Opinion: Why only a 'political solution' can save Manipur
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Deeply disturbed by the continuous violence in Manipur and the inability of the government to put an end to it, a three-member fact-finding team from the National Federation of Indian Women visited Manipur from 28 June to 1 July 2023. After visiting both the affected communities, the findings concluded that the incident was state-sponsored violence’.

Even though the report was produced after extensive consultation with the affected community, it still misses a crucial element of the Manipur crisis: the media-sponsored ethnic cleansing. 

One must be informed that the highest ranking police officer of the state, P. Doungel, has been stripped of his power, and hundreds of Kuki police officers and constables are freed of their duties in Imphal and Meitei-dominated areas. As a result, the state’s police force has been dominated by Meitei police who became a de facto party to the Meiteis’ in case of any conflict between the Kukis and the Meiteis. 

Even when the evidence demonstrated their (Meiteis) direct involvement, the Imphal valley-based digital broadcast media continuously supported their (Meitei miscreants) action by creating false narratives over the attacks on Kukis. Additionally, they labelled Kukis as militants and Meitei miscreants as either innocent civilians or village defenders/volunteers.

To understand who’s who in the context of innocent civilians, village defenders/volunteers, and militants, it is pertinent to ask about the place/location of the attack and whose community’s village has been burnt down. The media outlets have hardly ever fact-checked the reports. 

While the world already knew that the occurrences were state-sponsored ethnic pogroms carried out by the N. Biren Singh-led administration in Manipur, certain versions of the incidents are falsified and misrepresented to malign a particular community. In that regard, the piece draws attention to state-sponsored ethnic violence in Manipur supported by digital broadcast media based in the Imphal Valley.

Imphal-based digital broadcast media houses

Imphal, the state capital, hosts the most subscribed and the largest viewership digital broadcast media houses in the state. The most subscribed broadcast media are TOM TV with 731k subscribers, Impact TV with 691k subscribers, ISTV LIVE with 476k subscribers, Elite TV with 162k subscribers, and MAMI TV NETWORK with 157k subscribers. 

All these digital broadcast channels are based in Imphal and feature regular state violence or occurrences. The Meiteis own and control the majority of these media outlets. As a result, the narratives and materials remain imbalanced and in addition, there’s hardly anyone to question these media houses seriously on these matters. The media campaign waged against the Kukis and its biased, inaccurate narratives are shown in the following points.

Kangchup area: Kangchup area lies along the western slopes of the Imphal Valley where both the communities, Kukis and Meiteis reside in nearby villages. Imphal being the state’s capital and the heart of Meitei dominated valley, the Kuki villages neighbouring Imphal valley are the worst affected. Kangchup area having a similar composition to Imphal and bordering it is constantly under the attack of the Meitei radicals and state forces. Despite that, on June 5, 2023, TOM TV described the incident of a firing in the Kangchup area where 3 Meiteis were shot dead by the Kuki militants (lalhouba). The media house tried to push a false narrative as this report was baseless and they have no proof of such an incident, either in the form of government data or otherwise. 

One must wonder where these 3 Meiteis perished: in their localities in Imphal or a Kuki village? One certain thing is that Kukis living in the Kangchup area left their villages to far-away Kuki-inhabited places, whereas abled youths stayed behind to defend their villages. However, due to the proximity of the Meitei-dominated Imphal valley to their villages, many Kuki villagers could not defend themselves and their villages from the mass attack of the Meiteis. Kangchup Patjang, Jangnomphai, and Kangchup Chingkhong are some of the first Kuki villages in the Kangchup area which were burnt down by Meitei miscreants assisted by the Meitei police forces on May 4, 2023.

Khamenlok: According to an ISTV LIVE report from June 12, 2023, numerous Meiteis were injured in a gunfight between ‘local volunteers’ (Meiteis) and ‘Kuki militants’ in the Khamenlok area. As reported, the attack continued until June 14, 2023, which led to the burnt down of several Kuki villages such as Songjang, Aigejang, H. Khopibung, Jordanphai, Thombol, Govajang, T. Chullouphai, and Phainom, leaving several Meiteis’ dead. 

To understand the context, one must comprehend the demography of the Khamenlok area, which is inhabited mostly by the Kuki, some Meitei, and Naga communities, and about 25 KM away from Imphal city from where many of the so-called innocent Meitei village ‘defenders’ came. 

