Manipur Conflict / Unrest / Violence - Social, Religious, Political Mindset of the Meiteis
         Date: 24-Jul-2023

Manipur violence
(First article in series on Manipur unrest)

(ICRR- Assam & North East)

--- Vinay Joshi.

For the past two months, the state of Manipur has been shaken by violent turmoil involving conflicts between the Vaishnava Hindu Meitei minority and the Christian Kuki community. The intricacies of this conflict are so extensive and convoluted that a comprehensive analysis would require a book-length exposition. Nevertheless, we will attempt to address the key aspects of this issue in a series of concise articles.

Rather than blaming the current instability in Manipur simply on the recent Imphal High Court judgement, it is critical to investigate the underlying causes. The social, religious, geographical, political, and economic status of both the Meitei and Kuki communities, along with their respective stances, play pivotal roles in determining the conflict /mapping the conflict.

This subject can be roughly categorized into the following topics:

1. The social, religious, and political status of the Meiteis and the implications of the 2001 Naga ceasefire agreement extension.

2. The religious, political, and economic conditions that promote Church-sponsored aggressive Christian expansionism among the Kukis

3. The repercussions of Naga expansionism on the Kuki-Meitei communities, with a focus on the Greater Nagalim concept and the gruesome Kuki massacre of 1992.

4. The involvement of the Church and the global Christian community in the Manipur unrest.

5. The intricate geopolitical dynamics involving China and the United States influence the situation in Northeast India, particularly Manipur.

6. Myanmar-Manipur-Mizoram, a new corridor of smuggling opium, hashish, ganja and gold as a consequence of the 2001 US operation in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden.

7. The military actions of the Myanmar regime against Christian separatism, and its non-Buddhist Christian and Muslim citizens impacting Mizoram and Manipur.

8. The effect/ repercussions on Manipur's economy, socio-politics and demography as a result of interference by international powers purportedly in the name of the Church, to deter India's "Look East Policy."

In subsequent articles, we will delve deeper into each of these aspects of topics to gain a better understanding of the complex and multi-faceted Manipur conflict.

Let’s begin with the Meitei community. The Meiteis are Vaishnava Hindus Manipur was a princely state during British India, and like other princely states, it became part of independent India on September 21, 1949.The instrument of accession was signed by Bodh Chandra Sharma - the Maharaja of Manipur, VP Menon of the Government of India and Shri Prakash of the Government of Assam.

The beginning of Meitei separatism...

The seeds of Meitei separatism were sown on 24 November 1964 with the formation of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), led by Aryambam Samarendra Singh. The UNLF believed that the merger of Manipur with India was illegitimate and advocated for Manipur's independence. They established connections with East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and sought military training and arms supply. In 1975, under the leadership of N Bisheshwar Singh, 16 Meitei leaders met with Chinese leaders through Lhasa, initiating a strengthening of relations. The Chinese leaders aligned the Meitei leaders with Mizo and Naga militant groups.

Meitei-Kuki-Naga militant groups seeking independence from India...

On 22 May 1990, many militant organisations including Meitei militant organizations, Kuki National Army, NSCN (Khaplang) Nagas and the then powerful ULFA of Assam came together to form Indo-Burma Revolution Front as a Pan Mongoloid Coalition. The aim of this front was to wage an armed struggle for the independence of the Indo-Burma region, what we call the North East India.

With the assistance of the Pakistani army the Meitei terrorist organization UNLF established its base in Bangladesh's Chattgram district. It also established a stronghold in Myanmar with the support of Chinese army. Consequently, they had to dance to the tunes of Communist China and Jihadi Pakistan. In the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, Meitei militant groups actively supported the Pakistan Army!

Religious sectarianism - Meitei is not Hindu!

Throughout India, the church uses a common tactic to isolate groups from the broader Hindu identity on the basis of local castes and worship style, so on and so forth. Church-sponsored Shiv Dharma (Maratha society), Lingayat Dharma (Lingayats of Karnataka) are two such recent examples. This dangerous schism strategy was first experimented by Church in Manipur. “We Meiteis are Manipuri, not Indians”, and “we Meiteis are Vaishnavs, not Hindus”, were the divisions that were sown.

It was the tactic used to break Meiteis from their Indian and Hindu roots, and then finally eventually bring them into the fold of the Church. Furthermore, due to its strategic location, the North East India is an important factor in the "Great Game" of dominance in world politics. (Great Game East: India, China and the Struggle for Asia's Most Volatile Frontier- by Bertil Lintner. China sought revenge on India for providing granting political asylum to the Dalai Lama while simultaneously attempting to exert control over resource-rich Southeast Asian countries. On the other hand, during the peak of the "Cold War," America used Baptist and Presbyterian churches to forge new socio-political "identities" to resist the influence of Russia and China.

The Baptist, Presbyterian Church were funding the Kuki and Naga (Khaplang) groups of Myanmar and Manipur. And the Catholic Church to the Meitei groups! At the same time through Myanmar, the Chinese Communists and jihadi Pakistan supplied weapons to these militant groups! In a bid to avenge India's role in partition of Pakistan in 1971, Pakistan was once again rushing to help these groups in the newly created Bangladesh. With the aid of the ensuing drug and arms smuggling, these militant groups were progressively achieving economic independence but at the same time, their ethnic and geographical ambitions were igniting fresh confrontations.

NSCN-Isaac-Meitei-Kuki-Khaplang alliance against Muivah...

