It was in 2022 that this journalist had travelled to different parts of Manipur to cover the state elections. The second visit to Manipur within a year and the scenario was completely the opposite – the buzz was replaced with deserted roads and closed shops, in a sign of the ongoing tough times.
As the News18 team reached the airport, our press cards were checked and photocopied by police. On our way out, a police personnel told us: “Outgoing passengers are more than incoming. Very few passengers are coming here. Hope things will fall into place soon.”
That was the ground reality. Our plane had fewer passengers, while the airport was full of tense faces, waiting to exit the state.
The thick security presence adds to the tension, as the curfew keeps all, barring medical stores, shut. Policemen check each car and man every narrow lane. The burnt houses and material strewn around roads act as reminders of the fresh violence. Citizens mostly stay indoors.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah is set to visit Manipur on Monday evening and meet the security forces and CM Biren Singh. The home minister will be in the state from May 29 to June 1. Shah will hold several rounds of security meetings to assess the situation and plan further steps to restore normalcy. He is also expected to meet representatives from the civil society and various groups of the Meitei and the Kuki communities.
The clashes, which have claimed over 75 lives, first broke out in Manipur after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts on May 3 to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. The violence was preceded by tension over the eviction of Kuki villagers from reserve forest land, which had led to a series of smaller agitations.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribals Nagas and Kukis constitute another 40 per cent of the population and reside in the hill districts.
Around 140 columns of the Indian Army and Assam Rifles, comprising over 10,000 personnel, besides those from other paramilitary forces, had to be deployed to bring back normalcy in the northeastern state.
Biren Singh had said nearly 40 armed militants involved in torching houses and firing at civilians have been killed by security forces since they began an operation to bring peace to the northeastern state beset by ethnic rioting.
The latest clashes began after the army and paramilitary forces commenced combing operations to de-arm communities in order to bring peace, officials said.
Citizens, security forces and government machinery all want peace in Manipur. With shops closed, security forces try to bring in essential commodities, even as prices continue to soar.
At the government DIPR canteen, Mashi sells food items. “With high cost of petrol, all prices are soaring.”
A local who came to have food in that canteen said, “Yesterday, we ate omelette paratha for Rs 40, today the price is RS 60.”
For the past two days, Meira Paibi, a women’s intellectual group, known as torch-bearers, have blocked roads, even stopping security forces. Devrani, one of the members of the group, said, “We did not start the violence, others did it. Armed people should be caught…We want peace.”
Both the communities want peace, but the question remains — Which model will normalise Manipur and when?
With PTI Inputs