A massive group of protesters started marching towards barricades placed by the security forces between two tensed districts in Manipur, forcing the security forces to fire tear gas and rubber bullets. Several were injured and were taken to hospital.
The protesters came out defying curfew in the Meitei-majority valley region of Manipur, following a call by the Coordination Committee (COCOMI), the umbrella body of Meitei civil society groups.
The COCOMI said they will march till the Chin-Kuki-majority Churachanpur, despite the government’s appeal not to do so as it may worsen the Manipur crisis.
“We want the barricades to be removed because beyond the barricades there are lands of the Meiteis. We want to resettle there and get our land back,” COCOMI coordinator Jeetendra Ningomba said.
Lambi Devi, a protester who participated in the march, said, “We want to march to Torbung and Kangvai since it is our land and not theirs. The government is not seeing our plight,” she said.
Security has been tightened in Churachandpur, 35 km from the Meitei-majority Bishnupur district. The barricades have been placed between these two districts in an area that the security forces call a temporary “buffer zone”.
Locals said they are unable to go home in Torbung due to the barricades at Phougakchao Ikhai. They said they fled from Torbung when ethnic violence broke out on May 3.
The COCOMI said they had requested the government to remove the barricades at Phougakchao Ikhai by August 30.
Officials said curfew was enforced in all the five valley districts – Bishnupur, Kakching, Thoubal, Imphal West, and Imphal East. A large number of security forces was also deployed in different districts as a preventive measure.
For the past few weeks, curfew had been eased in the five valley districts from 5 am to 6 pm every day.
“We will stop any kind of disturbance to the law and order situation in the areas between the two districts. Adequate forces have been deployed including the district police, CRPF, BSF, ITBP, RAF, army and Assam Rifles,” Churachandpur Superintendent of Police Kartik Malladi said.
“We are coordinating with the neighbouring districts of Kakching and Bishnupur and also the forces deployed on the other side. We regularly meet so that any kind of mobilisation either from Churachandpur or Bishnupur would be taken care of and the masses will not come close in the area between the two districts,” Mr Malladi said.
Tensions have not subsided in Manipur, where over four months ago (May 3) ethnic clashes broke out between the Chin-Kukis and the Meiteis over the Meiteis’ demand for the affirmative action Scheduled Tribes (ST) status.