Indian ethnic clashes destroy harmony and houses – Digital Journal

Ethnic clashes in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur have killed some 60 people, displaced 30,000 and destroyed some 2,000 houses. The clashes were between the Hindu-majority Meitei and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe – Copyright AFP Arun SANKAR

Bhuvan BAGGA

Houses in a remote village in India’s northeastern state of Manipur are painted with “No Burn” notices and are intact, while many unmarked buildings lie in ruins, their Meitei owners having fled.

“It all started with an attack on two houses… But there was so much anger about what had happened in the afternoon that people kept coming back to attack the whole neighborhood,” said Muan Pau, 25, a resident of Khumujamba village.

The predominantly Hindu Meitei, Manipur’s main ethnic group, live mainly in the capital Imphal and the surrounding plains. The Kukis and other smaller tribal groups live in the hills.

But several hill pockets, such as Khumujamba in the Churachandpur district, were also home to some Meitei, who lived side by side in uneasy harmony with the Kuki and other tribal peoples.

That was until last week, when an explosion of ethnic violence killed some 60 people and left 30,000 displaced and nearly 2,000 houses on fire across the state.

According to reports, most of the victims belong mainly to Christian Kuki, some of their villages were destroyed by Meitei mobs and their residents were killed or fled to the safety of army camps.

But the Meitei were also targeted by the Kukis, as demonstrated by a visit by AFP journalists to the rubble-covered Khumujamba.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do in the future,” traumatized Meitei carpenter Oinam Parshuram, 48, told AFP as he sat waiting to be evacuated in an army truck with his wife and daughter.

– Looting –

The violence was sparked by Kuki’s anger at the prospect of the Meitei obtaining guaranteed quotas of government posts and other benefits in a form of affirmative action.

This also stoked longstanding fears among the Kuki that the Meitei might also be allowed to acquire land in areas currently reserved for them and other tribal groups.

On Tuesday, days after most of the Meitei fled Khumujamba, villagers were still searching for loot that included griffins, iron grills and firewood from different buildings.

The few structures that remained standing had “Eimi In” and “Haal Louh Ding” written on their outer walls, messages in the local language urging rioters and looters not to touch them.

Even the main shopping street, now under curfew, had two kinds of shops: those spray-painted with the word “Tribal” and those that were looted by mobs.

One of the latter belonged to 28-year-old Oinam Ravi, who also had a house in the same district.

“They have both left now,” he told AFP, one of a group of some 3,000 Meiteis transferred by the army, which has deployed thousands of troops and imposed curfews.

– ‘Trust is gone’ –

Tongbran Rajesh Meitei, 36, said he and other Meitei men spent a sleepless night caring for women and children in a building when tensions peaked on May 3.

The teacher, who said his grandfather settled in the region more than a century ago under British colonial rule, was leaving the area with his seven relatives.

“We will stay in a camp initially and see what the government does for us,” he said.

Rajesh fears his house has been ransacked, but says he doesn’t have the courage to risk going back to his old neighborhood to search.

“Nobody wants to go back. We want to leave and settle somewhere among our Meitei brothers,” he said.

“Trust is gone and it will take a long time. It can take decades, if not a century.”

Back in Khumujamba, tribal man R. Kholum, 50, blamed the regional state government for the violence.

“The tribal people did not start this, they just reacted,” he told AFP.

“What do you think will happen in a state that has over 50 different communities, but the government seems to favor only one or two of them?”

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