Indian Troops Get ‘Shoot On Sight’ Order In Manipur

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  • As thousands move to army camps amid escalating violence
  • Authorities struggle to bring inter-ethnic tensions under control
Troops fire teargas in Imphal, the capital of Manipur state. (Insert is a vehicle in Imphal allegedly set ablaze by Meitei groups demanding ‘scheduled tribe’ status)

As deadly clashes between tribal and non-tribal groups continue for the third day, Indian troops have been deployed to the north-eastern state of Manipur with orders to “shoot on sight” and enforce a curfew.

According to reports, the violence and arson have forced about 9,000 people to flee their homes in the remote state, which borders Myanmar, even as the state government is yet to give the number of deaths so far recorded.

However, the Chief Minister, N Biren Singh, said that “precious lives have been lost” and at least 20 people were reportedly injured, including two local politicians.

On Friday, authorities announced they had evacuated about 20,000 people to camps under army protection to prevent further escalation.

Police and paramilitary personnel have been unable to rein in the clashes, which broke out on Wednesday, forcing the Home Ministry to send in the army on Thursday. More troops may yet be deployed, authorities have said. Mobs of people have burned cars and buildings, vandalised shops and hotels, and destroyed churches.

The violence arises from ancient ethnic faultlines between the majority Meitei community, which is largely Hindu and lives in the valley in Imphal, and the predominantly Christian tribes who live in the surrounding hills. The tribes, mainly Nagas and Kukis, form about 40 percent of the state’s 3.5 million people.

For two decades, the Meitei have demanded to be given the status of a “scheduled tribe”, making them eligible for reserved quotas in government jobs and colleges.

The tribes argue that the Meitei community is already the majority, more affluent and educated, and more powerful politically, with greater representation in the State Assembly.

Though tensions have been simmering for some time, the trigger for the violence was an order from Manipur High Court last month urging the state government to push ahead with approving the demand for scheduled tribe status. On Wednesday, the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur reacted by staging a protest in Churachandpur, a hill district, against the court ruling.

Television footage showed the protest turning violent, with rival groups setting fire to houses. The violence spread to other areas and police were unable to restore law and order.

The evacuation has focused on moving Meitei people out of areas dominated by the tribes and vice versa. Schools, colleges, offices, and shops remain shut and internet access continues to be banned.

The families have been moved out of their homes in different parts of the state to safety in makeshift shelters inside government and army buildings.

A civil servant, Kapsuanlian Tungnung, who lives in Churachandpur where the violence first broke out before spreading to other districts and the capital, Imphal, said he had spoken to friends and relatives in Imphal who had been moved to a relief camp.

“They can hear crowds outside threatening to kill them and they are very scared. They are getting basic food and water from army supplies but the conditions are cramped with not enough space to sleep and the sense of fear is very high,” he said.

A freelance journalist, Moses Lianzachin, hinted that the violence had not been controlled. “I have seen videos showing that at least 27 churches have been burnt down,” he said.

Meanwhile, India’s Home Minister, Amit Shah, is currently campaigning for his party in the ongoing election in the southern state of Karnataka and is said to have no plans to visit Manipur for now. – With The Guardian reports

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