The Platform

Scene of burned out homes in Manipur, India.

The Indian government’s response to the violence in Manipur defies all logic until you realize who is running the show.

The enduring violence in Manipur sketches a somber tableau of a state’s dereliction in safeguarding its citizens and their inherent human rights. Since May of 2023, the northeastern state has been engulfed in a tumultuous strife between the Kuki and Meitei communities, trailing a wake of ruination and a pervasive sense of hopelessness. The discourse herein scrutinizes the Indian government’s faltering steps in navigating through the crisis, casting a pall over its professed allegiance to the principles of peace and justice.

The widespread availability of arms and the quelling of opposition have emerged as trademarks of the current ruling party of India, the Hindu-fascist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Known for its controversial legacy with ethno-religious conflicts, exemplified by incidents such as the notorious demolition of the historic Babri Mosque in 1992, the BJP’s tenure has been marked by recurrent bouts of violence. Yet, the unfolding situation in Manipur delves into more intricate layers of complexity, revealing what seems to be a deliberate policy of passivity.

The rampant accessibility to firearms acts as a catalyst in the ongoing violence, while the escalation in the issuance of gun licenses under the BJP’s regime, in tandem with the widespread civilian appropriation of weapons, sets the stage for an increasingly volatile state of affairs. This relaxed stance on gun regulation forms a stark dichotomy against the otherwise stringent response meted out to those exercising their right to peaceful protest, like the National Federation of Indian Women who now face sedition charges for their efforts to shed light on the unrest, thus embodying a harrowing endeavor to mute the voices clamoring for accountability.

The hallmark of the Indian government’s strategy towards the Manipur conflict could well be characterized by its apathy and procrastination, straddling the thin line of negligence. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s prolonged reticence, punctuated only by what appeared to be a perfunctory condemnation of a deeply disturbing incident of gang rape brought to light through a viral video, speaks volumes about the dire absence of a sense of urgency in confronting the underlying systemic afflictions.

There exists an alarming perception of connivance between the police forces, right-wing factions associated with the BJP, and the party itself, which raises severe questions about the state’s pledge to neutrality. The foot-dragging reaction to the reported sexual abuses, including those allegedly perpetrated by members of the Border Security Force, has significantly eroded the trust in the institutions that are supposed to be the bulwarks of law and order.

The government’s actions in reaction to the strife, notably the implementation of shoot-on-sight mandates and a protracted Internet blockade, not only impinge upon fundamental freedoms but also impede the flow of communication and the exchange of information, crucial for the independent investigation and documentation of the ongoing conflict.

The international community’s concern made evident through pronouncements by the United Nations and resolutions by the European Parliament, has been met with a notably subdued reaction from the Indian government. This indifference to allowing independent inquiries into the conflict implies a preference to manage the narrative and evade accountability.

The plight of the more than 60,000 people displaced by the violence calls for immediate and unwavering focus. The curtailed Internet access raises disquieting queries about the transparency and sufficiency of the aid reaching those who are most in need.

The Indian government’s approach to the Manipur crisis lays bare a profound institutional failure at multiple levels. For the re-establishment of peace and the reconstruction of trust, immediate and assertive steps are imperative.

Unconditional ceasefire and autonomous investigations. A cessation of violence through an immediate ceasefire, coupled with independent, international investigations into the incidents of violence, is fundamental for assuring accountability and forestalling further acts of violence.

Demilitarization and strict gun control. Enhanced measures for gun control, including a critical review of newly issued licenses, are imperative for the de-escalation of the current crisis.

Protection of civilians and affirmation of human rights. There must be accountability for any human rights abuses committed by security forces. It is incumbent upon the government to guarantee the safety and rights of all communities, regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation.

Unhindered access to humanitarian aid. It is essential to ensure that humanitarian organizations have unrestricted access to address the immediate needs of displaced individuals and others affected by the unrest.

Constructive dialogue and resolution of core issues. Initiating and fostering dialogue among the Kuki and Meitei communities, and addressing the socio-economic and political catalysts of the conflict, are vital for establishing a sustainable peace.

The dire circumstances in Manipur necessitate a sincere commitment from the Indian government to uphold peace, administer justice, and promote the prosperity of its citizenry. The period of vacuous statements and deferred actions must come to an end. It is through definitive and practical measures that the process of healing for Manipur may begin.

Muhammad Zain Ul Abdin is a lawyer based in Islamabad, Pakistan. Muhammad holds a Master's degree in International Relations. His areas of interest include India-Pakistan relations, South Asia, Afghanistan, and China.