The Manipur Police gives safe passage to gunmen shooting at Kuki village near Pallel

An aerial view of Pallel and Molnoi. The Casspir parked in the middle demarcates the border, with Kuki-Zo areas to its left, and Meitei stronghold to its right. This is where properties of Kuki-Zo people were set on fire on 8 September.
Text and Photographs by Greeshma Kuthar
12 September, 2023

On 8 September, many of the Kuki-Zo homes and shops in Pallel—an ethnically mixed town in Manipur’s Kakching district that had not seen major violence over the past four months of ethnic conflict in the state—were burned by Meitei mobs as Manipur Police officers watched. More worryingly, the police have acted to protect several Meiteis, dressed in the uniforms of the Manipur Police Commandoes, who had opened fire at Kuki-Zo-majority villages near Pallel, even firing mortars at churches in the town. At least three people were reportedly killed in the attack and over fifty injured. The attack on Pallel points to an escalation of violence that specifically targeted the only town where Kuki-Zo and Meitei communities had reached a “peace accord” in the presence of the Manipur Police and the Assam Rifles, who acted as facilitators.

Early on the morning of 8 September, SOS messages circulated in Molnoi, a village on the outskirts of Pallel, said that they were being shot at from a hilltop near the village of Thamlapokpi. Pallel and Molnoi lie on the border between Kakching district, in the Meitei-majority plains of Manipur, and Tengnoupal, a hill district largely populated by Kuki-Zos and Nagas. The town itself has a mixed population of Kuki, Meitei and Naga communities, surrounded by several satellite villages, fifteen of which are Kuki-majority, while several others are either largely Naga or Meitei. Thamlapokpi is a village of the Lamkang Naga community in Tengnoupal district, which is on the route to Chandel, a predominantly Naga district. Given the majority Naga demographics of the region, central forces have not been deployed here heavily, allowing for access points within the district that could lead to Kuki-Zo-majority areas.

When I reached Thamlapokpi, residents told me that, in the morning, they had seen two Tata 407 trucks pass through the village with men, all dressed in khaki camouflage uniforms that resemble those of the Manipur Police Commandos. The men were allegedly wielding several guns, including sniper rifles, light machine guns, self-loading rifles and AK assault rifles. “My mother told me that she had seen the trucks,” Rex Tholung, a resident of Thamlapokpi, told me. “I stepped out, only to see them face to face.” Another group then walked through the village and towards a nearby hilltop that overlooks Pallel and Molnoi. One of them asked Rex for directions to the hilltop. The Caravan has a copy of a video in which three heavily armed men in commando uniforms are seen walking through the village towards the hill from where Molnoi was shot at.