Imphal: Amidst the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur, the state government has decided to extend the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) for another six months in the hilly areas of the state, excluding 19 police stations in the valley districts. This was announced in a notification issued by the Governor of Manipur on Wednesday.
According to the notification, the entire state of Manipur, except the areas falling under the jurisdiction of 19 police stations, has been declared as a ‘disturbed area’ for a period of six months with effect from October 1, 2023. The notification said that the state government is of the opinion that it is not expedient to have a detailed assessment on the ground as security agencies are preoccupied with the maintenance of law and order.
The 19 police stations where AFSPA has not been enforced are Imphal, Lamphel, City, Singjamei, Sekmai, Lamsang, Pastol, Wangoi, Porompat, Heingang, Lamlai, Iribung, Leimakhong, Thoubal, Bishnupur, Nambol, Moirang, Kakchin and Jirbam. These areas are mostly inhabited by the Meitei community, which constitutes more than half of the state’s population and dominates the political and administrative spheres.
The hilly areas, on the other hand, are home to various tribal groups such as Kukis and Nagas, who have been engaged in violent clashes with each other and with the Meiteis over land and identity issues. The tribal groups have also been demanding autonomy and recognition of their rights from the state and central governments.
AFSPA is a controversial law that grants special powers to the armed forces to arrest, search and shoot anyone without a warrant in areas declared as ‘disturbed’. The law has been widely criticized by human rights activists and civil society groups for its alleged misuse and abuse by security forces. The law has been in force in Manipur since 1958, except for a brief period between 2004 and 2022 when it was lifted from some parts of the valley.
The extension of AFSPA comes at a time when Manipur has been witnessing a surge in violence and unrest since May 2023. The trigger for the latest round of violence was a Manipur High Court order directing the state government to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the Meitei community based on a 10-year-old recommendation. The ST status would entitle the Meiteis to reservation benefits and protection of their land rights. However, this demand was opposed by the tribal groups who feared that it would dilute their own rights and privileges.
The violence has resulted in several deaths, injuries, and displacement of thousands of people. Many villages have been burnt down and looted by rival groups. Police armories have also been raided by armed militants. Several schools and colleges have been shut down due to security reasons. The state government has imposed curfew and prohibitory orders in many areas to prevent further escalation of violence. The central government has also deployed additional paramilitary forces to assist the state police in restoring peace and order.
The violence has also sparked protests and demonstrations by various civil society organizations and student groups who have demanded justice for the victims and an end to the bloodshed. On Tuesday and Wednesday, thousands of students marched towards the city center and staged sit-in protests against the kidnapping and killing of two students in Imphal by suspected Kuki militants. The police resorted to tear gas and baton charges to disperse the protesters, injuring many of them.
The state government has appealed to all sections of society to maintain calm and harmony and refrain from any provocative actions that may worsen the situation. The government has also assured that it will take all necessary steps to protect the lives and properties of all citizens and uphold the rule of law. The government has also expressed its willingness to hold talks with all stakeholders to resolve the issues amicably.