Draconian laws fuel separatist movements in India’s conflict-hit Manipur state

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The imposition of draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Acts (AFSPA) in the Indian state of Manipur has deepened the trust deficit between the government and the multi-ethnic society of Manipur state, fuelling the already active separatist movements in the region.

Since May 3, Manipur has witnessed inter-ethnic clashes primarily between Meitei and Kuki communities which resulted in over 98 deaths and the burning of at least 1,700 buildings including homes and religious sites.

According to the media reports, more than 35,000 people are currently displaced as well, with many now living in one of the 315 relief camps in the state.

Instead of finding out any political means to resolve the dispute, the “Indian government’s response has largely echoed the strategies India has previously employed during unrest in the Northeast or Jammu and Kashmir,” the United States Institute of Peace said in a report.

Read more: Fresh clashes claim 40 lives in Manipur

“This has included issuing military curfews, suspending internet services and deploying approximately 17,000 troops and paramilitary forces with shoot-on-site orders in effect for “extreme cases.”

Just like the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), the Narendra Modi-led government is also trying to suppress the demands of the three million people, through the use of brutal force.

The AFSPA act has been criticised by Human Rights Watch as a “tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination”. On March 31, 2012, the UN asked India to revoke AFSPA, saying it had no place in Indian democracy.

The violence erupted after the militants, reportedly backed by the central government attacked five localities mainly inhibited by the Christian community.

The latest factor triggering the violence was a high court’s decision ordering to grant a Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the Meiteis that would give them access to forest lands and entitle them to reservations in government jobs and educational institutions. The move has created fear among tribal communities including Kukis of losing their lands.

However, despite the violence in Manipur, the ruling BJP led by PM Modi and home minister Amit Shah continue to electioneer for state assembly elections in Karnataka.

Amit Shah made his first statement about the violence 23 days after it began but Modi has not yet publicly acknowledged the situation.

According to the USIP, in Manipur, there are at least four valley-based armed groups, several Naga groups and nearly 30 Kuki armed insurgent organisations. The proliferation of armed groups — at one point estimated to stand at around 60 — contributed to the sense of a “war within a war” in the state.

Those closely connected with political power took advantage of the tumultuous situation. The armed groups frequently back candidates in state elections.

“Northeast politicians have reported intimidation by opposing armed groups, and civil society organisations in Manipur emphasised that the 2022 elections were overshadowed by “open intimidation” from militant groups and violence across polling stations. This has led to “democracy at gunpoint” in this fragile region,” the USIP report added.

Shashi Tharoor, an Indian parliamentarian, called for president’s rule and blamed the BJP-led government, saying it has failed to govern the state.

Peter Machado, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Bangalore, expressed concern that the Christian community is being made to feel insecure.

All 10 Kuki MLAs, including eight from the Bharatiya Janata Party, issued a statement demanding a separate body be created to administer their community under the constitution of India in the wake of the violent ethnic clashes.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk urged the authorities to “respond to the situation quickly, including by investigating and addressing root causes of the violence in line with their international human rights obligations”.

 

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