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MANIPUR — In a development that has reignited simmering tensions, the Kuki-Zo tribal group in Manipur has once again initiated a robust highway blockade on two vital national arteries. The move comes as a response to unaddressed pleas for essential provisions for the Kuki-Zo communities residing in the hill regions of the state.
The blockades have been set up on NH 2, the critical link connecting Imphal to Dimapur in Nagaland, and NH 37, which binds Imphal with Silchar in Assam. These highways serve as lifelines, anchoring Manipur’s connectivity with the broader nation through the states of Nagaland and Assam.
The Committee on Tribal Unity (CoTU), the driving force behind this resurgence of protests, had unequivocally warned of such action if their grievances weren’t heeded within a three-day ultimatum. The ultimatum’s expiration saw the Kuki-Zo communities making good on their promise.
Lamminlun Singsit, Secretary of COTU, underlined the core concern: “The highway blockades shall be reinstated on NH 2 (Imphal-Dimapur) and NH 37 (Imphal-Silchar) should the essential commodities fail to reach the Kuki-Zo communities in the hill areas of the state.” This statement was released by Singsit on August 17, a precursor to the ensuing events.
Reports indicate that the enforcement of the blockade, and thereby the impediment of goods-laden vehicles, was orchestrated by a significant contingent of men and women from Kangpokpi district.
Adding fuel to the already blazing fire, another tribal entity by the name of Kuki Zo Defence Force has cast a shadow of impending confrontation. They have sternly cautioned of their intent to initiate their own blockades commencing August 26 if the delivery of essential necessities and medicines to the Kuki Zo inhabited territories isn’t guaranteed.
This recurrence of highway disruptions harkens back to the turbulence experienced in May. Notably, the NH 2 had been ensnared in blockades multiple times during that period. It’s worth recalling that during a visit by Home Minister Amit Shah in late May, he appealed to groups like CoTU to reconsider their position, which they did at the time.
The genesis of the current wave of discord can be traced to the spark ignited on May 3 when a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was orchestrated in the hill districts. The march, borne out of resistance to the Meitei community’s bid for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, set off a chain reaction of violence and acrimony.
In the distressing months that followed, the violence has extracted a heavy toll. Lives have been lost, with the count reaching over 180 individuals, and the wounded surpassing the 3,000 mark. A collateral consequence of this turmoil has been the displacement of more than 60,000 individuals, while the monetary value of the property ravaged runs into the thousands of crores.
Manipur, a tapestry of diverse demographics, finds its core constituents in the Meitei, who form approximately 53% of the population and inhabit the Imphal Valley. Meanwhile, the tribal demography, constituting around 40%, mainly encompasses Nagas and Kukis, and is predominantly concentrated in the hilly districts.
As these events transpire, the eyes of many remain affixed on the unfolding events, with hopes for a resolution and de-escalation that can steer Manipur towards a path of stability and unity.