths and leaders from Manipur belonging to the Kuki-Zo community have said that they do not want to vote as there is no point. 

“This is the way we signify our anger with the government for letting Manipur burn for a year,” Sam, a resident of Churachandpur told Maktoob.

The youth and civil organisations in Churachandpur have called for the boycott of elections averring that the government’s response post the violence on 2 May 2023, which has left thousands displaced and hundreds of dead, has been cold.

Committee on Tribal Unity (COTU) from the Kangpokpi District, which also saw the recent killings of two Kuki volunteers have said the whole community is abstaining from casting votes.

“In regards to the collective decision taken up by the CSO’s of Sadar Hills, Kangpokpi District…to abstain from voting in the coming Manipur Lok Sabha Elections is fully endorsed by COTU. At the critical and painful juncture of wagiong war against the Kuki-Zo by the majotarian Metiei since 3 May, 2023 killing, burning, torturing etc, COTU can’t accept to participate in Manipur Lok Sabha Election,” a statement by the organisation said.

Meanwhile, the Kuki National Assembly (KNA) has condemned the killing of two “village defence volunteers” in Manipur’s Kangpokpi district on Saturday, allegedly by an armed group from the valley. The KNA appealed to the Kuki-Zo tribes not to vote in the Lok Sabha elections in protest against what it called atrocities against the tribes.

In a statement, the KNA alleged the Arambai Tenggol, supported by forces, attacked Kangpokpi’s Phailengmol area and killed the two “village defence volunteers”.

“… If suffering is deemed our right in India, then we choose not to participate in the Indian parliament elections,” the KNA said in a statement signed by its spokesperson Mangboi Haokip.

A youth leader from the organisation, on the condition of anonymity, however said that the political leaders are pushing people to vote. 

“The majority of young Kuki community, representing all youth in Kuki hills, have opted not to vote due to the central government’s neglect of our community’s plight. We feel marginalized and threatened by the fascist actions of the Meitei, putting our community at risk of extinction. However, we also respect those who choose to vote, recognizing that we live in the world’s largest democracy. The whole community, not just the youths doesn’t like the idea of election as of now. But if the CSO’s and other apex organisation says otherwise, we will do what they say. Our leaders will make the final decisions, whether we like it or not, we are ready to accept that,” he added.

However, with the recent killings of the Kuki-Zo volunteers, the sentiment to not vote has only increased. 

In a letter to the Election Commision (EC) women organisation from Kuki-Zomi-Hmar community have said they will not be voting this time.

Besides KNA, a long list of Kuki-Zo groups have called a boycott of the Lok Sabha elections. The Global Kuki-Zomi-Hmar Women community, a group of Kuki-Zo women, including journalists, social workers, former Outer Manipur MP Kim Gangte and leaders of the Kuki-Zomi-Hmar women’s forums in Delhi, had written to Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar informing him of their decision to boycott the polls.

“…With a heavy heart we would like to inform you to the decision of the women in our community to exercise their constitutional and legal right to boycott the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. This decision does not come lightly, but as a culmination of their disillusionment and lack of trust in the current administrations, both at the national and state levels,” the letter read.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the Kuki-Zo group Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) said, “Central security forces are deployed to maintain peace and remain neutral, but their actions today have raised many questions ahead of the Lok Sabha election.”

Speaking to Maktoob, Siam Phapi, lawyer, said that civilians do not want to vote and it is only the leaders from political parties who are pushing people to do so.

“Most of the Kuki Inpi in Manipur, such as Kuki Inpi Chandel, Ukhrul, Tamenglong, etc. and other organisations such as Simte, Vaiphei, Zou, have announced for participation. But civilians like me are not interested in voting,” he said.

“We don’t know what the majority is really. One side like me who aren’t part of any organisations or political party wants to boycott to show our grievances to the Govt. And the people of India. The organisation side (some, not all) says vote for Congress to kick the BJP out,” he added.

However, Maktoob spoke to many civilians who said that elections do not matter to them. The same sentiment was shared by the leaders of youth parties.

Phapi, who visited many relief camps, said that the displaced people are still suffering and share the same sentiments. 

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on April 15 rejected a petition seeking special arrangements for over 18,000 voters, who fled Manipur due to the conflict.

As Manipur goes to polling on Friday, thousands of displaced people will not be able to vote.

Disposing a petition filed by voters from Manipur, who shifted to cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Guwahati, Shillong and a few other places, the Supreme Court said it was too late for them to issue a directive to the Election Commission to make special arrangements for such voters. 

Meitei voters who fled the Kuki-dominated areas are living in relief camps in the valley districts while Kukis also fled the Imphal Valley and have been sheltered in relief camps in the Kuki-dominated districts.

The ethnic violence in Manipur over cataclysmic disagreements on land, resources, political representation, and affirmative action policies has dragged on for 11 months now. Over 210 were killed in the violence and more than 60,000 were internally displaced.

Meanwhile, tight security arrangements have been put in place for the first of the two-phased Lok Sabha elections in Manipur.

The Inner Manipur Lok Sabha seat, which comprises 32 of the 60 assembly segments in the state, and 15 assembly segments of the Outer Manipur Lok Sabha seat will go to polls in the first phase on Friday. Voting will be held in the remaining 13 segments of Outer Manipur in the second phase on April 26.

A total of six candidates, including state Education Minister Thounaojam Basanta Kumar Singh of the BJP and Angomcha Bimol Akoijam of the Congress, are contesting the Inner Manipur seat.

Voting began  at 7 am and is likely to continue till 6 pm.

A total of 9.91 lakh voters are eligible to vote in Inner Manipur, with the highest concentration of 3.81 lakh in Imphal West district, District Election Officer Th Kirankumar said.

Voting will be held in 1,319 polling stations in Inner Manipur, in addition to 29 special polling stations set up for people displaced due to the ethnic strife, he said.

A total of 70 polling stations have been identified as either vulnerable or critical in Imphal West district and adequate security arrangements, including the deployment of central armed police forces, have been made, he said.

Outer Manipur, which is reserved for Scheduled Tribes, will witness a four-cornered contest between Naga People’s Front’s K Timothy Zimik, Congress’ Alfred Kanngam Arthur and Independent candidates Kho John and Alyson Abonmai, with all the candidates being Nagas.

BJP has not fielded any candidate and has declared support for its ally NPF.

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