60 killed, 1,700 houses burnt: Manipur CM calls for calm

By, Imphal
May 09, 2023 12:17 AM IST

The full extent of the violence is yet to be fully documented.

Around 60 people died, another 231 were injured, and 1,700 houses were gutted in the ethnic violence that convulsed Manipur last week, chief minister N Biren Singh said on Monday, announcing a high-level inquiry to fix accountability for the clashes that swept the state.

Health workers with people from violence-hit areas, in Cachar. (PTI)
Health workers with people from violence-hit areas, in Cachar. (PTI)

Also read: Thousands rescued as Manipur remains tense

Singh’s statements marked his first public reaction since violence broke out in the state last Wednesday and laid bare the scale of the violence when he confirmed that 35,655 people were evacuated from their homes to safer locations.

“As per the available records we have now, around 60 people have died, all of whom were innocent. 231 people have been injured that include both serious and minor injuries, and around 1,700 houses were burnt down. This is a very unfortunate incident,” Singh said, in the first confirmation of casualties by the state government.

The full extent of the violence — which saw thousands flee their homes into jungles, relief camps and even across state borders to escape mobs that torched houses, shops and religious places, and thrashed people, including a sitting lawmaker — is yet to be fully documented.

“A high-level inquiry will be conducted to fix responsibility on persons or groups behind the violence and government servants who failed to discharge their responsibilities. I appeal to all not to spread or believe unfounded and baseless rumours,” he added.

As violence abated and thousands of security personnel swarmed narrow hill lanes to restore order, people cautiously stepped out of their homes to stock up on scarce essential supplies whose prices have spiralled in a state where supplies and fuel have to be brought in from other states. In the capital Imphal, curfew was relaxed for the second consecutive day between 5am and 8am, allowing people to walk to markets and petrol pumps.

While grocery and vegetable stores opened, several residents said they were struggling with skyrocketing prices and scarcity. “Petrol is scarce, and there are several black-marketeers that are taking advantage of the situation. I had to pay 250 rupees for a litre of petrol,” one Imphal-based autorikshaw driver said, requesting anonymity.

Clashes first broke out on Wednesday in Churachandpur town after tribal Kuki groups called for protests against a proposed tweak to the state’s reservation matrix, granting scheduled tribe (ST) status to the majority Meitei community. Violence quickly engulfed the state where ethnic fault lines run deep, displacing thousands of people who fled burning homes and neighbourhoods.Internet services continue to remain suspended.

Singh said that he considered the incident on May 3 “most unfortunate” and added that the Manipur government initiated many steps to bring back stranded people to their residence, including setting up a three-member ministerial sub-committee to oversee the process.

“Transportation of persons who have been stranded in various districts like Churachandpur, Ukhrul, Imphal West, Imphal East etc to return to their respective homes has started. All those people stranded at different locations in Manipur are being provided best possible care and support in safe locations and shelter camps. Union home minister Amit Shah has been monitoring the situation from the day of the incident till today and has sent many companies of central forces,” Singh said.

A veil of uneasy truce continued to hang over the state. Other than the three hours in the morning, the streets were deserted except for personnel of the Indian Army, Assam Rifles and paramilitary forces, pressed into service to restore normalcy from May 4.

The crisis began on April 19, when the Manipur high court asked the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government to submit recommendations to the Union government to consider inclusion of Meiteis in the ST list. Meiteis comprise around 53% of the state’s population, are largely Hindus and live in the Imphal valley region. The move sparked concerns among the tribal populations, which live in the hill districts and constitute about 40% of the state’s population. Manipur has 31% reservation for STs in jobs and education.

On May 3, thousands of tribal people took out a solidarity march in the state’s 10 hill districts. In Churachandpur, miscreants set ablaze a portion of the Anglo-Kuki War Memorial, sparking clashes. Retaliatory attacks quickly spread to various parts of the state. Over the next two days, visuals showed violent protests, with vehicles, shops and homes burnt and damaged, and both sides claiming targeted attacks.

On Monday, multiple state governments continued the process of identifying and evacuating their residents from Manipur. A special flight carrying students from Maharashtra reached Mumbai on Monday evening, with chief minister Eknath Shinde speaking to the students before they boarded.

Also read: ‘No grudges’: Meiteis, Kukis fleeing clashes in Manipur share camp

In Bihar, chief minister Nitish Kumar instructed the Delhi resident commissioner to establish contact with students in Manipur, who will be ferried to Imphal in buses and flown to Patna by a special flight in the next few days.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said that he spoke to Singh about the evacuation of four Delhi students. Assam sent a police team to Manipur to provide assistance or facilitate the return of Assamese people stuck in the state. “Some people are coming back, but most people don’t want to return. We are helping those who want to come back,” Assam director general of police GP Singh said.

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