NEW DELHI: Over 550 citizens’ groups, academics and lawyers on Friday attributed the violence in Manipur to “divisive politics” by the BJP, a party they accused of “exacerbating” age-old ethnic tensions between communities for political gain. The groups and individual signatories issued a joint statement calling for an immediate halt to the violence and urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “speak up and take accountability”.
Manipur is burning today in very large part due to the divisive politics played by the BJP and its governments at the Centre and state. And on them lies the onus to stop this ongoing civil war before more lives are lost,” the statement said. More than 100 people have died and over 300 have been injured in violence between Manipur’s majority Meiteis and the tribal Kukis.
The violence began on May 3 following tribal protests against the Meiteis’ efforts to gain Scheduled Tribe status, which had been bolstered by a Manipur High Court order in April.
The joint statement said that while the high court order had been the “immediate trigger” for the violence, the situation had been “grim” since January when the state’s BJP government began eviction drives in the Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal districts, declaring tribal forest dwellers as “encroachers”.
“Characteristic of its modus operandi across the country, the BJP is once again exacerbating the age-old ethnic tensions between communities for its own political gain,” the civil society organisations and other signatories said.
“Pretending to be an ally to both the communities, it is only widening the chasm of historical tensions between them without any effort till date to facilitate a dialogue towards resolution.”
The signatory groups include the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Saheli Women’s Resource Centre, National Alliance of People’s Movements, All India Democratic Women’s Association, Federation of Catholic Associations of Delhi NCR, Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, Human Rights Forum, and the Indian Christian Women’s Movement.
The statement said the worst of the violence against the Kukis had been perpetrated by what it described as armed Meitei majoritarian groups, such as the Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun, accompanied by “genocidal hate-speech and supremacist displays of impunity”.
“Both groups vilify the Kuki community as ‘illegal outsiders’ and ‘narco-terrorists,’” the statement said.
“Earlier the chief minister himself had termed a Kuki human rights activist ‘Myanmarese,’; a nod to the propaganda that the Meitei community faces a demographic threat from refugees fleeing unrest from Myanmar,” it added.
“Since these refugees are from tribal groups that live in Manipur as well, Meitei majoritarian groups whip up the bogey of swelling tribal numbers overtaking the Meitei majority.”
The statement said that language that dehumanised a minority community as “illegal” had also been used by Union home minister Amit Shah and the Assam chief minister during the National Register of Citizens exercise in Assam.
“Now the same language has spread to another state in the Northeast, with the BJP fanning the flames of hatred, violence and xenophobic frenzy,” it said.
The statement said that armed Kuki groups had solicited votes for the BJP in the 2022 Assembly elections, and stressed that seven of the 10 Kuki MLAs in the Manipur Assembly were from the BJP.
“Propaganda by Kuki groups also takes a leaf from the BJP book, invoking precedents where Kuki leaders have collaborated with Indian State interests, brand(ing) the Meiteis as anti-India.”
The statement said that according to reports, the overwhelming majority of those killed in the ongoing violence were Kukis and over 200 Kuki churches had been burnt along with schools, granaries and homes.
The signatories have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak up and accept accountability for the situation in Manipur. They have demanded a court-monitored tribunal, a “fast-track” court for all the instances of sexual violence by state and non-state actors, and relief and rehabilitation for the victims.
They have said the process should be overseen by a panel of retired judges — appointed by the high court or the Supreme Court — who know the region closely.
Shah had during a visit to Manipur between May 29 and June 1 met representatives of both the Kuki and Meitei communities as well as delegations from civil society organisations. He had directed officials to take stern and prompt action to contain the violence.