By David Asta Alares
New Delhi, Aug 2 (EFE).- Gunshots and explosions have been reverberating in the air of Manipur, a state in India’s northeast, after three months on the brink of a civil war due to ongoing conflict between two ethnic communities that has killed at least 140 people, renowned Indian activist Harsh Mander told EFE.
The violence, now symbolized by a video that showed two women being forced to walk naked in front of a mob that sent shockwaves across the country, continues unabated and reconciliation seems “very distant,” Mander said after completing a four-day visit to Manipur with his group Karwan-e-Mohabbat (the caravan of love).
“There are continuous outbreaks of violence and explosions,” the activist said.
The clashes began in early May when the Manipur high court recommended that the majority ethnic group Meitei be included in the list of disadvantaged tribes or indigenous communities, which infuriated the minority Kuki community.
However the absolutely clashing narratives that Mander recounts after talking to both Meiteis – mainly concentrated in the valleys of Manipur – and the Kukis, who live in the hills, goes beyond a sudden judicial decision.
“The Meitei people believe that Manipur is their land (…). They claim that the Kuki people are sort of foreigners, many of them illegal immigrants, who have come in from Myanmar,” he recounts.
The predominantly Hindu community has in the recent past alleged that the Kukis are “narco-terrorists” involved in producing heroin and destroying the forests.
“But on the other side, the Kukis have a completely different story to tell” and claim to be legitimate citizens of the land, said the activist, who traveled to camps of both communities that are sheltering over 60,000 internally displaced people.
The Kukis have been opposing the Meiteis’ demand to be identified as underprivileged “scheduled tribes” (ST), which would result in them getting quotas in public sector jobs and higher education as part of India’s affirmative action policy.
“Their fear is that the Meitei people want ST status through which they will want to come in occupy their lands and jobs,” Mander explained.
As the state teeters on the edge of a civil war, with the Supreme Court on Tuesday warning of a “complete collapse” of law and order, the population has now been completely divided physically.
“It’s a sort of total (ethnic) cleansing. Where Kukis were a minority in the valley, they have been attacked and their homes and villages have been razed, burnt to the ground. But likewise in the mountainous areas where Meiteis lived as minorities, their homes and villages have been razed,” he said.
Indicative of the fear reigning in the state, morgues of capital Imphal have kept the dead bodies of more than 100 members of the Kuki community for nearly three months without them being claimed, as the community finds it impossible to safely descend to the valley.
Mander said that the only, thin ray of hope for a future understanding comes from scattered stories from the people in the camp, who recount how some people of the other community saved their lives during the worst of the violence. EFE