Facing the Flames

Author: Daily Times

The Indian state of Manipur has been engulfed by civil conflict since India’s independence a little over half a century ago. After a long peaceful stretch that seemed to suggest a return to normalcy, Manipur is right back where it started. After a brutal outbreak of inter-ethnic violence earlier this month, security forces launched an extensive crackdown on protesting militia. The latest reports indicate that there will be no end to the violence in the foreseeable future, with another 40 dying in a face-off against the Indian army. Troops have already been given permission to shoot on sight and continue to enforce a curfew in the hopes of containing movement within the state. Food is quickly becoming a scarce commodity, internet services remain suspended and thousands of people have been left stranded in crowded and unsanitary refugee camps.

For two decades, the Meitei has demanded scheduled tribe status under Indian law, making them eligible for reserved quotas in state institutions. The other tribes however argue that the Meitei community already has the obvious upper hand-as the majority group, the Meitei have historically wielded far more political influence in the region and also happen to be wealthier than the minority groups they live with. Tensions have been high for a while but when an order from a Manipur high court asked the state government to accelerate the process for scheduled tribe status, the situation quickly escalated into a full-blown civil war.

But it might be difficult to hit the reset button this time. In towns where two communities once lived warily alongside each other, the idea of returning to such uneasy harmony is inconceivable after so much violence. Most of the violence has targeted the Kukis who are already calling on New Delhi to create a separate administration for their tribe, claiming that living with the Meteis is “as good as death for our people.” It has become exceedingly clear that the government no longer has the capacity to enforce a return to the status quo-secession may be India’s best shot at preventing a recurrence of this kind of violence. *

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