Spurred By Ethnic Fissures, the Economic Blockade in Manipur Leads to Clashes

21 December 2016
Since 9 December, when the state government in Manipur announced that it would creating seven new districts, several cases of ethnic clashes have been reported in the region.
AFP/Getty Images
Since 9 December, when the state government in Manipur announced that it would creating seven new districts, several cases of ethnic clashes have been reported in the region.
AFP/Getty Images

The indefinite “economic blockade” in Manipur, ongoing since 1 November 2016, has once again pitted the Nagas in Manipur against the two other major communities in the state—Meiteis and Kukis. The blockade has been enforced by the United Naga Council (UNC), an apex civil society organisation of Manipuri Nagas, on two national highways—the Imphal–Dimapur NH 2 and Imphal–Silchar NH 37. The UNC launched the blockade to protest the creation of two districts in Manipur’s Sadar Hills and Jiribam hill regions. However, on 9 Decemberthe state government created seven new districts, including a Kangpokpi district, which encompasses Sadar Hills; and a Jiribam district. The UNC has been opposing these districts because it believes they reflect an attempt to take away and divide the Nagas’ ancestral lands without their consent, in particular the land of the Sadar Hills and Jiribam regions.

Since the announcement on 9 December, several cases of ethnic clashes have been reported. On 14 December, suspected militants attacked members of the Manipur policein two ambushes, killing three police personnel and injuring 11 others. Three days later, a mob attacked the Manipur Baptist Church in Imphal. The next day, a mob set ablaze a convoy of 21 vehicles, traveling with police protection, carrying residents of Ukhrul home for Christmas. Eight vehicles were set ablaze on 19 December. The state government has directed telecom operators to shut down internet services in the state till 25 December. The protests against the creation of the districts have now extended to the national capital, triggering a fear of continuing ethnic clashes between the communities ahead of the Manipur assembly elections, expected to be held in February 2017.

The two highways subject to the indefinite blockade originate in Assam, and meander through Nagaland before entering Manipur. They are crucial for the landlocked Manipur for the entry of goods and essential commodities into the state. On account of the blockade, over 1,500 trucks, including oil tankers, have reportedlybeen stranded on the highway since 1 November, leading to a rise in prices of essential commodities. These include petrol, the prices for which have risen to Rs 300 per litre.

Sadar Hills is one of the six autonomous district councils in Manipur that was created pursuant to the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971. This act was enacted by the parliament during the process of granting statehood to Manipur to safeguard the rights of tribal communities in the state’s hill areas. The act provided for the division of the hill areas of Manipur into six autonomous districts, governed by district councils. It empowered the district councils, whose members were to be elected by direct elections, to administer the regions and create a system of local self-rule with limited executive powers, extending over infrastructure, public health, and taxation, while legislative and judicial powers remained vested with the state government.

Since the act was passed, the five other autonomous district councils of Manipur have been formed as full-fledged districts. On 5 December, I met Sira Kharay, the information and publicity secretary of the Committee of Joint Naga Civil Societies, Delhi (CJNCSD), an organisation that was formed on 28 November 2016, after the arrest of Gaidom Kamei and Stephen Lamkang, the president and the information secretary of the UNC respectively, on 25 November, on charges of causing disturbance and damage to public property.

Sagar is a staff writer at The Caravan.

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