Bringing together fact-finding reports on Manipur, a commitment to conflict-ridden Manipur

An edited compendium of five varied fact-finding reports is released in Mumbai and Delhi on April 18: with the bitter Manipur ethnic conflict almost a year old and the complicity of the state and union governments clear, the effort is to draw attention, again to the fall out and consequence and renew cries for substantive justice
Image: The Free Press Journal

The ongoing conflict and violence in the north-eastern state of Manipur has faded from public memory even while the brutal killing of people, sporadic as it may seem continues. With over 200 lives lost (170 from the Kuki-Zo tribe alone), 200 plus villages burned down, 7,000 homes destroyed by arson, 360+ churches destroyed (including Meitei churches) and 41, 425 internally displaced persons, the tragic impact of the brute violence endures. On May 3, 2024, the formal one year anniversary will be observed.

On April 13, about ten days ago, after a seeming 40 day lull for the outsider (while those who are surviving in neglected relief camps with no succour from the state or union governments, a deep insecurity has reigned for months!) two persons were brutalised and killed in a fresh outbreak. Soon after knowledge of the brute killings became public,  the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) has condemned in the strongest terms the killing of two Kuki-Zo village volunteers “by central security forces;” the ITLF alleged that it was the central security forces who aided Meitei militants by firing and shelling tribal positions in Phailengmol area of Manipur’s Kangpokpi district on April 13; meanwhile the Committee of Tribal Unity, a Kuki-Zomi group based in Kangpokpi district, called for a 24-hour shutdown in the district on last Sunday.

Six days after these brute killings that were received by a stony silence from the state and union government, the battle-ridden people of Manipur were forced into election mode as the first round of polling, under deeply contested circumstances was held on Friday, April 19. Late Sunday night, after multiple complaints by the Opposition Indian National Congress (INC), the Election Commission of India (ECI) has ordered a re-poll on April 22, Tuesday.

It was in the midst of this week, that a Compendium of Fact-Finding Reports that include Report of the Fact Finding Mission on Media’s Reportage of the Ethnic Violence in Manipur: Editor’s Guild, Violence in Manipur, Northeast India: Investigative Report to the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance Manufacturing Ethnic Segregation and Conflict: A Report on the Violence in Manipur CPI(ML), AIPWA and AILAJ. Each report explores different aspects of the conflict that has taken place. The Compendium, apart from fact-finding reports from the violence ridden Manipur, has been compiled by activist and educationist Dr. Syeda Hameed and advocate Clifton D’ Rozario.

The publication consists of various sections and includes reports on the region and the continuing conflict by various stakeholders including women activists, the CPI-ML, and the Editors Guild of India.  The publication was released launch on April 16 organised by the Bombay Catholic Sabha, the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism (CSS) and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) in Mumbai.

The preface to the book puts forward the argument that despite multiple narratives and opinions, what cannot be ignored is the nature of the conflict which is, “this is a State sponsored campaign targeting the Kuki community which is also facing violence perpetrated by radicalised Meitei armed groups such as Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun.” The report further claims that the conflict can also be said to be a result of the state and the central governments pitting one ethnic group against the other. 

Release in Mumbai

Over 50 activists from several organisations were present in Mumbai at the release on April 18. Several teams had visited Manipur over past months and experiences were shared. Four different teams from CSSS had visited Manipur over a period of time after the violence broke out last year and prepared reports about the causes and results of the conflict. These reports shed light on the state of women in the conflict, the root of ethnic clashes and the situation of victims belonging from all the three communities of Manipur. Their report also contains reports of the fact checking of misinformation that spread across the nation amid internet ban in the state.

Neha Dabhade, executive director of CSSS said, “The compendium has brought back the memory of our visits to Manipur and there has been no change after almost a year. The internet ban has done more disservice to Manipur than anything else as no credible information was coming out of the state. We look at Manipur as a litmus test of what is going to happen in India.”

At the book release event held at Mumbai Press Club, secretary of CJP Teesta Setalvad shared statistics of the devastation caused due to the violence which has engulfed the state since last year. “In the last one year, there have been 170 deaths, over 200 villages burnt, 7,000 homes burnt, more than 360 churches burnt and 41,425 people displaced due to the violence. This violence is much like the Gujarat riots but the only difference is the arms that are being used in the violence. The state seems to be actually promoting the conflict,” she said. The eerie silence from the authorities, the state and union government is also shocking, she said while the commercial media, influenced by the Regime, has simply stopped reporting from the ground, on Manipur.

Father Frazer Mascarenhas, activist and former principal of St. Xavier’s College, who also attended the book release, said, “There is a strong suspicion that all the violence was engineered with initiation from the state. Total culture of violence and unaccountability has taken over Manipur and now the violence is waiting to spread across the nation. We have a chance now, when we vote, to vote against this kind of violence,” he added.

Build-Up in Manipur

The Compendium also brings out the fact the tribal voices were being continuously unheard in the state, way before the conflict started.  For instance, in February 2023, the government labelled forest workers from three hill districts as encroachers and launched a campaign against them. Discussions on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and demands for Scheduled Tribe status by the Meitei community had already occurred by then. Following this, a court ruling in April supporting the Meitei demand sparked anger among tribal communities in the hills, leading to state-wide protests on May 3. Tensions escalated into clashes between Meitei and Kuki populations, particularly in Churachandpur district, resulting in severe violence including atrocities against Kuki women and widespread church burnings.

