Tense calm in India’s Manipur where ethnic riots claimed 62 lives

Rioting and ethnic clashes last week in India’s Manipur have killed at least 62 people and displaced 35,000, officials say, as a tense calm prevails across the remote northeastern state.

Manipur’s chief minister, N Biren Singh, told reporters late on Monday that about 230 people were injured and 1,700 houses burned in the violence.Fierce fighting broke out in Manipur between members of about 30 tribal groups and a non-tribal group, the ethnic majority Meitei, over economic, educational and political benefits extended to some tribes.

Police in the state capital, Imphal, said 62 people were killed in the fighting that had raged in the hills and some parts of the valley, but there was no violence over the weekend.

A report on Monday in India’s Scroll.in news website said the death toll hit 65 while three politicians in the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said in a Reuters news agency report that it was about 70.

Singh said thousands of civilians, escorted by security personnel, were now returning home after the situation was brought under control by police officers and soldiers patrolling the streets and enforcing a dawn-to-dusk curfew, which is still in place.

“The situation is slowly limping back to normal. … We shall order a high-level probe to enquire into the violent clashes,” he said.

“The situation is extremely tense, and victims are scared to return to their villages as they fear clashes could erupt again,” he said.

On Monday, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah told the India Today news channel the situation in Manipur was under control as he appealed to its people to maintain peace.

Violence in Manipur, which borders Myanmar, broke out last week after protests by more than 50,000 Kukis and members of other predominantly Christian tribal communities in Churachandpur and adjoining districts.

They were protesting the Meitei Hindu community’s demand for a special status that would give them benefits, including the right to farm on forest land, cheap bank loans, and health and educational facilities as well as a specified quota of government jobs.

India reserves some government jobs, college places and elected seats – from village councils to parliament – for those categorised as scheduled tribes. It is a form of affirmative action to tackle historical structural inequalities and discrimination.

Minority hill community leaders said the Meitei community is comparatively well-off and that granting it more privileges would be unfair.

The Meiteis say employment quotas and other benefits for the tribespeople would be protected.

Two-thirds of the state’s 2.5 million people live in a valley that comprises roughly 10 percent of the state’s total area. The Kuki and other tribes live primarily in the surrounding hill districts.

Rights groups in Imphal said tensions started building last month after the Manipur High Court asked the government to consider the Meitei community’s request to be given the constitutionally defined status of a scheduled tribe.

The existing recognised tribes opposed the request.

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