Jeakson Singh, a footballer hailing from Manipur, a state currently experiencing ethnic violence, caused uproar when he was seen covering his jersey with a vibrant Meitei flag while receiving his winners' medal following India's victory over Kuwait in the 2023 SAFF Championship final on Tuesday. Jeakson Singh, a defensive midfielder representing the Indian national football team, hails from Manipur's Thoubal district. His crucial contributions played a significant role in securing the country's ninth SAFF Championship title, a record achievement.
Amid uproard, reason was to bring awareness to violence
During the medal ceremony at Bengaluru's Sree Kanteerava Stadium, the 22-year-old footballer draped the Flag of Kangleipak (Salai Taret flag), characterised by seven distinct colors representing the seven clan dynasties of the ancient Meitei ethnicity of Manipur.
This incident unfolded against the backdrop of ongoing violent clashes between the Meitei and Kuki communities in Manipur over the past two months.
The footballer's gesture sparked widespread controversy on social media, with some individuals criticising him as "unprofessional" and accusing him of advocating for secession.
Certain users on social media condemned the Manipuri footballer's action and demanded punitive measures to be taken against him.
Amidst the ensuing uproar, Jeakson Singh clarified that his intention behind draping the flag was to promote peace and restore harmony in his home state.
"I want to tell everyone in India and Manipur to stay in peace and not fight. I want peace. It’s been two months now and fighting is still going on. I don’t want this kind of thing to happen more. I want to bring this to the attention of the government and people to get peace. My family is safe but there are lots of families that have suffered and lost their homes," he said.
Why is Manipur fighting?
The outbreak of violence in Manipur originated from the organisation of a 'Tribal Solidarity March' in the hill districts on May 3. This march aimed to express opposition to the Meitei community's request for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. The consequences have been devastating, with over 100 fatalities, several hundred injuries, and thousands seeking refuge in relief camps.
The Meitei community, comprising approximately 53 percent of Manipur's population, primarily inhabits the Imphal Valley. On the other hand, the hill districts are home to the Tribal Nagas and Kukis, who make up around 40 percent of the population.