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Concealing Casualties: Misreporting of Meitei Militant Deaths Aims to Mask Ethnic Violence Against Zo Tribals

8th October, 2023: As Manipur continues to reel under ethnic violence for over five months, a concerning trend of misreporting the deaths of Meitei militants has emerged. These militants, having launched attacks on Zo villages beyond established buffer zones and succumbed to retaliatory actions, are now being falsely reported as ‘missing’ or ‘kidnapped’. This misrepresentation serves a dual purpose: to veil the aggressive incursions of Meitei militants into Zo territories and to demonize the Zo ethnic tribes by portraying them as aggressors against ‘innocent civilians.’

A recent report by the Indian Express unveils the narratives of families whose Meitei kin have gone ‘missing’ since the onset of ethnic clashes. Upon scrutiny, it was discovered that some of these ‘missing’ individuals had ventured well into Zo domains of Lamka and Kanggui districts, far beyond the buffer zones, and had lost their lives there. The narratives being spun around these incidents, depicting the Meiteis as casual visitors to these areas amidst the ongoing strife, defy logic and stand as stark misrepresentations of the ground realities.

Analysts believe the misreporting of these deaths aims to obscure the fact that these Meitei individuals, armed by the State government, were on hostile missions against tribal citizens in the Hill districts. The false narrative of ‘missing’ or ‘kidnapped’ Meiteis is a deceitful attempt to paint the Zo ethnic tribes as the antagonists, further fueling the ethnic discord that has engulfed the state.

Moreover, the lack of communication to the families about the demise of these militants could have led to genuine beliefs that their kin had gone missing. This lack of disclosure also seems to be a tactic to prevent discouragement among other Meitei youths from joining militant factions like the Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun. There were instances where many affluent youths reportedly fled the state during the recruitment drives by these militant groups in the early stages of the conflict.

A glaring instance of this misreporting was witnessed during the notorious Khamenlok incident on June 13, where a large contingent of Meitei militants assaulted the Zo village of Khamenlok in Kanggui, setting the village ablaze. The assailants, in a brazen display of disrespect, celebrated their onslaught by feasting and consuming alcohol within the village Church. The infuriated villagers, armed with rudimentary firearms, confronted the inebriated militants who responded with gunfire. The ensuing firefight reportedly claimed the lives of over a hundred Meitei militants. However, the State government has allegedly obscured the actual number of casualties, thus shielding the truth from public knowledge.

This concerted effort to misrepresent the fatalities among Meitei militants not only serves as a disservice to the families longing for the truth about their loved ones but also grossly misleads the national narrative surrounding the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur. It’s a deceptive tactic aiming to shroud the aggressive actions of Meitei radicals, thereby undermining any prospects for justice and reconciliation between the conflicting ethnic groups.

The deliberate misreporting further complicates the already volatile situation in Manipur, making the path towards peaceful resolution increasingly elusive. It emphasizes the urgent need for transparent and accurate reporting, as well as an unbiased investigation into the incidents of ethnic violence, to ensure that justice is served, and the cycle of hatred and aggression is broken. The fabric of communal harmony in Manipur hangs by a thread, and only truth and justice can pave the way towards healing and reconciliation in this strife-torn state.

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