Manipur’s ethnic violence has plunged the picturesque state in northeastern India, into a
prolonged and distressing clash between two ethnic groups – the Kukis and
the Meiteis. This conflict has resulted in a staggering toll of violence, death,
and mass displacement. What began as a tribal solidarity march turned
violent, leading to a chain of events that exposed deeper divides within the
state. This article aims to shed light on the underlying complexities of the
Manipur violence, which seems to be rooted in the historical distinction
between ‘state’ and ‘non-state’ entities.
The Clash and its Human Cost
The ongoing clash between the Kukis and Meiteis has had devastating
consequences. Conservative estimates suggest that around 80 lives have
been lost, leaving grieving families in its wake. Moreover, over 40,000 people
have been forcibly displaced from their homes, with many lacking the
opportunity to return to their once-thriving communities. The unsettling reality
is that all Kukis have been violently expelled from Imphal, the capital city,
while no Meiteis can be found in Churachandpur or other regions dominated
by the Kukis.
Deepening Divisions and Mistrust
Beyond the immediate violence, the conflict has exposed a chasm of mistrust,
anger, and even hatred between the two ethnic groups. The trigger for this
strife appears to be the Meiteis’ demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. With
the Meiteis accounting for about 60 percent of Manipur’s population, they
currently find themselves confined to a mere 10 percent of the state’s land
area. The remaining regions, encompassing the hill districts, belong to various
tribal communities, mainly the Kukis and Nagas.
The Conflict: State vs. Non-State
A closer analysis of the situation reveals that the Manipur violence runs
deeper than mere ethnic tensions. It is intertwined with the historical division
between ‘state’ and ‘non-state,’ with implications for agriculture, governance,
and societal structures.
The concept of ‘surplus’ plays a pivotal role in understanding this division, as
illustrated by anthropologist James C Scott in ‘The Art of Not Being Governed
- An Anarchist History Of Upland Southeast Asia.’ State formation in the
valleys tends to create ‘non-state’ regions in the hills. ‘Surplus’ encompasses
intellectual, political, and economic activities that enable the state formation
process. However, communities practicing shifting agriculture in the hills, with
frugal produce that sustains them through seasons, are often excluded from
the state-building process, rendering them ‘non-state’ entities.
Historically, indigenous societies like Assam maintained peace with hill tribes
through agreements such as the Post system. Villages provided essential
goods to hill tribes during lean seasons in exchange for peace, reflecting a
symbiotic relationship between the valley and the plains. However, with the
advent of British rule, the lines between the ‘state realm’ and ‘non-state realm’
were drawn, and criteria for categorizing the ‘civilized’ were established,
further accentuating the divide.
The Manipur violence presents a complex and multi-layered situation that
goes beyond a simple ethnic clash. It represents a clash between ‘state’ and
‘non-state,’ with historical and cultural roots deeply embedded in the region.
The human cost of this violence is immeasurable, leaving shattered lives and
displaced communities in its wake.
Addressing these deep-seated issues demands a comprehensive and
empathetic approach, one that considers the historical context and strives to
bridge the divide between different communities. It is only through
understanding, dialogue, and efforts to build trust and cooperation that
Manipur can hope to heal and progress towards a peaceful and harmonious
future. The path may be challenging, but it is essential to ensure that the
state’s diversity becomes its strength rather than a source of conflict.