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Manipur's meitei and kuki-zo communities urge central intervention as parliament convenes

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As the first Lok Sabha session of Modi 3.0 commenced today, Manipur witnessed widespread peaceful protests by both the valley-dominant Meitei community and the hill-dominant Kuki-Zo tribes, who have been in conflict since May 2023.

These demonstrations highlighted a shared plea to end the prolonged violence in the state.

The Meitei community, classified as a general category, is pushing for inclusion under the Scheduled Tribes (ST) category, citing their historical and tribal roots. Meanwhile, the Kuki tribes are advocating for a separate administration, or "Kukiland," to be carved out of Manipur. This longstanding demand aims to establish a homeland for the tribes, which share ethnic connections with tribes in neighboring Mizoram and Myanmar's Chin State.

In Imphal valley, hundreds of women marched silently, holding placards urging the Union government to address the issue of central forces allegedly failing to curb Kuki insurgents, who are under a contentious ceasefire agreement (Suspension of Operations, or SoO).

Protesters insisted that the Manipur issue be addressed in parliament promptly to prevent further loss of life. In Kuki-majority areas like Churachandpur and Kangpokpi districts, large gatherings took place, featuring speeches by Kuki MLAs and civil society leaders. They appealed to the Centre for the creation of a "separate administration" or Union Territory, merging all Kuki-dominated areas in Manipur, reported NDTV.

Currently, 10 Kuki MLAs, including some from the ruling BJP, represent these regions in Manipur's 60-member assembly.

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), a two-year-old Kuki group based in Churachandpur, announced plans for a nonviolent protest advocating for the creation of a Union Territory for the Kukis. This call has received support from various Kuki and Zo tribe groups. The ITLF emphasized the need for a political resolution to the ethnic crisis in Manipur, which has claimed numerous lives.

Mayanglambam Bobby Meetei, president of the valley-based civil society group People's Alliance for Peace and Progress, told NDTV that violence in valley areas began in May 2023 after central and state forces failed to protect Meiteis in Kuki-dominated regions. He accused Kuki militants and their supporters of initiating the violence by attacking Meitei properties on May 3.

The ITLF submitted a memorandum to the Churachandpur district commissioner, intended for Union Home Minister Amit Shah, urging the commencement of the process to create a Union Territory. The memorandum expressed gratitude for efforts to curb the violence and restore peace in Manipur. It also referenced the 25 Kuki-Zo insurgent groups that have signed the SoO agreement, which requires them to stay in designated camps and keep their weapons locked up.

The Manipur government has called on the Centre to terminate the SoO agreement, accusing Kuki-Zo insurgents of violating its terms and plotting to divide the state. There has been no official update on the agreement since it expired.

The ITLF also stated its opposition to elections for the Autonomous District Council (ADC), suspecting that the Manipur government, led by Chief Minister N Biren Singh of the Meitei community, might use the elections to create divisions among the tribes. Historical tensions between Kuki and Zomi tribes have led to significant violence, with the Kuki-Zomi conflict of 1997-98 resulting in over 350 deaths.

The Kuki group also requested the establishment of a "buffer zone" in Jiribam district, near Assam, where recent clashes occurred between the Meitei community and the Hmar tribe.

Leaders from the Zo United, Kuki Inpi Manipur, Zomi Council, and ITLF addressed the public before Zomi Council General Secretary Pauneihlal Vaiphei initiated the rally in Churachandpur.

In Imphal, police intercepted a group of women protesters marching towards the Chief Minister's residence, allowing a few to submit their memorandum peacefully.

Ima Nganbi, a prominent woman leader in the valley, expressed concern over the suffering of the common people and the potential for human rights violations, drawing parallels to past incidents of custodial torture and forced feeding of hunger strikers.

The ongoing violence in Manipur has resulted in over 220 deaths and nearly 50,000 people being internally displaced.

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TAGS:KukiManipur Ethnic ViolenceMeiteiManipur Silent March
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