Imphal: Manipur witnessed fresh violence on Thursday as protesters demanding the release of five people, including a trained member of the banned terrorist organisation, clashed with police and security forces in the Imphal valley. The state government imposed a curfew in the entire valley, cancelling the earlier relaxation, to prevent further escalation of the situation.
The five people were arrested on Monday by a joint team of Manipur Police and Assam Rifles on charges of extortion and links with the proscribed People’s Liberation Army (PLA), a militant group fighting for an independent Manipur. The arrested persons were identified as Thokchom Sanjit, Thokchom Shyam, Khundrakpam Rameshwar, Khundrakpam Premkumar and Thokchom Inaocha. They were allegedly involved in collecting money from government officials, businessmen and contractors on behalf of the PLA.
However, several self-styled vigilante groups, including Mira Pabis (women activists), claimed that the arrested persons were village volunteers who were protecting the Meitei community from illegal migrants and drug traffickers. They staged demonstrations at various places in the Imphal valley, demanding their immediate release.
On Thursday, hundreds of protesters, holding placards and shouting slogans, tried to storm Porompat police station in Imphal East district Singjamei police station and Kwakithel police post in Imphal West district, where the arrested persons were lodged. They also blocked roads and set fire to tyres and vehicles.
Police and Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel deployed at important locations fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. More than 10 people were injured in the clashes, some of them critically. The protesters also pelted stones and hurled petrol bombs at the police and security forces.
“We were left with no option as the government failed to release volunteers from five villages,” said T. Bimola, a protester in Porompat. “If village volunteers are arrested like this then who will protect the Meitei villages.”
The state government issued a statement saying that the arrested persons were not village volunteers but trained cadres of the PLA. It said that they had confessed to their involvement in extortion and subversive activities. It also appealed to the people to maintain peace and harmony and not to fall prey to rumours and misinformation.
The Manipur violence has drawn attention from various quarters, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who broke his silence on the issue last month. He expressed his concern over the situation and assured all possible assistance from the central government.
The violence in Manipur has its roots in ethnic tensions between the majority Meitei community and minority Kuki groups over land rights and political representation. The conflict has also been marked by brutal killings and sexual crimes against women. In May, two Kuki-Zomi women were paraded naked by a mob of Meitei men. The younger woman was allegedly gang-raped, her father and 19-year-old brother beaten to death. A video of the incident surfaced on social media in July, sparking outrage across the country.
The state government has ordered a probe into the incident and announced compensation for the victim’s family. However, no arrests have been made so far. The Kuki groups have accused the Meitei-led government of bias and injustice. They have also demanded a separate state for themselves within India.
Manipur is one of the eight states in India’s north-east region, which shares borders with Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and Bhutan. The region has witnessed several insurgencies and ethnic conflicts since India’s independence in 1947. Manipur alone has more than 30 active militant groups fighting for various causes, ranging from secession to autonomy to self-determination.