Sunday, April 14, 2024

Photos: 100 days on, ethnic unrest divides Manipur

Ichan Hoakip fears that if she goes to the Meitei stronghold Imphal, she could get killed for marrying a Kuki. Stories of such violence have been spread in Manipur. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Ichan Hoakip, 38, is possibly one of the handful of people of Meitei ethnicity remaining in the hills of the conflict-torn Indian state of Manipur. She was married to Lunginlal Hoakip, a Kuki construction worker, who got killed by a Meitei mob on May 04 near Imphal, the capital city.

Lunginlal is among over 186 people feared to have been killed in the deadly ethnic violence that broke out between mainly Meiteis belonging to the Hindu faith and predominantly Christian Kuki-Zo tribes that began on May 03. Reuters say, two third of the people who were killed belonged to the indigenous Kuku-Zo community.

Tribal groups have created a temporary memorial with dozens of empty coffins, symbolically reserved for the bodies kept in Imphal. Their decision for a mass burial has been stalled due to court intervention. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

100 day on, the situation remains volatile with thousands of weapons being stolen from government armoury by the fighting groups engaged in regular gunbattle. Three Meiteis and two Kukis were killed last week, escalating the situation in the buffer zone at the border of the Bishnupur district, a furious battlefield between the fighting groups.

Women volunteers at civilian check-post ensure no Meitei are allowed to the hill district. Passes are issued for journalists and traders from different ethnicity entering the Kuki-Zo territory. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

“He was crying… Ichan, Ichan,” the mother of five recalls from the last call she got from her husband. Even though police informed her that his body is in a hospital in Imphal, bringing it to their hometown, Churachandpur (renamed by Tribal bodies as Lamka).

His body is among 118 unclaimed bodies kept in various mortuaries in Imphal, a number submitted to in Supreme Court of India in a petition stated.

Meira Paibis, a Meitei women’s collective, are camping out outside a hospital in Imphal to stop any attempt to collect Kuki dead bodies for mass burial in Churachandpur. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Tribal bodies want to have a mass burial in government land near the buffer zone, in an attempt to create a monument for the “martyrs” of “state-sponsored ethnic cleansing”. 

Immediately after the violence broke out, the state was partitioned on ethnic lines. Entry for people from opposing ethnicity stopped and supplies through the main highway remains cut off. Even state officials have not travelled to the opposite territory fearing for their lives.

Next to the disputed mass burial ground, Meitei villages were set on fire in the early days of May. Hundreds of villages are burnt down from both sides. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

The border of the territories, the valley controlled by Meiteis and the hills controlled by Kukis, have check posts and bunkers put up by armed civilians. 

Central forces maintain buffer zones between them.

The armed conflict got little attention in the country until a shocking video of two Kuki Zo women being paraded naked went viral on social media, forcing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to comment after two months.

About 300 churches were attacked in the state. Christian leaders accuse that churches were burned down to please Hindu nationalists in mainland India. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

The video from May 04 emerged after more than two months due to an internet ban in Manipur since May first week. Manipur government partially lifted internet suspension on broadband internet conditionally. Mobile internet remains suspended.

Central forces are maintaining a buffer zone between the territories in a bid to stop fighting. They are opposed by Meira Paibis who accuse the army of protecting Kukis during clashes. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

The state ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has a Meitei Chief Minister, N Biren Singh, who is widely accused of being complicit in the violence unleashed by his community against tribal people. His cabinet has not visited the hill area since the unrest.

Fighting groups have looted government armouries and used military-grade weapons in offences against each other. Militant outfits are feared to have joined the fight. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Peace talks have not had any outcome while tribal groups demand separate administration for hill areas. The spokesperson of the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), Ginza Vualzong, stated that no reconciliation is possible after what has happened. 

India’s opposition coalition has blamed the “hate politics” of Modi’s party have led to the “civil war” in Manipur.

Hundreds of bunkers manned by Village Defence Volunteers who use countrymade guns or weapons looted from government armoury. They say the state and central government has failed to protect them. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob
Kuki Zo leaders have demanded separate administration in hill districts. They are replacing Meitei names on name boards and calling the region “Kukiland”. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob
The viral video of two Kuki Zo women being paraded naked has shed light on several cases of sexual assault during the ethnic clashes. Violence against women was rampant, both sides have claimed. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob
About 70,000 people are internally displaced due to the conflict. They are living in crowded relief camps on both sides. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob
In the hill district, schools are shut down for three months and many of them are converted into relief camps. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob
A mosque was used as a bunker by state police commandos, drawing resentment Meitei Pangal Muslim community. Border Security Forces removed commandos and secured the civilian-populated area. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob
State police commandos of Meitei ethnicity have been accused of colluding with Arambai Tenggol, an ethnic extremist group that has close ties with Chief Minister. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob
Shaheen Abdulla
Shaheen Abdulla
Shaheen Abdulla, an award-winning journalist, is the Deputy Editor of Maktoob.
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