The Manipur government on Thursday issued shoot-at-sight orders throughout the state for “extreme cases” after incidents of violence were reported from several parts following a tribal agitation.
The government authorised district magistrates and sub-divisional magistrates to issue such orders “in extreme cases whereby all forms of persuasion, warning, reasonable force, etc have been exhausted”.
On Wednesday, thousands of tribals participated in a march called by the All Tribal Students Union of Manipur across all the ten hill districts of the state to oppose the demand of the majority Meitei community to be included in the Scheduled Tribe category.
The march was organised after the Manipur High Court, in an order on April 19, asked the Bharatiya Janata Party government to consider petitions for including the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list “expeditiously, preferably within a period of four weeks”.
The police told PTI that during the march in the Torbung area of Churachandpur district, an armed mob allegedly attacked those belonging to the Meitei community. This led to retaliatory attacks and the situation turned volatile across the state.
Several shops and houses were vandalised and burnt in arson that lasted for over three hours in Torbung, according to the police.
In the Imphal valley, homes of Kuki tribals were ransacked in several areas, forcing them to flee, the police said. Over 500 residents of the Kuki-dominated Langol area in Imphal West are currently staying at the Central Reserve Police Force camp at Lamphelpat, according to PTI.
Over 20 houses were also burnt in the Motbung area of Kangpokpi district. Violence was also reported in Moreh, near the Myanmar border.
The Army and paramilitary forces were deployed in Manipur to quell violence.
In a statement on Thursday, the Army said that around 7,500 people were rescued by the forces from the Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Imphal districts.
“The columns of Army and Assam Rifles along with Manipur police have intervened promptly to control the situation,” it said. “Violence was controlled by morning hours. Flag marches are being conducted to keep the situation under control.”
As the protest turned violent, a curfew was imposed in 9 out of 16 districts in Manipur. The curfew is in place in Churachandpur, Jiribam, Pherzawl, Imphal West, Chandel, Kakching, Tengnoupal, Kangpokpi, Bishnupur districts.
The government also suspended mobile internet services across the state for five days.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh said that “precious lives have been lost” in the violence but did not give further details.
“In the last 24 hours, some incidents of clashes, vandalism and arson have been reported in Imphal, Suangphumun, Bishnupur, Kankopi and others,” Singh said. “These incidents are due to prevailing misunderstandings between two sections of our society. The state government is taking all steps to maintain the law and order.”
Singh on Thursday chaired a meeting with state ministers and MLAs to review the unfolding law and order situation. He urged citizens to maintain peace and refrain from circulating unverified information.
Boxing legend Mary Kom sought help from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, saying that “Manipur is burning”.
Shah said that he spoke with the chief minister, who briefed him about the ground situation and the steps taken to restore peace, reported PTI.
The Centre has also dispatched teams of the Rapid Action Force for deployment in violence-hit areas of the state. The RAF is a specialised force trained to handle riot-like situations.
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga wrote to his Manipur counterpart, saying he was deeply pained by the violence and assured him of cooperation in restoring peace.
“I urge you to exercise the kind of leadership that the people of your own state know you are capable of and reach out to all parties involved to try and bring an end to this senseless violence,” he said.
The United Christian Forum of North East India also urged all parties involved to exercise restraint and work towards a peaceful resolution to the situation. “We also call on the government to take steps to address the underlying issues that have contributed to this situation and to work towards a lasting solution,” it said.
Meanwhile, Paolienlal Haokip, an MLA from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, alleged that “ethnic cleansing” was being done in the state and that central forces are not being deployed at sensitive areas.
High Court order
The High Court’s order from last month has revived old anxieties in Manipur.
The members of the Meitei community, who account for 60% of the state’s population, are largely concentrated in the Imphal Valley. The community claims that it faces difficulties due to large-scale illegal immigration by Myanmarese and Bangladeshi nationals. They are not allowed to settle in the state’s hilly areas as per existing laws.
On the other hand, the tribal communities fear that Meiteis may take over their land resources if they are given Scheduled Tribe status.