The Northeastern state of Manipur in India has been beset by ethnic violence for several months. The conflict has left its people in a state of constant fear and despair.

The two largest ethnic groups, the Meitei and Kuki, have been pitted against each other in a battle for land, power, and influence. The situation has escalated to such an extent that some have described it as a civil war within the state’s borders.

Shocking incidents, such as the recent emergence of a video showing the humiliation and assault of Kuki women by Meitei men, have further inflamed the already volatile situation.

Manipur, situated to the east of Bangladesh and bordering Myanmar, is home to an estimated 3.3 million people. The Meitei are the majority ethnic group, constituting more than half of the population. The Kuki and Naga tribes comprise the predominant minority groups, accounting for around 43% of the population.

The roots of the conflict can be traced back to decades of simmering tensions over conflicting homeland demands, religious differences, and competition for resources and political representation.

The current round of violence in Manipur can be traced to the Kukis’ opposition to the Meiteis’ demands for official tribal status. Granting such status to the Meiteis would give them additional benefits and influence over government policies, which the Kukis fear would infringe upon their own interests and land rights.

While this particular demand was the tipping point, various underlying factors have also fueled the unrest.

One major factor is the ongoing war on drugs initiated by the Meitei-led government. The Kukis view this campaign as a ploy to further uproot their communities and marginalize them.

Additionally, illegal migration from neighboring Myanmar has exacerbated existing tensions over land use as a growing population competes for limited resources.

High unemployment rates among the youth have also contributed to the rise of various armed militias, further destabilizing the region.

The current conflict in Manipur is primarily between the Meitei and Kuki communities. Various ethnic militias, including the Naga, have clashed with India’s security forces. However, this time, the conflict is solely rooted in ethnicity, adding complexity and making resolution more elusive.

The viral video depicting the assault on Kuki women highlights the brutal tactics employed in this conflict. Unfortunately, sexual assault has been used as a tool of violence in the region for years, perpetuating a cycle of revenge and retaliation.

According to local media reports, the attack on the Kuki women was triggered by rumors of a Meitei woman being raped by Kuki militiamen, which led to retaliatory violence against Kuki women.

The central government’s response to the crisis has received criticism for being slow and inadequate. Prime Minister Narendra Modi remained silent on the violence until a video of the attack surfaced, after which he condemned the incident and deployed 40,000 security personnel to the region. However, the violence has continued to spread, displacing more villagers from their homes.

The Manipur state government, led by Chief Minister N. Biren Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has a disproportionate power imbalance between the Meitei and Kuki communities.

The Meitei, who make up 53% of the population, control 40 out of the 60 seats in the regional parliament, while the Kuki, who make up 30% of the population, control only 20 seats.

This power imbalance has fueled resentment among the Kukis, who feel marginalized and excluded from decision-making.

To address the ongoing crisis, a multifaceted approach is necessary. The central government must prioritize dialogue and engagement with all stakeholders to understand their grievances and concerns.

Land reforms and inclusive policies that address historical injustices and inequalities should be implemented to promote reconciliation between the Meitei and Kuki communities.

In addition to immediate measures to curb violence, long-term economic development and job creation programs are essential to address the root causes of youth discontent. Only through such measures can Manipur hope to break the cycle of violence and work towards a more stable and harmonious future.

The crisis in Manipur is a litmus test for India’s commitment to democratic values, human rights, and social justice. It requires a robust response that goes beyond political rhetoric and addresses the region’s underlying socio-economic challenges. It is essential to move away from divisive politics and focus on building bridges of understanding and cooperation among communities.

In conclusion, Manipur’s descent into ethnic violence is a tragedy that demands urgent attention and comprehensive action. The conflict between the Meitei and Kuki communities has deep historical roots and is exacerbated by contemporary grievances, resulting in a vicious cycle of violence and retaliation. The recent attack on Kuki women is a stark reminder of women’s brutality in conflict zones and highlights the urgent need for a lasting and inclusive solution.

The central and state governments must work together with all stakeholders to create an environment of dialogue, understanding, and cooperation. Only through a sincere commitment to reconciliation, land reforms, and economic development can Manipur hope to emerge from the shadows of violence and build a future of peace and prosperity for all its inhabitants.

 

*The author is a student of International Relations pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Karachi

**The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization neither endorses nor assumes any responsibility for the content of this article.

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