The tragic death of eighteen army personnel on Thursday in a militant attack has once again brought forth the attention of the nation and the world to the northeast state of Manipur, home to over 2.2 million people and located on the Indo-Myanmar border. The ambush is not the only one that has taken place on military convoys over the years in Manipur. In January 2014, four Border Security Force (BSF) personnel were killed in an ambush in Imphal East. Before that six Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed in 2007.
Following the latest attack, a high-level meeting was attended by the defence minister, home minister and national security advisor along with army chief to review the situation. Following the meeting, an order given to immediately launch “all-out search and destroy” operations. And within no time, military combing operations started in Manipur.
Any loss of human life is an irreparable loss for the families left behind and many across the country have condemned the attack. However, the question remains, “Is military solution the only answer to the ongoing conflict in Manipur?” Will it bring lasting peace ? Our answer is a simple no.
Manipur’s conflict is one of the longest running in the northeast with the highest number of casualties. Manipur was a former princely kingdom that had its own written constitution. It merged with the Union of India on October 15, 1949 but many say it was under “duress”, and the genesis of the insurgency today.
This year alone 46 lives have been lost in the state. Overall, over 20,000 people have been confirmed dead since violence started. Over 20,000 women have been widowed in the conflict. The Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network was started in 2007 to respond to humanitarian crisis faced by women survivors.
From 1992 till 2015, 2248 civilians, 2763 non-state armed rebels and 984 security personnel have been reportedly killed in the state.
These killings in Manipur and in the whole of northeast must stop, whether of army, rebels or civilians. The tragic loss of lives on Thursday should serve as a wake-up call for ensuring lasting solutions for peace to be worked out.
It is about time that government of India acknowledged the 60-year-old armed conflict in Manipur take steps to address this.
Armed forces have been present in Manipur for over 60 years backed by the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, yet peace is yet to dawn in the state. Military alone cannot bring peace here. Lack of understanding has resulted in wrong policies resulting in severe casualties.
No surgical military operation in Manipur can resolve a 60-year-old crisis. The Northeast region shares 98% of its boundary with five countries and its location is very geo-strategic.
700,000 youth, that is 25% of the population of Manipur are classified by the government as ‘educated unemployed’. Extremely bad governance feeds the cycle of violence here. Dialogue and development therefore is the need of hour to resolve the conflict along with participation of women in peace building and reconciliation processes which is missing at moment.
In these bleak times of war, conflict and deaths, we remember the brave women, the mothers of Manipur who have for over six decades have led the strongest, credible and non-violent movement urging the government and armed outfits to bring a lasting solutions for peace but no one ever listened or included them in peace talks or negotiations.
There are currently 17 peace talks going on in different stages in the northeast but there are no women in the negotiations. No peace can come without women’s participation in Manipur, India or the world.
In 2010, the Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace was launched for this and now efforts are on for founding a women-led national action plan on women, peace and security issues.
Nation-building cannot be done at gun point. It has to be done with lot of love, care, dignity and respect. Military solutions and Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act have failed in Manipur and the northeast for over sixty years.
It is time the nation realises this and initiates alternative peace-filled steps to end the conflict for once and year.
(The author is founder of Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network/Control Arms Foundation of India and is convenor of Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace. She tweets at @BinaNepram. Views expressed are personal.)