South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, is extremely alarmed at the extent of the almost three month long ethno-communal violence that is taking place in Manipur, India and is appalled at the lack of political will of the Central Government to effectively curb it.
The immediate reason for the violence is a Manipur High Court order directing the State Government to recommend to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry by 29 May 2023, a Scheduled Tribe tag for the Meitei community. It started with a “Tribal Solidarity March” organised on 3 May in Manipur to protest against the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, causing loss of 54 lives.
There is no doubt that ethnic violence has been brewing in the state of Manipur for a while and there have been issues and agitation around the Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh government’s policy of arbitrarily evicting Kuki villages to expand the reserved forests – which in itself was a violation of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and Forest Rights Act, 2006. But what erupted since 3 May and has been ongoing since is a level of violence and destruction indicative of complete anarchy and a total breakdown of any semblance of governance. What has been especially appalling is the barbaric, levels of sexual violence and xenophobic mob attacks on women of targeted communities coupled with the widespread and complete destruction of lives, livelihoods and homes. There have been over 150 deaths reported so far and 50,000 people have been internally displaced.
Further, coercive actions such as a 73 day internet ban imposed on the state till 3.00pm of 20 July 2023, which still continues to a certain degree and a First Information Report (FIR) registered against a 3 person women’s fact finding mission affiliated to the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) for its findings of the ethnic clashes in Manipur as the result of “state sponsored violence” highlights a lop sided approach of the State rather than a genuine solution seeking one.
While individual perpetrators will no doubt be identified and booked for violence, SAHR is simply appalled at how in a functioning and strong democratic country this level of widespread violence and mayhem continued unchecked and at the lack of political will or inability of the State Government and the Central Government of India to bring it under control. SAHR lends its voice to other calls from around the world and strongly calls upon the relevant government authorities to immediately take action to thwart violence in Manipur; and provide immediate redress to those affected while ensuring fair and speedy justice. But SAHR also reiterates against the use of excessive force by law enforcement authorities. SAHR strongly believes that it is the duty and responsibility of the Government of India, as it is committed to uphold democratic principles, to consciously eliminate any effort to trigger communal polarisation through a multi-pronged strategy in order to protect the rights of all the people enshrined in the constitution.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights