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Govt Will Have to Rise above Politics for Peace in Manipur, Says Prof Salim Engineer

PROFESSOR MOHAMMED SALIM ENGINEER, Vice President of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, is a professor at NIT-Jaipur with a Ph.D. in 4G Mobile Communication Technology. His areas of research are Wireless Communication, Coding and Image Processing. Prof Salim is also General Secretary of Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity (FDCA) and the Convenor of Kendriya Dharmik Jan Morcha, a joint national forum of religious leaders. Recently he headed a high-level JIH delegation to Manipur to assess the ground reality there. In an interview with MOHD NAUSHAD KHAN, he said the Government will have to show will power and rise above politics to find long-lasting solution and restore peace in Manipur. Excerpts:

What is your reading of the reason and scale of violence in Manipur?

We met local people of both sides. The first impression we gathered is that Manipur has been divided into two parts – the hilly areas controlled by Kukis and the plains by Meiteis. It is so divided that no one from any part can trespass to either side. There appears to be no role of the police and the state government.

The possible reason behind the violence was the Manipur High Court gave a direction to Manipur government to give ST status to the Meiteis and to consider them Tribals. The Kukis and Nagas were opposed to it. On May 3 the Meiteis marched towards the hilly areas dominated by Kukis. The protest was intervened by the Kukis; thereafter violence began against Kukis in plain areas controlled by Meiteis.

Houses and shops were targeted and burnt. The violence starting from the plains spread to hilly areas and Kukis attacked in retaliation to the violence against them by Meiteis. Now four months have passed but violence and killings are still there.

As per official records, 198 persons (120 Kukis and the rest Meiteis) lost their lives and the number of the injured is also big; 249 churches (official figure 221) and 17 mandirs were attacked and destroyed. The hatred and animosity between the two communities appears to be very deep.

Around 274 villages, including 158 Meitei villages, 83 Kukis’ and 33 with mixed population have been destroyed, and 6,523 FIRs registered. Muslim villages were also affected during crossfire. Kwakta, the place where Muslims live in large numbers is now a buffer zone between Kukis and Meiteis.

What is your impression about the violence? Was it impromptu or pre-planned?

It appears that it was pre-planned by Meiteis to intrude into hilly areas. Meiteis believe they are more in population but reside in a very small area. The plain area is about 10% where around 55-60% Meiteis live. Muslims are also in the plain areas and live with Meiteis. In hilly areas, which is around 90% where Kukis and Nagas live. The plain areas are very prosperous, all cultivations are done here. While in hilly areas there is no source of livelihood.

If Meiteis are given tribal status, they can buy lands in hilly areas and get entitled to the reservation the tribals enjoy there. Now the hilly areas are protected by tribals and only Kukis can live there. Meiteis always wanted to intrude into hilly areas legally or even illegally and the idea behind the protest on May 3 was also to push Kukis further and get control of some hilly areas. Even the state government is fully backing Meiteis.

Even before the High Court order, efforts were made by invoking laws like Forest Act to claim it to be an illegal occupation by Kukis and drive them away or evacuate them from their lands to be later on occupied by the Meiteis. It is also believed that Plan A was to join the evacuated hilly lands with the mainland and Plan B was to invite big corporates there to exploit the areas and reap the benefit therefrom.

Will the tribal status for Meiteis impact tribal areas in other North Eastern states geographically and demographically?

In Manipur, it will definitely impact the demography and geography of the state, affecting job opportunity for tribals because of reservation. If Meiteis also become tribal, and reservation is fixed, the employment opportunity of people living in tribal areas will get hampered. Yes, it is believed that tribal status for Meiteis may impact other North Eastern states because many in the plain areas may also demand tribal status and reservation as well.

How do you see the role of police, and state government? Why is it so that the violence is not controlled even after four months?

In Manipur, division is so intense that even the administration and the police are divided in terms of Kukis and Meiteis. Even police and people from administration who are Kukis are with Kukis and officials from Meiteis are supporting Meiteis. It is therefore very easy to understand how deeply Manipur is divided today. Even bureaucrats and government officials belonging to Kuki and Meitei communities, big or small, have left their places to be on the safer side as of now.

Even the officers have not been spared; their houses too have been torched and burnt. The DGP of Manipur, who was Kuki, was replaced just after the violence started. Not even a single Kuki officer can be seen in Meitei dominated areas; the same is the situation in Kuki dominated areas.

You may have talked to local people there. What kind of solution they want and how feasible are their demands?

We found both the communities blaming each other. They accuse each other as terrorists and militants involved in drug dealings and contacts with Burma and so on. If you meet Kukis, they will blame Meiteis for all the problems in the state like committing atrocities against Kukis, wanting to grab their lands, belongings and occupation and to take away their ST status as well. The Meiteis claim, Kukis feel, that Manipur is their ancestral property and they have the full rights over it; they consider Kukis second-class citizens and even foreigners.

Kukis and Nagas are totally Christian. There also appears to be some kind of communal angle to it and it is further widening the gap between Kukis and Meiteis. As a result of it, one can see a large numbers of churches destroyed in Imphal areas dominated by Meiteis.

