Meitei refugees at a transit point after being evacuated from Churachandpur, May 9, 2023 (Photos: AFP)
Non-resident Meiteis, the largest ethnic group in violence-hit Manipur, have formed an international organisation to finance relief and rehabilitation work and to lobby for resolving the ongoing clashes between them and tribal Kukis in the North Eastern state through negotiations, including backchannel ones.
Headquartered in Suwon, South Korea, and named the Global Manipur Federation (GMF), the newly floated entity has coordinators in North America, the United Kingdom and East Asia to raise funds and intensify efforts to bring the warring parties to urgently engage in talks in order to de-escalate the conflict that has pushed the state to the brink of a major security crisis. Some groups, armed with sniper rifles and AK 47 guns, have wreaked havoc in Manipur with hostile ethnic groups, including dreaded militants, targeting each other for arson, loot, kidnapping and killing.
Talking to Open from South Korea, JN Lai of GMF’s media team said he and his associates have reached out to other communities, especially Kukis, to join this forum. “We are now focusing on raising money and pursuing ways to end mindless riots and then we will look at ways to build lasting peace in the state,” he said, emphasising that GMF is already in touch with state-level officials and other stakeholders in Manipur settle the differences between communities through dialogue. Non-resident Manipuris comprise opinion leaders and influencers that run into thousands of people who can promote dialogue among community leaders, Lai said on the phone from Suwon.
In a statement announcing its formation, GMF said, “The recent wave of violent protests, culminating in orchestrated violence in Manipur during the early summer of 2023, touches the hearts and minds of Manipuris across the globe. The profound anguish and growing sentiments experienced by our fellow Manipuris on the ground evoke a shared sense of empathy within us. In response, non-resident Indians (NRIs) from Manipur have united in solidarity, forming the Global Manipur Federation. Spanning continents from Africa to Europe, GMF is committed to transforming the conflict in Manipur. With our humble capacities, we plan to take part in peace-building, crisis management, and related activities, striving for a better future.”
GMF also appealed to certain sections of the media to desist from “irresponsible” reporting by communalising the issue. “These incidents have unfolded, loosely pitting two communities, namely the Kukis and the Meiteis, against each other. Irresponsible media and biased commentators have distorted the tragedy, portraying it through a religious lens and disseminating false narratives without comprehending the underlying context and fundamental issues of the conflict. This perspective, coupled with various rumours, has further exacerbated the situation, and hindered meaningful dialogue,” it said in the statement. Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Amit Shah was recently in the state to take stock of the situation and to urge all sides to cease violence.
GMF statement added, “In fact, violent incidents have occurred between the Kukis, assisted by militant groups who are party to a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India, termed Suspension of Operation (SoO), and the Meiteis. Now, the crisis has turned into a conflict between the Kuki-Chin militants (who are separatists) and defenceless Meitei villagers…” The organisation also raised concerns about the alleged activities of certain entities that have aided Kuki-Chin militants in committing crimes. Many pundits in the state have claimed without elaborating that these militants are getting support from unexpected quarters.
The newly formed forum also alleged that some groups are instigating communal violence, and urged the media to act adequately and promptly to de-escalate the violence and manage the crisis. “We provide a commitment to exert a constructive influence on the situation in Manipur while fostering a sense of solidarity among Manipuris worldwide. It is our sincere hope that such endeavours yield productive results in transforming the conflict,” GMF added in its statement. Its office-bearers are in constant touch with people in the state, including top-ranking officials, notwithstanding the ban on Internet services since May 4. The suspension of Internet services is meant to stop the spread of rumours and propaganda online, but it has put the careers of thousands of professionals in the state at risk.
The ethnic clashes that started on May 3 in Manipur have left close to 100 people killed, according to official data. Hundreds of others are wounded, and many more have left their homes in fear of impending attacks by armed rival groups and crores of rupees worth of property damaged in the unrest that shows no signs of a let-up amidst growing mistrust and tension.