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Judicial probe into ethnic violence in Indian state

Social unrest began in northeastern Manipur on May 3, and its worst victims are tribal Christians, say Church leaders
The remains of a burnt church are seen in Langching village some 45 km from Imphal in Manipur on May 31. The ongoing ethnic violence has kept India's northeastern state on the edge after an explosion of inter-ethnic violence last month killed at least 70 people and left tens of thousands displaced

The remains of a burnt church are seen in Langching village some 45 km from Imphal in Manipur on May 31. The ongoing ethnic violence has kept India's northeastern state on the edge after an explosion of inter-ethnic violence last month killed over 70 people and left tens of thousands displaced.
(Photo by AFP)

Published: June 02, 2023 11:26 AM GMT
Updated: June 02, 2023 12:06 PM GMT

India’s federal home ministry has ordered a judicial probe into the unprecedented ethnic violence in a northeastern state that claimed over 70 lives and displaced thousands of people.

The judicial commission, Federal Home Minister Amit Shah said on June 1, “would investigate the cause of the violence and identify those responsible for it.” 

On the last day of his four-day visit to strife-torn Manipur state, Shah warned of stringent action against those who were behind the violence.

Shah announced the setting up of a peace committee and an inter-agency unified command for better coordination between security forces amid fresh reports of violence in the state.

Violence in the state started on May 3 when the Kuki tribal community, which includes Christians, began a protest against a court decision granting the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the Meitei community, who are mostly Hindus. 

The ST status comes with reservations in jobs and education under India’s affirmative action plan. 

The Meiteis, mostly Hindus, make up 53 percent of Manipur’s 3.2 million people and dominate the socio-economic landscape of the hilly state, bordering civil war-hit Myanmar. There are also a few Christians in the Meitei community.

The leaders of the Christian-majority Kuki community asked Shah to impose President’s rule in the state as they had lost faith in Chief Minister N Biren Singh-led government. 

President's rule in India refers to the suspension of a state government and the imposition of direct rule of the federal government in New Delhi.

Shah, however, refused to accept their demand. Both Singh and Shah belong to the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party. 

Shah said Manipur governor Anusuiya Uikey, a tribal woman, would head the peace committee which will have industrialists, sportspersons, and elected representatives from the Kuki and Meitei communities as members.

Meanwhile, on the plea that “there are still reports of incidents like arson of houses,” the state government has extended curbs on using the internet until June 5.

The state government further said, “... some anti-social elements might use social media extensively for transmission of images, hate speech and hate video messages, inciting the passions of the public.”

Since the violence broke out “the worst victims are Christians and other indigenous groups,” Church leaders told UCA News on June 1.

The rioters targeted Christians and their institutions, homes and other belongings. More than 45,000 people have been displaced, they said.

Church leaders said violence is still continuing in many tribal villages with no sign of the restoration of peace in the immediate future. 

On May 28, the North East India Regional Bishops' Council, covering India’s seven northeastern provincial states, appealed for peace in the strife-torn state.

 “It is with great pain and intense anxiety that we have been following the great tragedies that have taken place in Manipur recently,” Archbishop John Moolachira, chairman of the North East India Regional Bishops' Council, said.

“We request intellectuals and creative thinkers of the communities to think up ways of easing the situation, exploring a constructive way forward and devise ways of settling the differences,” the bishops said in a statement.

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