The Platform


With religious tensions and hatred being stoked by ultra Hindu-nationalists like Narendra Modi and his merry band of militants in the BJP, it was only a matter of time before tensions boiled over.

The state of Manipur in northeastern India has been experiencing a surge of ethnic violence since early May, resulting in the deaths of at least 98 people and displacing thousands more. The clashes erupted after indigenous communities rallied against the demands of the dominant Meitei ethnic group, who sought protected status under the country’s constitution.

The Meiteis, who are mostly Hindus and makeup around 50% of the state’s population, have been pursuing this status for years, aiming to access broader benefits like healthcare, education, and government jobs. However, other ethnic groups, many of whom are Christians living in the hilly regions, fear that granting this status would encroach upon their rights, and resources, and threaten their identity and culture.

On May 4, the situation escalated into violence when a mob of Meiteis attacked homes, vehicles, churches, and temples belonging to the Kuki and Zo tribes in and around the Churachandpur district, bordering the Imphal Valley. Eyewitnesses reported houses and churches being set on fire, charred vehicles strewn across roads, and videos and photos showing angry mobs wielding machetes and guns. Numerous tribal families fled their homes, seeking refuge in army camps or neighboring states. Reports indicate that at least 80 tribal members were killed and hundreds more were injured during the violence.

The state government, led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has faced accusations of inadequate action to prevent or stop the violence. Although the government issued “shoot-at-sight” orders and deployed thousands of troops and paramilitary forces to restore law and order, many critics argue that these measures were both delayed and insufficient. Furthermore, some allege that the government exhibited a bias towards the Meiteis and disregarded the grievances and demands of the tribal communities. The government denies these allegations, attributing the violence to “external forces.”

The violence in Manipur sheds light on the longstanding ethnic tensions and conflicts rooted in colonial history, migration patterns, land disputes, and political representation. Over the years, the state has witnessed numerous insurgencies and separatist movements by armed groups seeking autonomy or independence from India. The violence also exposes the central government’s failure to address the issues and aspirations of the northeastern region, which often faces neglect and marginalization from mainstream politics and the media.

The Congress party, the main opposition in Manipur and at the national level, has accused the BJP-led government of mishandling the crisis and failing to protect the lives and properties of the people. They demand a judicial inquiry into the violence and compensation for the victims, while also blaming the BJP for creating communal polarization and engaging in divisive politics within the state.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), another opposition party, has condemned the violence and has called for an immediate end to the bloodshed. They have criticized the government’s imposition of Internet shutdowns and curfews, which hamper communication and relief efforts.

Sanjoy Hazarika, an independent analyst, and director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative specializing in northeast India, highlights that the violence in Manipur stems from decades of neglect and alienation by successive governments. He advocates for a political solution that respects the diversity and aspirations of the people, rather than relying on force and repression. Hazarika also underscores that the violence reflects a deeper crisis of governance and accountability in India, where human rights violations and impunity prevail.

The ethnic violence in Manipur represents not only a humanitarian crisis but also a threat to India’s unity and diversity. It can be categorized as ethnic cleansing and genocide under international law, involving the deliberate displacement or destruction of a particular ethnic or religious group. The government has a duty to protect its citizens from such atrocities, ensuring justice and reconciliation for the victims. It also holds the responsibility to promote dialogue and harmony among different communities, respecting their rights and dignity. Only then can Manipur achieve peace and development for all its people.

Aiman Khan is a Lahore based social activist and an independent researcher with a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from BNU, Lahore.