Manipur: Centre invokes Article 355, takes over Indian state’s security after fresh violence
India’s central government Thursday promulgated Article 355 in Manipur to take charge of the security after a spate of arson and violence in the hills and valley areas following Wednesday’s Tribal Solidarity March, ThePrint reports.
From Churachandpur to Imphal, the rupture in ethnic ties between the tribal Kukis and the the non-tribal Meitei majority is grimly apparent in this trail of destruction — broken windows, charred houses, ravaged churches and religious structures.
Prior to this order, government sources told ThePrint that shoot-at-sight orders were issued. Citing an order by the Manipur home department, news agency ANI reported that the Governor approved the department’s shoot-at-sight order ‘in extreme cases whereby all forms of persuasion, warning, reasonable force etc has been exhausted’.
Tension loomed large in Imphal West district, with arson reported in certain areas Thursday afternoon in the wake of slim security presence. In Imphal, the streets had a deserted look Thursday with only essential services running.
Locals huddled in colonies, while a few private vehicles were out on the roads. A temple
in Imphal city was an exception, as the people attended prayer service amid the statewide curfew.
The situation remained tense in the peripheral villages along the foothills of Churachandpur and other hill districts Friday. The Army conducted a flag march in Churachandpur Friday morning.
As often seen during a crisis, locals are buying fuel from the black market in the wake of curfew and closed fuel stations. A litre of petrol is being sold at Rs 120-150 in Imphal against the standard price of Rs 90.
On Thursday, Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh tweeted a small video appealing to the people to help maintain peace and harmony.
Even as the Manipur government conducted meetings Thursday morning to deal with the situation and clean the mess, the lost trust among the communities seems to be harder to fix.
“We would like to request the government to defuse the tension and give safe passage to affected people so that they can move to their respective places,” said Ajang Khongsai, a local from Lhungjang, Kangpokpi district currently taking refuge at a CRPF camp in Imphal.
Security forces, including the army and the paramilitary Assam Rifles, had evacuated thousands of people throughout Wednesday night from different locations. About 5,000 people are taking shelter in an army camp in Churachandpur, and 2,000 each at temporary camps in Imphal and Moreh districts.
Additional troops of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) have been rushed to the Northeast state. A team of Rapid Action Force (RAF) landed in Imphal Thursday afternoon and will be deployed in Churachandpur district.
A 32-year-old Meitei man from Imphal West district told ThePrint that the government can still initiate a peace dialogue among the affected communities, and restore peace and confidence among the people.
“The smoke from burning houses is visible everywhere, and an air of fear is present all over the state. It is not very late to call upon the affected communities and start a peace dialogue. In this regard, we are very disappointed with the Biren Singh-led government. If he had acted in a timely manner, all the violence could have been avoided,” he said.
BJP MLA attacked in Imphal
Meanwhile, BJP legislator Vungzagin Valte was critically injured in a mob attack in Imphal. Valte, the MLA from Thanlon constituency, has been an advisor to the chief minister.
Broadband services were suspended in Manipur for the next five days beginning 4 May. As broadband and internet services were curtailed, local residents used the old tactic of beating electric poles to call upon people in their areas for assembling at places.
From the rooftop of an Imphal hotel, this correspondent could see the burning hilltop of Langol. Gunshots were reported from several areas in Imphal, local sources in the state capital said.
Paramilitary personnel patrolled the streets in Imphal, as additional forces were rushed in to quell the violence. Security personnel reportedly resorted to blank firing in certain areas as people have gheraoed police stations.
The local sources said that police stations were ransacked and that weapons were taken away.
Ex-serviceman killed, claim villagers
In Torbung village of Churachandpur, villagers mourned the alleged killing of 38-year-old Jamkhogin Baite, an ex-serviceman of Indian Army.
Baite had joined Wednesday’s rally and stepped out of his house in the evening when he heard of clashes in the area, the villagers said, adding that he was father to four children — the youngest being 5-month-old.
Baite’s younger sister Helamboi Baite told ThePrint that he had not taken the phone with him and that it was past midnight when they “heard of his death through social media”.
Reports of death have not been independently verified by ThePrint as calls to the Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police in Churachandpur were unreachable.
Helamboi told ThePrint that the family decided not to claim the body unless the government concedes to all demands raised by the tribal leaders.
“My brother’s body has been kept at the morgue of the New Lamka district hospital, along with mortal remains of two other victims from nearby areas. Three families together went to the morgue in the morning. We were picked up in an ambulance by leaders of a civil society organisation,” she said.
“We request the Central government to save our lives and souls, and to find out if the Kuki and Naga tribals are wrong or right. Then you can take whatever action against us,” Helamboi added.
How violence unfolded
The long-standing demand for Meitei inclusion in the list of Scheduled Tribes for reservations and constitutional safeguards has been viewed through different lenses within the Meiteis themselves. But, the demand also fuels apprehensions among the tribal population in the hills.
On Wednesday, a rally termed as the Tribal Solidarity March was organised by All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) against the demand of Scheduled Tribe status by a section of the Meitei community. Thousands of people joined the rallies across the hill districts. The same day, demonstrations were also held in valley areas.
In Churachandpur, which has been the epicentre of the violence since the past couple of days, reports of miscreants torching the Anglo-Kuki war cemetery in the area led to fresh clashes Wednesday, moments after the rally ended. Groups of locals resorted to stone-pelting at Kangvai Torbung area in Churachandpur district, around 10 km from Moirang in Bishnupur district.
The tension stretched to other areas with large-scale violence reported from various localities in Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts. It spread to Kuki localities in the Imphal Valley and Meitei-inhabited areas in the hill districts.
Many were injured in the clashes and police firing, some grievously. Government sources told ThePrint a police official and a 3-year-old child have sustained injuries in the Wednesday clashes.
In Imphal West district, violence was reported from areas like Checkon, New Lambulane, Sangaiprou, Ningthemkol, Game Village among other areas, while arson was reported from villages in the hill districts of Churachandpur, Moreh and Kangpokpi. Pictures of upturned benches in churches, damaged temples, ransacked courtyards and burned vehicles began circulating in the social media Wednesday evening.
With the situation still volatile in the peripheral villages along the foothills of Churachandpur and other hill districts Friday, local sources said miscreants have resorted to looting burnt houses in Imphal, adding that a Catholic church, a pastor training centre and many houses near Tiddim Ground along the airport road in Imphal have been destroyed.
Some residents of the affected districts claimed that a few people injured in the clashes had succumbed to their injuries. ThePrint could not independently verify these claims.
Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) remain imposed in the hill districts of Churachandpur, Tengnoupal, Senapati, Jiribam, Pherzawl, as well as in Kakching, Bishnupur, Imphal West and Thoubal in the valley. Internet services remain suspended in Manipur since Wednesday evening for five days until further orders.