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India’s Manipur shutdown on anniversary of ethnic clashes

Indigenous tribal body urged Kuki-Zo people to observe day as ‘a mark of remembrance and solidarity’
Security personnel stand guard as voters queue up to cast their ballot outside a polling station during India's general election, in Ukhrul district of Manipur state on April 26.

Security personnel stand guard as voters queue up to cast their ballot outside a polling station during India's general election, in Ukhrul district of Manipur state on April 26. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 03, 2024 11:17 AM GMT
Updated: May 03, 2024 11:33 AM GMT

An indigenous people’s group enforced a day-long shutdown in India’s strife-torn Manipur state on the first anniversary of the unprecedented ethnic violence amid a call for peace from a Catholic bishop.

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) urged “all members of the Kuki-Zo community to hoist a black flag on every household as a mark of remembrance and solidarity.”

All businesses, institutions, and markets were also asked to remain closed “as a sign of respect and homage to our fallen heroes," the ITLF said in a May 1 statement

A government official who did not want to be named claimed that the shutdown had no impact on routine life in the northeastern state.

However, he confirmed that security forces were on heightened alert across the state bordering Myanmar as a “preventive measure.”

The clashes between the majority Hindu Meitei community and Kuki-Zo tribal people, who are mostly Christians, began on May 3 last year.

Sporadic violence continues in different parts of the state and 219 people were killed while some 60,000 were displaced until February this year, according to media reports.

The tribal Christians suffered the most as women were raped and paraded naked, houses were burnt and over 350 churches and other institutions were destroyed by mobs in the past year.

The state’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government faced criticism for its inability to impartially control the prolonged violence.

Tribal bodies accused the ruling party of supporting the Meiteis against the indigenous people.

The violence began when ethnic Kuki tribal people and majority Meitei Hindus started fighting over a court proposal to grant special tribal status to the Meitei people.

The move, Kuki people say, will help Meitei people get priority in government jobs, education, and other affirmative action programs meant for indigenous people.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Linus Neli of Imphal urged all Catholics in the state to observe a three-day prayer and fast for reconciliation and peace in the troubled state.

The Archdiocese of Imphal covers the entire state of Manipur.

Among the state’s 3.2 million people, 53 percent are Hindus, mostly Meiteis, while Christians make up 41 percent, most of them Kuki tribal people.

In his April 29 message, Neli appealed “to all people of goodwill in Manipur to give peace a chance.”

He said there is “relative calm for the time being,” but “several hundreds of our people are still languishing in great distress, pain, and uncertainties in relief camps and in undesirable conditions.”

“Let us persistently pray for the day when people of all ethnicities and religious communities can live together peacefully in this beautiful land of Manipur,” he added.

A Church leader based in Imphal said that the people in the state “are living in segregation and in uncertainty.”

“We do not know what will happen the next moment,” he told UCA News on the condition of not revealing his name.

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