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Violent ethnic conflict in Manipur: India’s unity in diversity motto 'undermined'

Counterview Desk 

In an open statement on Manipur, former civil servants of the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG) have requested the Government of India to take early action on establishing stable administration in the state, restoring the rule of law by firmly curbing all non-state actors who seek to take the law into their hands, and providing immediate and adequate relief and rehabilitation measures for the affected people.
The 113 signatories said, there is total failure of the state which allowed the raiding of police armouries by perpetrators of the violence, reportedly resulting in around 4,500 weapons of varying sophistication and an estimated 5 lakh rounds of ammunition being looted, which is continuing even to the present day.
“Such looting is unimaginable and without precedent anywhere in India”, the statement added.

Text:

The Constitutional Conduct Group, a group of former civil servants firmly committed to the Constitution of India, and not affiliated to any political party, notes with the greatest concern the total breakdown of the rule of law and constitutional values in the state of Manipur since early May 2023. What started as a protest by the Kuki-Zo community against the decision of the Manipur High Court, directing the state government to recommend to the Government of India the grant of Scheduled Tribe status to the majority Meitei community, has since snowballed into a dangerous, internecine ethnic conflict that threatens not just to tear apart the social fabric of Manipur but calls into question the very spirit of harmony and fraternity that is the foundation of India’s “unity in diversity”.
We wish to strongly highlight the dereliction of their fundamental duty by the Manipur state government and the state police in protecting the life and property of their citizens. This has created the conditions for a complete breakdown of law and order, with a deliberately orchestrated and targeted carnage that has included large scale arson, lynching, collective rape, vandalism, looting, mob violence and obstruction of central security forces from carrying out their duties, followed by armed attacks and retaliation by both communities. These atrocities have taken place under a double-edged internet ban, lifted only partially on July 25, that has prevented their horror and scale from coming out earlier, while also providing grist to rumour-mongering and spread of fake news. This total failure of the state has allowed the raiding of police armouries by perpetrators of the violence, reportedly resulting in around 4,500 weapons of varying sophistication and an estimated 5 lakh rounds of ammunition being looted, which is continuing even to the present day. Such looting is unimaginable and without precedent anywhere in India.
What lends credence to the charge of the Chief Minister, Mr. N. Biren Singh, being partisan in his approach to tackling the tragedy is his demonisation and targeting of one community as ‘illegal migrants’, ‘poppy cultivators’, ‘encroachers’, ‘narco-terrorists’ and ‘terrorists’. These “dog whistles”, which tend to smear an entire community, have served to excite the passions of the majority community to which the Chief Minister belongs. A high constitutional functionary, like the Chief Minister, is expected to restore the rule of law and take steps to cool inflamed passions, rather than stoke them further. The failure to take strong action against militant organisations of the Meitei community, the Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun, which openly issue threats of “annihilation” and “blowing up” of the tribal Kuki-Zo minority, or the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), which advocates a “Manipuri national war against Chin-Kuki narco-terrorism” and the arming of civilians, only seems to confirm fears about the partisan approach of the state administration; the same applies to the approach of the law enforcement authorities of Manipur state to the aggressive actions of the Meira Paibis, which include their preventing the army from apprehending those engaged in violent activities.
What causes us even deeper anguish, as former civil servants who have dealt with surcharged law and order situations in the course of our careers, has been the largely passive role that the union government has played in this entire imbroglio. What was required at the very onset of the violence in May 2023 was the imposition of President’s Rule, given the abject failure of the state government to function in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. However, instead of invoking Article 356 of the Constitution to impose President’s Rule, a Security Adviser to the state and a new Director General of Police from the cadre of a neighbouring state were appointed, and a Unified Command constituted, all reporting to the Government of Manipur, headed by the Chief Minister. Apart from the visit to Manipur by the Union Home Minister end May-early June 2023, when he met with different sections of society, there has been no active political involvement of the centre in establishing peace between the opposing communities.
