Curfew was imposed in eight districts of Manipur and mobile internet services were suspended in the entire northeastern state over violence during a tribal agitation on Wednesday, officials said.
Violence broke out during 'Tribal Solidarity March' called by All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) in Torbung area of Churachandpur district to protest the demand of non-tribal Meiteis, who dominate the Imphal Valley, for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. Thousands of agitators took part in the rally, during which violence between tribals and non-tribals was reported in Torbung area, a senior police officer said.
Internet services suspended in Manipur for five days amid incidents of fighting amongst youths, volunteers of different communities as a rally was organised by All Tribals Students Union (ATSU) Manipur in protest against the demand for inclusion of Meitei/Meetei in the ST… pic.twitter.com/BVyD78JPhV— ANI (@ANI) May 3, 2023
Police fired several rounds of tear gas shells to control the mob, the officer said.
The situation remains tense but many agitators have started returning to their homes in different parts of the hills, he said.
Agitated youths were seen gathering at Canchipur in Imphal West district and Soibam Leikai in Imphal East in the Valley calling for retaliation but heavy police deployment has been ensured and the non-tribal agitators have been asked to return to their homes, the official said. In view of the situation, curfew has been imposed in non-tribal dominated Imphal West, Kakching, Thoubal, Jiribam and Bishnupur districts and tribal-dominated Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal districts.
Mobile internet services were suspended across the state for five days with immediate effect but broadband services were operational.
"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 and private property, it had become necessary to take adequate measures to maintain law and order in public interest by stopping the spread of misinformation and false rumours through various social platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter on phone," an order issued by Commissioner (Home) H Gyan Prakash said.
"The order is being passed ex-parte in view of the emergent situation and shall be in force for the next five days with immediate effect," it said.
Separate orders declaring curfew were issued by the administrations of the eight districts.
The ATSUM had called for the march in all the 10 hill districts in the state to oppose moves for inclusion of the majority Meitei community in the ST category.
Lawmakers of the Valley have earlier openly endorsed the demand by some Meitei organisation for ST status for the majority community in Manipur, alarming communities who figure in the Scheduled Tribe list.
The Meiteis, who make up 53 per cent of the state's population, inhabit the Valley, which accounts for about a tenth of the former princely state's land area. They claim they are facing problems in view of "large scale illegal immigration by Myanmarese and Bangladeshis".
The hill districts which account for much of the state's land mass is inhabited mostly by tribals -- including the Nagas and Kukis – and are protected from encroachment by various laws.
Tribal villagers from remote areas came in buses and open trucks to nearest hill district headquarters to attend the rallies.
In Naga-dominated Senapati town, the district headquarters with the same name and located about 58 km from Imphal, the local bodies forced total shutdown of markets and suspension of public transport from 10 am to 1 pm to ensure that maximum number of demonstrators participate in the rally. Thousands of tribals -- who make up about 40 pr cent of the state's population -- joined the processions, waved placards and raised slogans opposing ST status for the Meitei community.
Representatives of the Senapati District Students' Association also met the deputy commissioner and apprised him of their concerns.
At Churachandpur, the second-largest town in the state, people defied prohibitory orders and gathered at the public ground and took a rally till Tuibong.
Prohibitory orders were clamped for an indefinite period in the town last week following violent protests against a drive to evict villagers from reserved forest areas. Security forces were rushed to the town from other parts of Manipur to control the situation after the vandalisation of a venue where Chief Minister N Biren Singh was scheduled to address a programme.
Similar rallies were also held at Tengnoupal, Chandel, Kangpokpi, Noney and Ukhrul, where even school students were seen among participants, police said. Meanwhile, counter-blockades were put up in the Valley districts, including at Sugnu in Kakching district, in support of granting ST status to Meiteis. Protesters shouted slogans demanding ST status for the majority community as well as for protection of reserved and protected forests.
The Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee Manipur (STDCM), which is spearheading the movement for the inclusion of Meiteis in the ST category said the demand is being made not merely for reservation in jobs, educational institutions and tax relief but "more to protect our ancestral land, culture and identity", which they claimed was being "threatened by illegal migration from Myanmar, Bangladesh and by people from outside the state".
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