At the time of the report written, it had been seven months since the conflict started and even then the state government has reportedly made no effort to restore peace amid ethnic conflict. The government has in fact created a buffer zone, which one Meitei woman calls “LOC”, between the valley region and the hills with heavy security, making travel difficult and time-consuming so much so that the report argues that it is easier to cross international borders than to pass checkpoints within the state. The report states that members of the state police force, who the Kukis see as being biased towards the Meiteis, and commandos often come and shoot at the buffer zone. The people of Manipur were also ethnically divided and shuffled to relief camps. This situation restricts movement and access for affected communities, adding unnecessary hardship. 

Law and order

The book highlights that as of March, 2024 200, people have been killed and over 70,000 have been displaced. Furthermore, it notes that over 45,500 children, women and men are forced to reside in over 108 relief camps in Churchandpur where food and sanitation is extremely difficult to come by and educational facilities are absent.  Return home for these refugees seems to not be anywhere near in the future. Harsh Mander notes that only a small fraction of these displaced individuals, not more than a few hundreds, which is mostly young boys are putting their lives at risk to survive and provide for their families by returning home and trying to tend to the fields. The report states that there are no proper health services in the camps, only ‘arrangements’ made with local shops for necessary medicines. Only two meals are served a day consisting of rice and dal, which leaves many especially the children hungry. There is no privacy for women, men or children, even women who are pregnant are forced to live in unsanitary conditions where measles, typhoid, viral fever have been an everyday reality. The report notes people saying that the Meitei community had taken out a blockade of all aid supplies from reaching the hills, where the Kuki community resides. This blockade also prevented crucial, life-saving medicine from reaching the relief camps.

However, varying accounts in the book narrate that the role of Assam Rifles, Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Gorkha Regiment have done a great job in maintaining peace and security in the region.

Furthermore, the section of the report by the Editor’s Guild of India reveals that the media coverage of the event has been largely biased against the Kuki community. Moreover, showcasing the severity of the consequences due to this, the  Indian Army’s 3rd Corps headquarters  had also written a complaint to the EGI  giving examples of how the media in Manipur may have played ‘a major role’ in inciting events. The EGI notes that most of Manipur media is owned by the Meiteis.

However, one big hurdle for the state’s journalists remained the frequent blockades and internet bans which worsened the lack of coverage from hill areas. As per news reports, Manipur has seen an extremely long internet ban in the state with over 200 days of ban just between May and September, 2023.

There was also a ‘lack of trust’ between the ‘hill reporters’ and the Imphal valley editors, who, as per the report, often ‘selectively’ published reports. At the time of the report, this had reportedly led to little to no coverage of the conflict in Churchandpur and other hill areas.  One volunteer of the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum in Kangpokpi speaking to the EGI team stated that the reporters in Manipur took ‘dictation’ from the Biren Singh government.

Furthermore, the Compendium notes that the government has been unable to function as per the constitution, and law and order are more or less absent. It cites the example of how in Imphal, a mob attacked Kuki BJP MLA Vungzagin Valte almost leaving him for dead in the early phases of the violence last year in May. Similarly, it notes that two Kuki Cabinet ministers’ homes were burnt down, and Kuki government employees in the Imphal valley were unable to attend work due to safety concerns. The state has seen over 6,500 FIRs filed for serious offenses including murder, assault, sexual violence, and property destruction, however, it notes that not much action has taken place.

Grief and silence

Refusal of the Kuki community of Lamka in Churchandpur to bury those who were killed in the violence and riots, finds focussed mention. Many were not able to be buried for months because the fighting was constant for four months after the conflict started.

The survivors have put empty coffins in memorial of those dead at a wall, and have called it the “Wall of Remembrance.”

A survivor, Sunita Paite stated, “Over 100 bodies of those killed in the violence are rotting in the mortuary of Churachandpur. Some of them are from 4th May, 2023. It is extremely difficult to cross that way. If this is the case of the dead what is the state of the living. Medical needs of the people affected by the ongoing conflict are very high but those are not addressed at all. The Chief Medical Officer of Churachandpur does not receive medicine from the government agencies but he is dependent upon welfare agencies for medicine.”

Similarly, displaced people survive with their horror stories of the violence, but few have stories of having gotten justice. One survivor in Sugnu District spoke of 100 Kuki families being surrounded by a mob of over 6000-7000 people which were led by 150 members of the Arambai Tenggol. The survivor and his family managed to barely escape but lost their homes, their documents, and their former lives. The Arambai Tenggol is a Meitei group that is often described as a radical armed militia. The group has been accused of booth capturing in the first phase of polling for the Lok Sabha elections on April 19 and is also suspected of holding a sympathetic relationship with the state’s leaders including N Biren Singh. The report notes that the state of justice and accountability in the state remains grave. Even a retired Kuki magistrate told the team that she had little hope of getting justice in the cases lodged by her. The report notes that the justice system in the hills was severely compromised as militants had also been involved.

The Compendium further ruefully states that even though intermarriage and interaction between Nagas, Kukis, and Meitei communities was common outside the state, the almost one-year-long conflict has put a stop to any chance of such relations at present.



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