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Manipur: Unrest Continues; HC Modifies Controversial Order on Inclusion of Meiteis in ST List

A single-judge bench withdrew the order – which is widely seen as one of the triggers of the state's unrest – highlighting that a constitution bench of the Supreme Court led by the Chief Justice of India had taken strong exception to it.
Manipur high court. Photo: YouTube

New Delhi: Unrest, kidnappings and demonstrations have continued to pockmark Manipur.

On February 20, the All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU) president Kongbrailatpam Haridev Sharma, along with a student leader, were kidnapped at gunpoint by unidentified men near the gate of the Manipur University.

Women’s organisations and student bodies from the Meitei community appealed for their immediate release.

While the other student leader was released later that day in a village in the Imphal West district, Haridev Sharma was kept in custody by the kidnappers for 24 hours before he was released in Imphal on February 22.

According to some groups demanding Haridev’s release, the abductors belonged to the Kh. Pambei faction of the armed group United National Liberation Front (UNLF-P), though the outfit has not claimed any responsibility for this.

The UNLF-P is currently in peace talks with the Union government.

The kidnapping incident happened when both student leaders were heading home after attending a discussion on the ongoing Manipur issue at the university, where they spoke about how the student community was being affected by it.

Lawyers protest inside court complex to protest firing of tear gas

A day after the incident, the capital city witnessed state police and the Rapid Action Force (RAF) resorting to firing tear gas within a court complex in Imphal to control an angry protest carried out by a group of women.

On February 21, the police had brought to the Cheirap court six persons accused of looting arms recently from the India Reserve Battalion (IRB) headquarters in the Imphal East district.

All the men belong to the Meitei community.

Media reports from Imphal said a scuffle broke out between the women and the security personnel after the lower court remanded all the accused to 15-day judicial custody. The women demanded their immediate release.

Unable to control the situation, the state police brought in the RAF.

Since tear gas was used to disperse the crowd, a day later, lawyers from the court held a sit-in protest within the court premises to condemn the police action on the women and demanded that the state institute a judicial inquiry into it.

Manipur high court modifies controversial March 2023 order

At the same time, on February 21, the Manipur high court, in a significant development, modified its 2023 order which had directed the N. Biren Singh government to consider including the Meitei community into the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list.

The incident is widely seen as one of the triggers of the unrest that Manipur has been witnessing since May last year.

A single-judge bench led by Justice Golmei Gaiphulshillu, while hearing a review petition on the earlier order passed by acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidharan, withdrew the order, highlighting the point that a constitution bench of the Supreme Court led by the Chief Justice of India had recently taken strong exception to it.

The Manipur high court heard the case this past February 21 since the Supreme Court didn’t stay the March 27 order of Justice Muralidharan, as an appeal before the division bench of the high court had already been filed by groups including the original petitioner, the Meitei Tribal Union.

Displaced persons say rations stopped; ITLF demands officials leave Churachandpur

Meanwhile, in Kuki-dominated Churachandpur, people staying in the 115 relief camps across the district due to the ongoing violence have begun an indefinite strike demanding that their rations be continued by the Union government.

The refugees have told local media that their weekly ration supply has stopped ‘without any reason’.

The rations, which include both food and non-food items, are distributed to relief camps through the deputy commissioner’s office every Monday of the week.

This past Monday (February 19), the rations didn’t arrive.

On February 16, a mob had burnt the Churachandpur deputy commissioner (DC)’s office and residence, leaving the town in complete disarray.

The violence was in protest of the killing of two persons during another mob attack at the district police superintendent (SP)’s office a day earlier (a few hours before midnight).

The mob attack at the SP’s office was triggered by a suspension order to a police constable belonging to the Kuki tribe after a video clip went viral allegedly showing him with armed groups.

According to a Nagaland Post report quoting a police officer, “Several important documents and government records have been destroyed during the violence” at the DC’s office.

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), an influential umbrella body of tribal groups in Manipur, has demanded that the suspension of the police officer be revoked immediately and that the SP, Shivanand Surve, and the DC, S. Dharun Kumar, should leave the district at once.

The ITLF also demanded they be preferably replaced by people from the Kuki-Zo community.

Media reports have said the ITLF has stated that if its demands are not met soon, there would be a total shutdown of all government offices in the district.

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