The union government also lost a golden opportunity to involve the opposition parties in trying to arrive at a political solution to the problem. Political expediency has won out: we are witness to the spectacle of a non-functioning parliament at a time of crisis, with the Prime Minister making no statement in Parliament on the Manipur crisis, which would enable the initiation of a dialogue on the issue.
We are even more appalled at the approach of the union government to the ghastly events of the stripping and parading naked of two women, the alleged gangrape of one of them and the murder of two male members, all of the same family, on May 4. While expressing his outrage over the incident, outside Parliament rather than on the floor of either House, the Prime Minister seemed to draw an equivalence between this incident in Manipur and other incidents in states like Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, though the incidents are not at all comparable. There was no explanation of how his government and the Manipur state government were blissfully unaware of this heinous incident despite the filing of an FIR over two months ago.
We would like to bring to the union government’s notice that the May 4 incident (along with other such similar incidents of sexual violence against women during the last three months in Manipur) represent the disgraceful phenomenon of Conflict Related Sexual Violence. The intent of the perpetrators of this violence and their instigators is to use womens’ bodies for signalling dominance. Failure to nip such perverted tendencies in the bud can lead to escalation in conflict and make reconciliation difficult.
Dog whistlers are demonisation one community as illegal migrants, poppy cultivators, encroachers, narco-terrorists and terrorists
While the Union Home Minister, during his visit to Manipur, announced the setting up of a panel headed by a retired High Court judge to investigate the reasons for the violence and to identify those behind the violence, this will not suffice to heal the wounds that have been caused by the ongoing violence and the severe trust deficit between the two communities, as well as the lack of confidence of the minority Kuki community in the impartial conduct of the state government and its police force. The nonpartisan and positive role played by the army, the Assam Rifles and central paramilitary forces, which has been appreciated, indicates that there is need to continue with the deployment of these forces in the buffer zones between the two communities, to forestall offensive attacks .
The immediate priority is to provide a healing touch to the affected persons of both communities. The lethargic relief measures taken by the state government have been very inadequate. Effective relief and rehabilitation measures as well as adequate compensation need to be provided to all affected individuals/families to enable them to rebuild their lives. These should include: (i) providing suitable shelters to the affected, either in public buildings or in requisitioned private premises, with proper hygiene and security, for as long as a return to their homes is not feasible; (ii) providing free food supplies for those in the relief camps and free PDS rations for internally displaced people residing elsewhere ; (iii) starting MNREGA works that could provide income to those affected; (iv) providing childcare, health, trauma care and education services that would meet the needs of those in the relief camps, especially mothers and children, including newborns (v) in the medium term, providing assistance for rebuilding damaged houses and other public premises.
The underlying causes of the ongoing mayhem in Manipur need to be objectively identified and addressed within the bounds of constitutional parameters. Unsubstantiated charges and dangerous brinkmanship by all parties, and grave disruptions of the social fabric of Manipur, as well as sustained violence, could resonate and spill over not only into neighbouring states but also across international borders, where ethnic bonds exist. This would be a recipe for unimaginable strife which will not leave the rest of India unscathed.
We, therefore, urge the Government of India to take the following actions at the earliest:
  1. Impose President’s Rule in Manipur and appoint, as Advisers to the Governor, experienced former administrators and police officers who have knowledge of the region and can empathetically interact with the local populace. Every effort should be made to restore the trust of all sections of the citizenry in the local administration.
  2. Provide relief and rehabilitation measures as well as compensation to affected individuals/families in a nonpartisan manner, with the aim of bringing back normalcy at the earliest.
  3. Take severe punitive action against individuals and groups intent on fomenting unrest, including bringing to justice all the instigators and perpetrators of incidents of violence since the beginning of May, firmly checking hate speech, rounding up looted arms and ammunition and putting an end to offensive attacks against other communities. The message needs to firmly go out that no attempt by any non-state organisation to take the law into its hands will be tolerated.
We earnestly entreat the Government of India as well as other stakeholders not to let issues of prestige and political expediency inform actions, when the imperatives of both internal peace and external security warrant mature responses. We must all realise that if India loses, no one wins.
Satyameva Jayate

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