Manipur: The Relentless Saga of State-Sponsored Terrorism – Interview with Dr Lamtinthang Hoakip

It’s almost three months since Manipur, the Northeastern State of World’s largest democratic nation started burning due to unbearable ethnic clashes. The current and overall political condition of India is also not much better than this. And this is how Dr Lamtinthang Hoakip, responds to the ongoing tribal cleansing and brutalities associated with it.

Dr Lamtinthang Hoakip is the former Coordinator of the Kuki Research Forum as well as the Kuki Students organisation. He is a visionary, a true leader and a social activist. Mr Hoakip currently serves as the Vice President of Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee.

We have a tribal woman at the President’s office. And at the same time, two Kuki tribal women were assaulted, paraded naked, and gang-raped in Manipur. The Manipur Chief Minister Mr Biren Singh himself confesses that there have been several similar incidents happening all over the State. But amidst all of this, heartbreakingly the army and police remain helpless. India has a proper federal-democratic system in its governance. But unable to remain true to the vows of safety and security it has ensured to the citizens. Why is this happening? What do you think of it?

The history as well as the current condition of the Indian State of Manipur is beyond description. Life in Manipur becomes day by day more hostile and unfriendly. Since the outbreak of riots in 3 May 2023, the state government’s entire defence and law mechanisms have remained impotent.

Mr Biren Singh, the Chief Minister and leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is well aware of what has happened so far. “This is not the first case or an isolated one. There are several similar incidents taking place at various parts of the State”, said Mr Singh while responding to the controversies that emerged after a video of two Kuki tribal women stripped and paraded in public went viral.

He is the Chief Minister of the State and where was he at that time? What was he doing? What did he do to stop such activities? Hard to believe, but it is true that Mr Singh was clearly aware of every illegal and inhumane situation that happened in Manipur. As Chief Minister, Mr Singh has lost control over the State and its legal system. In this point of view, the time he has to submit the resignation letter and leave his chair has been exceeded already.

However, the influence of Biren Singh, the BJP leader, has grown even stronger. His own patronised terrorist militant groups based in Imphal, the capital of Manipur, are controlling the entire State now.

Therefore, I would undoubtedly say that what is happening in Manipur right now is a government-sponsored genocide or ethnic violence. It is an attempt of annihilation unleashed by the State under the leadership of its Metei faction. Their targets are tribal people including the Kukis and Nagas.

Sometimes, it seems that the Meitei mothers are more powerful than all of them. Because they are raising their sons to rape and kill the Kuki young women.

How do you understand and connect the ongoing Manipur conflict to its geopolitical scenario as well as to the long history of NorthEast India’s violent ethnic clashes?

This is not the first time that Manipur has been engulfed by mob-violence and riots. Tensions prevailed in the State in the early 80s and 90s also. But in stark contrast to the present condition, there existed a government which handled things in a very efficient and positive manner. In fact Manipur survived in help of such governments who did not give up control of the State in adverse circumstances.

Considering the geopolitical condition of Manipur, ninety percent of the State’s total landscape is dominated by tribal groups including the Kuki’s and Naga’s, who are mostly minority Christians. The valley areas, including Imphal, are mainly under the control of Meiteis. They constitute 60 percent of the total population of the State, whereas tribals constitute only 35-40 percent of the population.

Thus Meitis, who handle the majoritarian politics, have always tried to dominate and annex the hilly tribal lands by formulating new laws and policies. Consultations, plannings and negotiations for this have been going on for a long time with the help of Biren Singh.

The majority politics played by the Meitis and Biren Singh is trying to show and impose their superiority and dominance over the minority tribal groups. In support, different policies and laws have been implemented without taking consideration of the landholding tribal people.

Article 371C (a special provision with respect to the State of Manipur), the Forest Right Acts of 2016, and The North-Eastern Council Act, 1971 (an act that provides for the setting up of a Council for the north-eastern areas of India to be called the North-Eastern Council and for matters connected therewith) already provides special facilities to the tribal communities in protecting their land, culture, traditions, and identity. These are policies and laws established by democratic and constitutional means, which the BJP government continuously tries to curtail and suppress. The current violence and ethnic cleansing aimed at the Kuki community is an accumulation of similar chain of events that took place in the past.

At present, only 20 of the 60 seats in Manipur Legislative Assembly are reserved for tribals. The remaining 40 belong to the Meitei majority community. This itself clearly reflects the socio-political-economic inequality and disparity prevailing in Manipur.

