Imphal (Manipur), May 5 : Parts of Manipur, particularly in Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts witnessed palpable tension following a ‘Tribal Solidarity Rally’ called by All Tribal Student’s Union Manipur (ATSUM) in all hill districts of the state. There were reports of violence and clashes between volunteers of different communities. Following the volatile situation, the government of Manipur has decided to suspend mobile data services in the state. All mobile service providers are hereby directed to ensure compliance of this order.
Violent clashes broke out Wednesday in various parts of Manipur during the course of a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ organised by the ATSUM. The violence first started at Churachandpur district of Manipur. The Solidarity march was called to protest against the longstanding demand for inclusion of the state’s Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category, following an April 19 directive by the Manipur High Court.
The Meiteis, the largest community in Manipur, constituting roughly 64.6% of the state’s population, had argued in their plea before the High Court that it was recognised as a tribe before the merger of the princely state of Manipur with the Union of India in 1949, and that it lost its identity as a tribe after the merger.
The demand for ST status arose from the need to “preserve” the community, and “and save the ancestral land, tradition, culture and language” of the Meiteis. In its pleas, the community stated that as a result of being left out of the ST list, “the community has been victimised without any constitutional safeguards to date. The Meitein/Meetei have been gradually marginalised in their ancestral land. Their population which was 59% of the total population of Manipur in 1951 has now been reduced to 44% as per 2011 Census data”.
The tribal groups are opposing the HC order, mainly for two reasons. One, the dominance of the Meiteis — both in population and in political representation. Secondly, the Manipuri language of the Meiteis is included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, and that sections of the Meitei community — which is predominantly Hindu — are already classified under Scheduled Castes (SC) or Other Backward Classes (OBC), and have access to the opportunities associated with that status.
An order issued by Commissioner (Home), the Director General of Police, Manipur vide letter No.IC/11(163)/2008-PHQ(Pt)/01422 dated 03-05-2023 reported that, All Tribal Student’s Union Manipur (ATSUM) organized a rally in all hill districts on 03-05-2023 with total shutdown in all hill districts from 6 AM to 4 PM in protest against the demand for inclusion of Meitei/Meetei in Scheduled Tribe (ST) category.
During this rally and total shutdown there are reports on incidents like fighting amongst volunteers/youths of different communities and situation is tense and volatile in the districts of Bishnupur and Churachandpur, said the order.
The government order said that some anti-social elements are using social media extensively for transmission of images, hate speech and hate video messages inciting the passions of the public. The social media has also become a handy tool for rumor mongers and is being used to incite general public which might have serious repercussions for the law and order situation in the State of Manipur.
The state government said that there is an imminent danger of loss of life and/or damage to public/private property, and wide spread disturbances to public tranquillity and communal harmony, as a result of inflammatory material and false rumours, which are being/could be transmitted/circulated to the public through social media/messaging services on mobile services, SMS services and dongle services. In an effort to thwart the “design and activities of anti-national and anti-social elements and to maintain peace and communal harmony and to prevent any loss of life or danger to public/private property, the order said that “it has become necessary to take adequate measures to maintain law and order in public interest, by stopping the spread of disinformation and false rumours, through various social media platform such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. on mobile phone and SMS, for facilitating and/or mobilization of mobs of agitators and demonstrators, which can cause loss of life and/or damage to public/private property by indulging in arson/vandalism and other types of violent activities”.
Invoking powers conferred under Rule 2 of Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, “having satisfied that the above situation is likely to cause serious disturbances to the entire peaceful co-existence of the communities and maintenance of public order”, the state government has ordered the suspension/curbing of mobile data services in the territorial jurisdiction of the State of Manipur. All Mobile Service providers have been directed to ensure compliance of this order which will be in force for the next 5(five) days. Any person found guilty for violation of aforesaid orders will be liable for legal action, said the order.
With the situation worsening in violence-hit Manipur, the state government Thursday authorised all District Magistrates to issue “shoot at sight orders” in “extreme cases”.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh, taking note of the violence, said: “precious lives have been lost, besides damage of property of residents, which is very very unfortunate”fthe Centre is closely monitoring the situation in the state. The paramilitary forces are being mobilised from nearby states. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, meanwhile, is in talks with the Chief Ministers of neighbouring states, according to news agency PTI.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Mahendra Rawat, Defence PRO Guwahati, “approximately 4,000 people were given shelter in Army and Assam Rifles Company Operating Bases and state government premises at various places.” More than 7,500 civilians have been evacuated through rescue operations.
The Indian Army, Assam Rifles, Central Armed Police Forces and Rapid Action Forces were soon deployed to control the situation on Wednesday night. The Army and Assam Rifles also carried out flag marches in the areas hit by the violence on Thursday.
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