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Imphal, October 4, 2023 – Manipur is once again thrust into the spotlight, this time over a shocking revelation by former Meitei police officer Thounaojam Brinda, who recently claimed that the ongoing ethnic violence in the state was initiated by Meitei militia outfits, the Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun. Brinda, known for her outspoken nature, stated that these militias were acting under the influence of their patrons, Rajya Sabha MP Leisemba Sanajaoba and Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh. Her audio recording has stirred controversy and drawn significant reactions.
In the audio recording, Brinda alleged that the two Meitei militia outfits were deployed in the Zo territory of Lamka even before May 2. She asserted that it was these militias who initiated the violence by torching Zo civilian homes and parading Zo women naked. Brinda urged the Meitei public not to be swayed by majoritarian-communal politics and to recognize the sinister political motives behind the ongoing ethnic violence.
The revelations have far-reaching implications, particularly given the involvement of prominent political figures in the alleged orchestration of violence. Brinda’s accusations also shed light on the existence of armed Meitei civil militias operating in Manipur, which have a history of violent actions.
Strong Reactions and Apology
Following the emergence of Brinda’s audio clip, Meitei radicals reacted strongly, demanding that she apologize for her statements. Manohormayum Barish Sharma, the State president of BJP Yuva Morcha, went further by making defamatory remarks against Brinda on social media, accusing her of interfering in a couple’s marital affairs. The Arambai Tenggol, one of the implicated militias, issued a statement on social media demanding an apology from Brinda.
These demands escalated when members of the Arambai Tenggol, Meitei Leepun, and Meira Paibis, a women’s civil organization, stormed Brinda’s residence. Under duress, Brinda appeared in a video, appearing tense and distressed, and retracted her accusations, stating that they were wrong. Her dramatic reversal contrasts with her typically fearless and outspoken character.
Possible Threats and Coercion
Brinda’s apparent retreat from her previous statements has raised concerns about the level of threat and intimidation she may be facing from Meitei radical mobs. Given that the Manipur Chief Minister, N. Biren Singh, reportedly has his grievances against her, it is plausible that he is leveraging his private militias to silence her. It is not uncommon for Meitei individuals who do not conform to the dictates of Meitei radicals to endure harassment and threats.
A recent incident saw a Meitei lawyer representing a Zo community academic compelled to withdraw from the case after Meitei radicals vandalized his home and office. This incident underscores the volatile and dangerous environment that those who dissent or oppose the radical ideologies may encounter.
Militarization of Meitei Civil Society
The revelations about armed Meitei civil militias have raised concerns about the escalating violence and their role in Manipur’s conflict. The book “INEVITABLE SPLIT,” specifically in Volume II, examines the institutionalized political violence in Manipur, which poses a threat to India’s national security in the Eastern Frontiers.
It highlights how Meitei civil society has historically been utilized by Meitei political leaders to enforce majoritarian rule in Manipur and perpetrate systematic violence against minority communities, such as the Muslim Pangals in 1993 and the Nagas in 2001 and 2010. In the current phase, Meitei civil society has evolved into well-structured militias, referred to as the Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun.
The Arambai Tenggol, named after a traditional Meitei weapon, has gained notoriety for its role in the recent violence against Zo ethnic tribes. The outfit is believed to possess thousands of automatic weapons and has been responsible for killings, assaults, and the destruction of Zo tribal homes and settlements.
On the other hand, the Meitei Leepun, led by Pramot Singh, maintains close ties with Chief Minister N. Biren Singh. Singh himself admitted that members of the outfit receive training in the use of firearms. Meitei Leepun has also been implicated in the ongoing majoritarian violence against the Zo ethnic tribes.
The emergence of armed Meitei civil militias raises serious concerns about the trajectory of Manipur’s conflict and the potential for further violence and instability in the region. It also underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of ethnic tensions and promote peace and harmony in Manipur.
Source: Fieldnotes by Zomi Students’ Federation