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The Hindu
The Hindu
National
Abhinay Lakshman

After fresh killings, Kuki-Zo people in Churachandpur, Kangpokpi take to streets

Protests erupted across Manipur’s Churachandpur and Kangpokpi districts and in New Delhi by Kuki-Zo people after two “village volunteers” from the community were killed in firing near Kangpokpi district on Saturday. This comes even as a Kuki students’ body in Delhi NCR wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, stating that the latter’s visit to Manipur was “a must” now and that Mr. Shah must promise the Kuki-Zo people in writing to settle the conflict once and for all.

The violence came after a lull of over a month and days ahead of polls in the State, jolting the Kuki-Zo community to take to the streets in both Kangpokpi and Churachandpur. Throughout the last week, as political parties in the State found covert ways to campaign in light of the conflict, voters in both constituencies expressed no enthusiasm towards the upcoming Lok Sabha elections on April 19 and 26.

The violence and the protests come amid reports that Home Minister Amit Shah was to visit Imphal for campaigning.

Meanwhile, a group of Kuki-Zo women, including journalists, social workers, former MP of Outer Manipur Kim Gangte and leaders of Kuki-Zomi-Hmar women’s forums in Delhi, have written to the Chief Election Commissioner of India Rajiv Kumar, informing him of their decision, as representatives of the “Global Kuki-Zomi-Hmar Women community”, to boycott the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

In their letter, the women said, “With a heavy heart we would like to inform you of the decision of the women in our community to exercise their constitutional and legal right to boycott the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections. This decision does not come lightly, but as a culmination of their disillusionment and lack of trust in the current administrations, both at the national and state levels.”

In Churachandpur’s Motbung area, Kuki-Zo civil society organisations and apex tribe bodies held a march, where thousands of people showed up with posters and banners, one of which read: “Protest against the inhuman killing of two village volunteers.”

The Committee on Tribal Unity, meanwhile, issued a statement calling for a day-long shutdown across Kangpokpi district and the Kuki Students’ Organisation (KSO) in Churachandpur has called for a candle-light vigil near the “Wall of Remembrance” at the playground opposite the DC office in the district.

Protests and demands

In Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, the KSO’s Delhi NCR unit and the Kuki-Zo Women’s Forum, Delhi organised a protest on Sunday morning, during which hundreds of people showed up holding posters pointing out the failure of the N. Biren Singh-led government of Manipur and others saying, “Nincompoop like Biren cannot lead a multi ethnic state”. Another protester had shown up with a poster saying, “Want peace? Give us same amount of govt guns”. 

DCP (New Delhi) Devesh Kumar, however, claimed that only 10-15 protesters from Manipur had gathered to protest at Jantar Mantar. Since they did not have prior permission to stage a protest at the site, they were asked to leave the premises and seek permission for protest later. All protesters returned, he said.

In their memorandums to the Prime Minister, Home Minister, President, and Leader of the Opposition, the KSO’s Delhi NCR chapter said that armed radical Meitei outfits like the Arambai Tenggol, with assistance from Valley-based insurgent groups and forces of the Manipur Police, had attacked a Kuki-Zo village near Kangpokpi on Saturday, leading to the killing and mutilation of the Kuki-Zo village volunteers.

The body appealed that the intended visit of Home Minister Shah was now a “must” and that the visit should “sympathetically assure the Kukis in [writing] to settle once and for all the problems”.

Call for redressal measures

Meanwhile, multiple CSOs and apex tribe bodies have issued statements over the recent violence — from asking people to exercise restraint as much as possible to asking them to pray for a peaceful voting process and appeals to vote for “secularism”.

The Kuki Inpi Manipur issued a statement on Sunday saying, “It is only apt for the government of India to deliberate on the use of its resources, funds, and arms and ammunitions for terrorist activities within its own borders and correspondingly take appropriate redressal measures.”

Furthermore, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), which emerged as a conglomerate of tribal bodies in Churachandpur when the violence began, said in a statement issued on Saturday, “Central security forces are deployed to maintain peace and remain neutral, but their actions today have raised many questions ahead of the Lok Sabha election.” The ITLF added that the mortal remains of the two village volunteers were yet to be returned to the families and asked the Central security forces to expedite this process.

The COTU also said, “While endorsing the electoral due process of the upcoming Parliamentary Election, the Committee is appalled at the state Election Commission’s indifference attitude towards the rampant movement of secessionist Meitei militants in the valley districts” and called it “a disservice to the democratic set up of a country”.

‘Pray for peaceful polls’

And amidst the renewed violence in the State, the Churachandpur District Christians Goodwill Council issued a public appeal, calling for everyone to pray for a peaceful conduct of the elections. It called the elections a time to “reflect deeply on the critical issues confronting us. It is a time to stand firm and resolute, not to be swayed by the lust for money and power”. It added that the people should seek a candidate who best embodied the “principles of religious tolerance, and freedom of worship”. 

The church body’s public appeal also comes a day after another statement issued by the Senapati District Catholic Union, which accused the Arambai Tenggol of hoisting a “Salai Taret” flag — associated with Sanamahism — atop the St George Catholic Prayer Mount in Sugnu area of Manipur.

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