For example, all the major facilities and infrastructures including, schools, agricultural advancements, universities and hospitals are mostly based in Imphal. Only two or three secondary schools are available in hilly areas. Recently one or two universities and medical colleges were established.

Even Though comparatively most of the infrastructure systems are functioning down there from the Imphal valley, the Meiteis are now arguing for permission to occupy the hilly areas which are reserved for tribals.

In short, negating or curtailing  or suppressing the constitutional rights of the tribal people in the State of Manipur culminates in all these violences.

‘Hope renews and visions get clearer as and when we are in the midst of young minds and friends sharing our concern together for the future’. You have said this as a photo caption. But still in Manipur a huge number of young minds remain unconcerned of this bright and peaceful future. They are struck in the loop of unending violence. What’s your take on this? Does our education system have nothing to do with this?

The younger generation of Manipur are there in the forefront of resistance and agitations. It is not because they are unconcerned about their future. They are there for the future!

They don’t have any other option to protect their ancestral land. They don’t have any other option to protect their women, children, parents, and sisters – from the onslaught of the Metei terrorist groups.

The situation compels them to lead the path of revolution even though a bright future lies ahead. They are not forced but they evolute themselves to fight and defend their land and people. Unfortunately their future itself is in question. These people are giving less importance to their future only to protect their land from the invasion of foreign powers.

The BJP forces are trying to make it appear that the ongoing riots in Manipur are between two religious beliefs – the Hindus and the Christians. But it must be assumed that their efforts have failed.

On one side it’s ‘Ache Din’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Make in India’, and ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’. But on the otherhand it is stories of mob lynching, ethnic violence, discrimination, massacres, and religious riots. Why this contrast?

The BJP government and their policies led by Mr Narendra Modi, even though I respect him as a person, are not concerned about citizens.

They are only trying to spread their power through self-generated slogans. Our daughters and sisters are not at all safe in the hands of such extremist organisations. The BJP’s slogan of ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ has apparently nothing to do with their real scenarios of our women. Their care and sentiments have nothing to do other than in the time of elections.

Believe me, the government will definitely take advantage of what has happened in Manipur in the 2024 parliamentary elections saying, “it was a communal tension between its Christians and Hindus where the Hindus met danger”. This is exactly what they have done so far in other Indian states including Gujarat.

The BJP and their leaders are always interested in party politics, communal controversies, and methods to ensure power. They are not in the least concerned with the lives of the citizens of India.

‘Government asks Twitter to remove Manipur women paraded naked video: under probe’ – By Hindustan Times. ‘Internet services remain suspended in Manipur as Govt extends ban’ – By Outlook India. Is the shutting down of technology supported methods enough to put out the fire in Manipur?

Terminating communication possibilities in tension affected areas can some extent help to pacify the situation from advancing to further violence.

Even Though it says the internet has been completely suspended, selective places and people in the valley are still in control of it. Same is the case with print and electronic media. So the narratives, reports, and videos circulated in social media are fake propagandas in the interest of the majority Meiteis to portray them as victims and Kukis as the rioters in public.

In reality, by suspending the internet connectivity, the Imphal valley people are taking advantage of twisting the ground reality.

There are studies saying that even decades after India’s independence, very little has been done to foster the understanding between different communities regarding one another’s history, culture and traditions. How could this condition be bridged?

India is a democratic as well as a secular nation. Manipur, which is a ‘mini-India’, has more than 34 tribal groups and their own dialects, cultures, traditions and practices.

Even after 70 years of India’s independence and 50 years since Manipur merged with the Indian Union, the majority of the Meiteis are not ready to understand or respect the country’s plurality and diversity. And they are continually making all efforts to establish their supremacy and dominance over the minority communities. They are always selfish in their own affairs. The minority community across India are also facing similar problems.

We have a uniform criminal code. We have a strongly built constitution. But Manipur is still burning and has been burning for months. And our government is now arguing for a Uniform Civil Code. What is your take on the urgent introduction of Uniform Civil Code while other prestigious rules and regulations introduced decades before are still in question?

The BJP’s imposition of the UCC, against the interest of the citizens of India and without taking into account the diversity of the country, is completely contrary to the preamble as well as the basics of the Constitution of India. It also rejects the visions and dreams of Mahatma Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar for the future generations of India and thereby openly undermines our nation’s democratic systems.

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