This leads to a question: what were innocent Meiteis doing in a Kuki village which is about 25 km from their localities in Imphal? Who is the village defender and who is the militant in this context?

Mualngat: According to Impact TV, on 11 May 2023, Manipur state forces were conducting a patrol in Tronglaobi when they were ambushed by Kuki insurgents, leaving a few Meiteis injured and one person dead. The Meitei and Kuki settlement area is about 1.5 KM away from each other separated by paddy fields. Tronglaobi lies at the NH-2 and the nearest Kuki village, Mualngat is about 1.5 KM away from it. It is implausible that the Kukis would risk their lives in the open field by going to fight the heavily armed and armoured state forces. According to local reports on the Mualngat incident, state forces were heading in their armoured vehicles toward the Kuki’s inhabited region in the foothills of Thangting and they were the ones to set fire in several villages, including Mualngat, P. Gelmol, Phoisanphai, and Ujungmakhong. The Kukis, however, who are defending their communities from the state forces and Meitei miscreants are labelled as militants by the media outlets situated in the Imphal valley.

Sugnu: Sugnu is a small town that lies in an intersection point of several districts of Manipur: Kakching, Churachandpur, Bishnupur, and Chandel. It has been long inhabited by both the Kuki and Meitei communities. However, with the violent eruption on May 3, 2023, their long relations as good neighbours collapsed on May 28, 2023, when they left all the Kuki-inhabited villages/localities in the main Sugnu area to ashes. Some of these villages burnt down on the 28th itself are H. Gamnom, Langching, Sugnu Loukhijang, Sugnu Lamhang, Sugnu Zouveng, and Sugnu Tribal while the rest were burned in the following days. The Elite TV news on June 6, 2023, reported that 1 BSF personnel was shot dead and 3 Assam Rifles personnel were injured due to the firing by the Kuki militants in the Sugnu area

Had there been no drone evidence showing the alleged forces using AR Casper vehicles to attack Kuki villages, everyone would have believed the allegation. According to the Kuki village defenders, the AR Casper vehicles approached their village but since they were AR vehicles, they were ignored. But suddenly, individuals sprang from the vehicles and began firing at them. The village volunteers, unable to protect themselves from the sudden attack, were forced to flee for their lives, leaving V. Haipijang, Y. Thingkangphai, L. Thinglhangphai, and Ch Molbem at the mercy of the culprits and their homes were immediately set on fire.

Clear terminology for both communities

The vocabulary used for the Kukis and Meiteis in all of the aforementioned broadcast media is the same. Despite defending their villages, the Kukis are termed as militants, and the Meiteis keep attacking the Kuki villages as innocent civilians or village defenders/volunteers. Some facts which remain confusing include how village defenders go to burn others’ villages which are about 6 to 10 km away from their villages. How can a person defending their village be termed as militant? Did Meiteis come to defend Kuki villages? Did the Imphal Valley-based media houses mistakenly believe it was a football game that after half time they had to switch sides?

However, MAMI TV reported in English on June 3, stating that, “violence in the form of attack, killing, and arson at Kuki settlement continues even after the Union Home Minister had earnestly appealed for peace in the state”. 

Although MAMI TV eventually removed the video from YouTube, it had already gone viral on social media. Additionally, MAMI TV clarified its use of the term “Radical Meitei Group”. They only meant “Meitei Village Guards”. This is an atrocity committed against the truth.

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A statement released by MAMI TV later clarified their report on May 3, 2023, about the continual attacks on the Kukis by the Meitei extremists.

The Imphal valley-based broadcast media houses supported the state-sponsored ethnic cleansing of the Kukis. It’s unfortunate for the Kukis on two fronts. First, they must defend themselves from the guns of the state-sponsored Meitei miscreants and then from the media-sponsored fake narratives. Thus, the morals of these media organisations are called into doubt. As a result, it is advisable for everyone who reads and watches the news about the violence in Manipur to carefully double-check the information to discern who’s who in this mayhem.

Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the views of the publication. The author is a Ph.D. Research Scholar at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.

Also read: I’ve Kuki, Meitei, Naga roots; but Imphal can no longer be my home

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