Muslims, who are called Meiteis Pangal, are around 8.5 per cent. They live in plain areas along with Meiteis. The role of Muslims has been very positive throughout. The Muslims helped Kukis who were in trouble in Meitei dominated areas; they even protected and rescued Kukis with the help of military personnel. Muslims also helped the Meiteis who were in Kuki areas close to Kwakta.

Muslims have helped both the communities. As they live with Meiteis, they were easily able to approach them and help them. If Meiteis come to know that Muslims have in any way helped Kukis, the Muslims could also be attacked by the Meiteis. They don’t like Muslims to help the Kukis in any way. The mainland and the hilly areas are so isolated that nothing can go to and forth, not even water or medicines or any other essential items.

The state government should have ensured that relief material could easily go from one place to another. The Meiteis have the access to all kinds of facilities and relief material while nothing reaches the Kukis as Meiteis have blocked the way to hilly areas. The Kukis however are getting relief from the Mizoram and Assam sides which reach them after 400-500 kms long road journey.

In Manipur assembly there are 60 MLAs, including 10 Kukis and 3 Muslims. Very recently an assembly session was called but it lasted for only 9 minutes. Kuki MLAs are not even in a position to attend the assembly as they cannot go to Imphal. There is no protection; the role of military has been reduced to a great extent.

Some militant groups of Meiteis are reportedly working behind the scene; they had taken shelter in Burma and have now come back and are underground in Meiteis-dominated mainland. It is also said that this militant group wants independence of Manipur. Kukis believe that if military is deployed there, it can control the situation but the military has been confined to particular Kuki areas.

Meiteis don’t want presence of military in their areas. If military is deployed there, it will trace Meitei militants; that’s why Meiteis do not want presence of military in their areas. Even the state government doesn’t want the presence of military in these areas.

It is surprising that there has been no action against the state government, Governor rule has also not been imposed despite complete failure of law and order in the state. With the kind of same situation elsewhere, the government would have acted swiftly. It is also said that in the last elections in Manipur, the government provided ID and election cards to the Kukis who had come from Burma and they voted for the BJP. There are BJP MLAs and ministers from the Kuki community.

As you said, the role of Muslims was very positive but it is also said that they are on the edge and apprehensive as well?

Some 30 years ago, in 1993, in the mainland a large number of Muslims were killed in a largescale violence by Meiteis. It is there in the minds of Muslims; that’s why they are always apprehensive and remain cautious despite the fact that Muslims have helped the Meiteis, they live with the Meiteis and enjoy good relations. But the 1993 horror has not been erased from their subconscious mind.

Some groups also tried to divert the whole situation through rumours against Muslims and to make it Muslim versus Meiteis but they could not succeed. Fascist forces have started working there and have formed small organisations.

Meiteis are originally not Hindus. The Raja of Meiteis had accepted Hinduism; therefore, Meiteis also followed the Hindu religion. The religion of Meiteis was called Sanamahi. One movement is also going on side by side within Meiteis who do not want to be called Hindus as they want to return to their own religion.

The Centre and the state governments do not have the will power that is required to resolve the crisis. To avoid any kind of political damage, they are not trying to find out either immediate or long-lasting solutions. What is more worrying is that people from both the communities have lost faith in the state and the central governments. As per the latest report, even some Meiteis have expressed anger against the ruling dispensation.

What according to you should be the long-lasting solution for the people in Manipur when we see that all stakeholders have failed to act?

Any problem ultimately should be resolved through dialogue. The Central government should try to take both the communities into confidence, hear their pleas, concerns and consider their genuine demands without thinking of any kind of political advantage or disadvantage. The division is so sharp that the Kukis are now demanding that they should have a separate administration. But it has to be seen whether it could be possible in a state and what would be its implications. The Kuki BJP MLAs are also demanding the same. When we asked people from both the communities as to what they think should be the solution, they remained tight-lipped and any kind of solution to them appeared to be a distant dream. The government will have to show will power and rise above politics; then only long-lasting solution can be found and peace will prevail there.

Generally, rehabilitation process starts after one month of violence but in Manipur four months have passed but no one is even talking of rehabilitation. Have you noticed any national or international NGOs working there for rehabilitation?

Around 65,000 people – 30,000 Meiteis and 35,000 Kukis – including 14,000 children, are living there in camps. No relief agencies, national or international, were there. We tried to have a look at destroyed houses and places but we were not allowed to do so and it was almost completely sealed and no one was allowed to assess the real damage done. There is no plan of rehabilitation neither from government side nor from any rehabilitation agency.

Do you think civil societies of both communities in Manipur and elsewhere should try to reach out to the people in Manipur to placate the situation there?

As I have already said, no one, not even the members of civil societies can go everywhere. It is very difficult to move in Manipur from one area to another.

Muslims are the only link for both the communities. As someone said even journalists who want to visit Manipur will have to hire Muslim drivers; then only they can visit the places dominated by Kukis or Meiteis. However, the only way forward is dialogue and the government should try to resolve crisis in Manipur. Civil society can help in that process to achieve peace there.

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