Manipur is neither Kashmir nor Eastern Punjab

PackagesManipur is neither Kashmir nor Eastern Punjab

To make sense of this chaos, it is important to understand the Manipur ethnic and geographic dynamics

By Shazia Anwer Cheema

Indian reaction to the EU Parliament debate over Manipur is quite understandable because the West is looking forward to India as a reliable ally in the global game, but is skeptical about the violence against religious minorities across the country. The West cannot afford the selective blindness towards the criminal violation of minority’s religious rights and keep calling India a democracy and an emerging economic power. Even though Europe wants Indian support to clamp Chinese influence and trade activities in the Indo-Pacific, it cannot stay as a bystander when thousands of Christians are under the threat of political purge.

Despite its total control on the media, New Delhi has failed to push the Manipur massacre under the carpet like it has been doing in Occupied Kashmir, Indian Punjab and seven sister states. Manipur is very much on the European radar. The BJP-led central government has not been able to control the Manipur situation since May 3, 2023. More than 100 people have been killed and 60,000 displaced, and around 1,000 residential and commercial buildings have been reduced to ashes.

Indian army soldiers on patrol in Manipur, India, on June 7.
Indian army soldiers on patrol in Manipur, India on June 7, 2023 (CNN)

It all started when the Chief Minister of the Union Territory of Manipur passed an order to demolish encroachment in three districts of Manipur Hills starting from Churachandpur district. Hundreds of villagers were kicked out of their houses overnight, under the pretense of “fight against the drug cultivation and drug smuggling”.

To make sense of this chaos, it is important to understand the Manipur ethnic and geographic dynamics. Manipur is a union territory comprising different tribal ethnicities, which come under the scheduled tribal laws. Geographically, Manipur is divided into two regions, hills and valley plains. Valley planes, an urban part of Manipur, is occupied by Meitei tribes who are Vaishnavas (Vaishnavites/Pangals) Hindus. The Manipur hill area is inhabited by Naga and Kuki tribes, which are majority Christians. The Nagas and Kuki tribes are protected under the scheduled tribe act but the Meitei tribe is not considered a scheduled tribe and thus cannot go further into the deep hilly forest as it is protected under the scheduled law.

Over 59% of the total population is Meitei tribe, which has the best urban land with all the basic infrastructure and considerable political power. Kuki, Naga and a few other tribes combined make the rest of the population and are scattered in the hills with no or lesser urban facilities. Kuki people claim that now the Meitei tribe wants to encroach on the forest land which is the sole right of the Kuki and Naga tribes and this unrest will help the BJP government to change rules for providing the Meitei tribe the right of land holding in the forest area.

The Manipur CM is also from Meitei. When he started the demolitions, peaceful rallies comprising 60,000 people were reported on social media, but the central government called the peaceful protest “illegal and foreign-sponsored”. The central government alleges that foreign elements enter into the northeast, called seven sister states, from Bangladesh, China and Myanmar for disrupting peace. In fact, scheduled tribes of all seven sister states are considered outsiders by the union government and never granted the status that an Indian citizen enjoys.

The civil war erupted when the BJP government did not stop demolishing Kuki villages under the pretense of encroachment. BJP leader Amit Shah even claimed that 40,000 arms had been stolen from the state armoury, including assault rifles and grenades. This claim came after social media stories alleged that the union government had provided weapons to the Meitei tribe which are using assault rifles against Kukis.

Kuki and Naga people say that after purging Muslims in occupied Kashmir, the BJP is planning a Gujarat-type massacre in Manipur for cleansing India of non-Hindus.

In occupied Kashmir India successfully sold the buzzword “Muslim terrorists” but the same cannot be possible in Manipur because the targeted population is Christian and history has shown us that the West cannot remain indifferent whenever Christians are under threat. Do we not remember the Darfur and East Timorese crises and their consequences?

Manipur is neither Kashmir nor Eastern PunjabThe writer is a PhD scholar of Semiotics and Philosophy of Communication at Charles University Prague. She can be reached at shaziaanwer@yahoo.com and tweets @ShaziaAnwerCh

 

 

Note: The above article was originally published by The Express Tribune on July 19, 2023.

 

 Disclaimer:

The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.

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