The NSCN (IM) is the most formidable and well-intigrated militant organization in the North East. Founded jointly by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, though the group mainly composed of Manipuri Tangkhul Nagas and holds fairly good influence in the districts of Senapati, Ukhrul, Chandel, and Tamenglong in Manipur, its political and armed control has predominantly emerged in Nagaland. They have also extended their presence into Naga-inhabited regions of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

The Isak-Muivah faction has gained significant dominance, with roughly 8000 to 10000 armed militants under their command, backed by numerous social, religious, and church-affiliated organizations, as well as youth and women's groups! Because of this influence, the Government of India agreed to a ceasefire with this militant group and the dispersal of its armed cadres amongst different camps. Within these camps, they have established an illicit tax collection system under the guise of being the "Government of the People's Republic of Nagaland-GPRN." In reality, this system is a blatant extortion, affecting the common Nagas. The collected funds are often misused by Naga militant leaders for indulgence, maintaining their armed forces, and acquiring more weapons. A portion of these funds is funnelled back into the main organization. The ceasefire agreement is routinely extended annually, and its implementation on the ground is monitored by the Ceasefire Monitoring Group - CFMG, led by an officer with the rank of Lt. General from the Indian Army.

Meitei and Greater Nagaland...

The present Nagaland has an area of 16,000 sq km and the "Nagaland for Christ" the Naga organizations and the Naga Baptist Church dreams to create is 80,000 sq km, which includes Naga-dominated parts of Assam, Arunachal, Myanmar besides the whole of Nagaland. They call it "Greater Nagaland" or "Nagalim".

In the past, discussions between the NSCN-Isak-Muivah and the Indian government used to take place in Bangkok, Thailand! The "Bangkok Accord," which was signed on June 14, 2001, was an agreement that was struck during one of such negotiations between the two parties.

However, during the yearly extension of the ceasefire, certain government officials provided misleading information while LK Advani was the Vajpayee administration's Union Home Minister. As a result, the ceasefire between the Indian Army and Isak-Muivah factions was extended beyond the geographical boundaries of present-day Nagaland!. This essentially meant that the Indian Army was then prohibited from taking military action against Isak-Muivah factions anywhere in the North East. This decision had immediate and severe repercussions in Manipur...

Manipur Flare-up of 2001!

The Meities were filled with apprehension as they faced their concerns. The truce with Isak-Muivah would extend to Manipur, potentially leading to disturbances by Naga extremists in the Imphal valley. This action, in essence, seemed like the Vajpayee government's indirect approval of including Manipur in Greater Nagaland. Consequently, the Meitei Hindus feared being forced out by Naga extremists from the valley region of Manipur, where 65% of the population resides in only 10% of the state's land.

The memory of the 1992 Naga massacre of the Kukis stirred intense anger among the Kukis residing in the hills of Manipur, resulting in widespread chaos across the entire state. The flames of unrest engulfed Manipur as the Manipur Legislative Assembly was set ablaze, government properties were destroyed, murders and shootings occurred, and thousands of citizens engaged in massive protests. The military and police faced attacks, exacerbating the turmoil within the region. Whoever proposed this notion to the central government appeared to be out of touch with ground realities. Several people were killed during this horrific episode. Eventually, on July 27, 2001, the central government retracted its decision.

The current Meitei-Kuki conflict...

As mentioned above, 53% of the total population of Manipur is Meitei and they live in Imphal-Thoubal- Kakching-Bishnupur area which is only 10% of the total size of Manipur along with various non-Meitei communities. So total 65% population of Manipur lives in only barely 10% of its area.

The Meitei community does not fall under the Scheduled Tribe category, which prevents them from relocating to the hilly regions and purchasing land occupied by the Kuki, Tangkhul Naga, and other Scheduled Tribes in Manipur. However, these tribal communities have the freedom to purchase land anywhere in Imphal and other parts of the valley, which are already densely populated and relatively more developed than the hills. Consequently, this situation has significant social, economic, and psychological implications for the Meitei community.

Over the last two decades, there has been an increasing demand by the Meitei community to be granted Scheduled Tribe status. In 2013, a petition was submitted to the High Court to address this matter. During the hearing on May 3, 2023, the court issued a notice to both the Manipur State Government and the Central Government, instructing them to make a decision on the inclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes category by May 30, 2023.

The Baptist-Presbyterian Church has been instilling a fear within the Kuki community that the Meiteis already hold significant power in Manipur's politics and government administration, and that if Meiteis are granted tribal status, their influence will extend to the hills, leading to unfair treatment for to the Kuki people. The recent court ruling aggravated this sentiment, resulting in mass displacement of both Meiteis residing in the Kuki-dominated areas and Kukis living in Meitei-dominated areas. The past two months have witnessed an unprecedented surge in violence, loss of lives, and financial damage.

After recent episodes of violence, a segment of Meitei society (although not a majority, but with significant influence) that once held the belief of "we are not Indians, we are not Hindus" is gradually relinquishing those views. Baptist and Presbyterian Church groups from various parts of the world are aggressively advocating globally for the rights of Kukis, and vilifying the Meitei community.

The influence of these lobbying efforts is evident as the European Parliament recently has been discussing the Manipur violence as on July 12. In reality, the church instigated violence in the hilly regions of Manipur through a "tribal solidarity march," right after the court decision concerning Meitei Scheduled Tribe status, which triggered a backlash in the Meitei-dominated areas. But, now the Meitei Hindus are now being globally portrayed as the antagonists.

This article focuses on aspects of Meitei Vaishnav Hindu society. Subsequent discussions regarding the aforementioned points will be presented in an upcoming article.

--- Vinay Joshi.