At least 54 killed in ethnic clashes in northeast India

At least 54 people have been killed in clashes between rival ethnic groups in India’s remote northeastern state of Manipur, even after the authorities deployed thousands of army troops to restore order.

The violence erupted on Wednesday between the largest single ethnic group in the state, the Meitei, and the Kuki group, after a protest march turned violent following a dispute over who gets the tribal status, which grants extra privileges to the communities.

The rally was organized by the All-Tribal Students Union Manipur, and according to news sources, the fighting started after many chaotic external elements entered the crowd with weapons, and with the intention of inciting clashes.

According to authorities, more than 500 houses were torched along with attacks over churches, temples, and vehicles, as the situation remained volatile on Saturday.

Among the most affected areas of Manipur were Churachandpur, Bishnupur, and Ponpi.

The Indian army in the neighboring state of Nagaland said 13,000 people had sought shelter from the violence.

To contain the violence and maintain order, authorities have deployed thousands of troops in the area and have imposed section 144, which prohibits the assembly of four or more people in an area, an internet blackout, and a shoot-at-sight order in “extreme cases”.

“We have asked army to stage flag marches in violence-hit areas and instructed the forces to take stringent action against anyone involved in violence,” Manipur director general of police, P. Doungel told journalists.

The chief minister of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled government in Manipur, N. Biren Singh, is also from the Meitei community, due to which the atmosphere in Manipur has become tense, The Wire reported.

The army says it is bringing the situation under control, but the Hindu-nationalist BJP-led government in the state has been accused of not doing enough to prevent the violence.

The Indian opposition leader, Shashi Tharoor, hailing from the Congress party, blasted the BJP of Manipur for not handling the situation properly and urged to impose ‘President’s rule’ in the violence-hit northeast Indian state.

“As the Manipur violence persists, all right-thinking Indians must ask themselves what happened to the much-vaunted good governance we had been promised. The voters of Manipur are feeling grossly betrayed just a year after putting the BJP in power in their state. It’s time for President’s Rule; the state Govt is just not up to the job they were elected to do,” Tharoor wrote on Twitter.

The members of the indigenous Meitei community, who account for at least 50 percent of the state’s population, have been demanding a Scheduled Tribe (ST) status under the Indian reservation system for years, which would give them access to forest lands along with other reservations at government institutions.

On 19 April, the Manipur high court asked the state government to consider giving tribal status to the Meitei community, after which disapproval arose among the existing tribal communities, including the Kuki community, as they were worried that they may lose control over their ancestral forest land.

The Indian reservation system reserves jobs, college admissions, and elected seats at all levels of government for communities under this category.

This system is an effort to correct historical mistakes that had denied equal opportunities to these communities.

North-East India is mostly known as one of the most culturally diverse regions of the world, as the region is inhabited by more than 200 indigenous tribal communities.

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