The office of the district commissioner of Imphal West wore a largely deserted look on Thursday morning – except for one wing of the office, where several people had defied the curfew to submit applications seeking gun licences.
Among them was Shyam Kanhai, who said he was a farmer from Canchipur on the outskirts of the city.
Kanhai has asked for permission to keep a double-barrelled gun in his possession. “There is a lot of communal violence in Manipur,” he said. “It is for the protection of my family, my locality.”
As Manipur continues to simmer following a bloody bout of ethnic violence between the Meitei and Kuki communities that started on May 3 and has left at least 75 people dead, there seems to be a rush to obtain licensed guns, say officials.
An official at the Imphal West Collectorate involved in the processing of these licences said there had been a “huge” increase in the number of applications.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said, “Usually, the average applications we receive in a month is not more than 50. Since the incident, we have received at least 300.”
Th Kirankumar, the deputy commissioner of Imphal West, corroborated the official. “A lot of applications have come in,” he said. “There has definitely been an increase,” he added.
The Bishnupur deputy commissioner L Bikram also spoke of an increase “because of this ongoing conflict”.
Among the applications, the West Imphal collectorate office has received is that of businessman Mohammad Tarique. “There is a riot going on,” he said. ?We are hearing that the Kuki militants are firing from the hills. So, one should keep at least one gun for protection.”
Tarique, who is from the Pangal community, added, “The fight may not be directly with us but we also live in the valley. If they come to kill us, they won’t distinguish between Meiteis and Muslims.”
Imphal East, the other district that makes up the capital, has also seen a rise in applications, said officials. However, they refused to quantify the surge. “All we can say is it has gone up,” said the official, who is in charge of processing the applications.
Kh Diana, the district collector, said “there is a sense of insecurity”. “Everyone is feeling unsafe here now,” she said.
Lakhoiba Sharma, a civil engineer at a private company in the city and a resident of Imphal East district, said he had applied for a licence to own a double-barrelled gun for his protection. “There has been trouble as you know, so this is for our safety,” he said. “The situation is not good, yesterday also someone died.”
Three weeks after violence broke out in Churachandpur, following a rally by tribal groups against the demand to give the Meitei community Scheduled Tribe status, the state remains on edge. The most recent spell of violence was reported on Wednesday, with one person dying of bullet injuries.
‘No fresh licences’
However, officials said fresh licences have not been issued since the outbreak of the violence. “People have applied but that does not mean licences are being issued and arms have been procured,” he said. “There are various criteria that have to be fulfilled before a licence is issued.”
An application has to be enclosed with proof of age and identity. Additionally, a government doctor has to issue a “shooting certificate”, attesting that the applicant has no deformities and is of sound mental health.
The request is then submitted to the district collectorate for police verification, which is carried out by the local police station as well as the crime investigation department. In case of smaller arms, an additional round of verification is done by the state home department.
An official in West Imphal said they were not forwarding all applications to the police. “We cannot not accept applications, but we don’t forward every single one we receive either.”
However, in the Kuki-dominated hill district of Churachandpur, deputy commissioner Sharath Chandra Arroju said there had been no fresh surge in people applying for licensed guns. “I have not received any new applications and nor will I be issuing any new licence.”