‘Shoot-at-sight’ orders issued after violence in India’s Manipur

Army deployed and curfew imposed after violence erupts between tribal and non-tribal groups over constitutional demands.

A scooterist rides past a damaged water tanker that was set afire during a protest by tribal groups in Churachandpur district.
A scooter rider drives past a damaged water tanker that was set afire during a protest by tribal groups in Churachandpur district in Manipur state, India [Reuters]

Authorities in the northeast Indian state of Manipur have issued “shoot-at-sight” orders as soldiers patrol the streets and enforce a curfew to quell violence between tribal and non-tribal groups, officials said on Thursday.

To prevent more violence, state Governor Anusuiya Uikey issued an order on Thursday authorising magistrates to shoot protesters “in extreme cases where warnings and reasonable force don’t work”.

District magistrates oversee the police and can act as judges for minor offences.

India’s Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah spoke to N Biren Singh, the chief minister of Manipur, on Thursday and decided to send reinforcements from the federal Rapid Action Force to restore peace in the state.

Indian army officials told local media that about 9,000 people were evacuated from violence-hit districts to other areas and being sheltered in government premises and army camps after protesters vandalised shops and businesses, including hotels, and set some homes on fire.

“We are working on a war footing with army and paramilitary troopers deployed in strength to defuse any kind of communal clashes, protests, and blockades,” a senior police officer, who sought anonymity, told Reuters from the state capital of Imphal.

Internet services suspended

Mobile internet services have been suspended for five days statewide, amid incidents of fighting among young men and volunteers of different communities, the state government said in a statement.

In a social media post, Chief Minister Singh pleaded with joined hands for people to maintain peace and harmony, adding that “precious life” had been lost in the clashes.

He did not provide further details and police did not say how many people died or were injured in the violence that erupted on Wednesday after protests by more than 50,000 Kuki tribespeople and members of other predominantly Christian tribal communities in Churachandpur and adjoining districts in Manipur state.

Television channels broadcast images of both tribespeople and Meitei people burning tyres on roads and setting fire to some houses in parts of the state, which shares a border with Myanmar.

Mary Kom – India’s top female boxer, who hails from the state – appealed to the federal and state governments to take quick action to defuse the tense situation.

The violence erupted after a students’ union, the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM), organised protests in the Churachandpur district against a demand by the majority, non-tribal Meitei community for the status of a Scheduled Tribe (ST).

The majority Meitei community’s demand for a special status would give them benefits including the right to farm on forest land, low-cost bank loans, and health and educational facilities, as well as a specified quota of government jobs.

Tribal people say the Meitei community is comparatively well-off and that granting them more privileges would be unfair.

“The situation is tense but we are trying to engage community leaders in a dialogue process,” the Churachandpur district magistrate in the area, Sharath Chandra, told Reuters.

The Meiteis are mostly Hindus while rival groups, including the Kuki and other tribes, are mostly Christian and mainly live in the surrounding hill districts. The tribals constitute about 40 percent of the state population of 3.5 million.

“This is not the first instance of violence in this region. It clearly shows the long-standing poor governance in the northeast region,” Nazimuddin Siddique, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Nagaland University, told Al Jazeera.

“What is happening in Manipur is a reflection of sad state of democracy in northeast India.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies