Ethnic Violence Engulfs Indian Villages, Leaving Devastation in its Wake

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In the northeastern state of Manipur, the tranquil village of Heirokland has been reduced to ashes due to the eruption of ethnic violence. While the road leading to the village showcases signs of government development initiatives, the reality within the village is one of destruction and despair.

Sanatomba, a young resident of Heirokland, sifts through the remains of his sister’s home in search of anything salvageable. He can only retrieve a traditional stool, as the kitchen, rooms, and belongings that once filled the house have been lost forever. The clashes, which took place between the predominantly Hindu Meitei people and the largely Christian Kuki tribe, resulted in the burning of approximately 1,700 houses and injuries to around 230 people.

To restore order, thousands of troops have been deployed, while roughly 35,000 residents have sought refuge in ad-hoc army-run camps for the displaced. Sanatomba’s sister and her family, who are Kuki, are among the displaced, and he fears they will never be able to return. The village as a whole shares a similar fate, with its three settlements strewn with broken doors, charred water tanks, and forced-open metal trunks.

During the violence, attackers not only set fire to the towering village church, school buildings, and even a jackfruit tree but also stole residents’ livestock and poultry. Sanatomba reveals the attackers even killed animals they couldn’t take alive, using them for meat. The lingering fear of further violence lingers, as the Meitei people are perceived as a threat by the Kuki community.

The clash between these ethnic groups was sparked by protests against plans to grant the Meitei people “scheduled tribe” status. This designation, a form of affirmative action aimed at addressing structural inequality and discrimination, would provide them with reserved quotas for government jobs and college admissions. However, leaders of minority hill communities argue that the Meitei community is relatively well-off and view these additional privileges as unfair. The Meiteis, on the other hand, contend that employment quotas and other benefits for tribal communities would be safeguarded.

Violence erupted in the regional capital, Imphal, and beyond, with protesters setting vehicles and buildings ablaze. Subsequently, Meitei mobs armed with guns and petrol cans targeted Kuki settlements in the hills. Authorities express concern that retaliatory attacks may occur, as both communities have accumulated weapons.

Amid the turmoil, a senior army officer appealed to a gathering of Kuki community members, urging them to surrender any weapons they possessed. The officer highlighted that the Meitei community had agreed to surrender their weapons if the Kuki community followed suit. However, no weapons were voluntarily surrendered during the gathering.

Thanglallem Kuki, a teacher who witnessed the destruction of his village, Kamuching, recounted how the Meitei mob looted valuables, electronic devices, cooking gas cylinders, and even mattresses from houses before setting them ablaze. The assault on his village was carried out in two waves, with some houses initially left unburned, only to be completely consumed by fire when the attackers returned after two days.

The victims of these clashes, like Thanglallem Kuki and many others, find themselves bereft of possessions and hope. They mourn the loss of their homes, which were once the foundation of their lives, and confront a future overshadowed by helplessness and despair.

In conclusion, the ethnic violence in Manipur has left a trail of devastation, with entire villages reduced to ashes and thousands of lives upended. The clashes between the Meitei people and the K