The recurrence of violence in Manipur is indeed worrying. In the fresh bout of cruelty reported from the state on Tuesday, one person was killed and two seriously injured. State minister for PWD Govindas Konthoujam’s house in Bishnupur district was ransacked. Organised burning of houses left by their occupants continues both in the plains and on the hills. To make matters worse, a former deputy speaker of the Manipur Assembly was caught red-handed while he was instigating his followers to take the law into their own hands. It is now nearly three weeks since violence erupted in the northeastern state over a questionable verdict by a High Court judge, who was compulsorily transferred to the state when his verdicts at the Madras High Court began to arouse not just disbelief but disdain.
While the official figure of deaths in the violence is a little over 70, unofficial figures put it at several times the number. By common reckoning, at least 35,000 people have been uprooted and 1,700 houses and dozens of churches burnt down. The Internet and regular telecommunication services continue to be shut down. After the latest incidents, curfew has been tightened. The ethnic situation in the state has never been this bad, with the Meitei and the Kuki no longer seeing eye to eye with each other. Yet, in popular perception, Chief Minister Biren Singh has never been politically as strong as he is now. That is a sad commentary on the situation in the state where the people are disempowered, while the leader is able to have the last laugh. The cost of living has also gone up with acute scarcity of essential commodities.
There is general acceptance by the public that the mayhem Imphal witnessed from May 3 to 6 could have been easily contained if the Army, which has a large presence in the state, was immediately summoned to handle the situation. By the time the Army was deployed, much damage had been done to the communal and ethnic amity that had existed in the state where the Meitei kings had been ruling since the first century of the common era until Independence. The way the houses were identified, looted and burnt and the residents forced to flee empty-handed suggests that the attack was premeditated. By the time the Army was deployed, the black deeds had been done and there was a permanent divide between the majority community and the minority.
For lesser reasons, President’s rule was imposed on states like Kerala in 1959 and Uttarakhand in 2016. The appointment of a security adviser was seen more as an attempt to strip the Director General of Police of his powers than to restore peace. When riots occurred in Gujarat in 2002, the media, especially the television media, were present to report the truth from ground zero but in Imphal, no grassroots reporting happened. Most of the photographs and videos that populate the public domain were shot and uploaded during the first few days of the spree of violence. There are now fears that the whole plan was to divide the state into the hill areas and the plains. That gives another dimension to the ethnic strife. One thing is clear, there is nothing spontaneous about what happened in Manipur.
Despite so much happening in the state, little has been done to apply the balm on the wounded pride of the people. Neither the Centre nor the state has promised that it would help rehabilitate the people who had to leave their houses. For lesser incidents, the government has set up commissions of inquiry to fix responsibility and punish the guilty. No special court has been set up to try those accused of genocide and arson in Manipur. The fact of the matter is that those who engineered the violence, whether they wear black shirts and trousers or not, enjoy freedom while their victims suffer for no fault of theirs. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The central and state governments should put their acts together and see to it that the criminals are brought to justice and the victims are able to return to their houses and begin life anew.
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