Representatives of Imphal’s women-run Ema Keithal or Mothers’ Market on Monday staged a sit-in on Jantar Mantar Road to urge the Centre to restore peace in Manipur and maintain the integrity of the state, while regretting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s failure to intervene.
Manipur has been witnessing violence since May 3 between the majority Meiteis and the tribal Kukis, with more than 110 people killed and up to 60,000 displaced. The Mothers’ Market representatives are Meiteis from both the Hindu and Pangal Muslim communities
Speaking in Meiteilon through translators at a news conference here that preceded the start of the sit-in, H. Binodini, an elderly representative, said: “Loss of property and jewellery can be restored, but not the loss of lives.”
She added: “The hills and forests are ablaze.... That’s why all the mothers and youths are spending sleepless nights. We are here to place our grievances before the Prime Minister so he can intervene.”
Modi has not spoken about the ongoing clashes or visited the state after the violence began.
“During the election campaign, the Prime Minister and other ministers came to our state. But even after so many lives have been lost, the Prime Minister has not come,” representative K. Dhaneshwari said
Even though the majority of Meiteis are Hindu, the Prime Minister is not concerned about our helplessness.”
Many academics, bureaucrats and civil society organisations have blamed the violence — during which scores of churches have been attacked — on the ruling BJP’s divisive policies.
On Sunday, some people in the Meitei-majority districts of Manipur stomped on transistor sets in markets in protest against Modi’s failure to mention the state in his monthly Mann Ki Baat radio broadcast.
Meitei protesters had last week torched the homes of central and state ministers from the BJP in Manipur.
“We are suspicious that the government wants to divide the state on ethnic lines,” Binodini said.
Dhaneshwari said: “The (Union) home minister (Amit Shah) visited Manipur only 20 (actually 26) days after the violence began. We are not seeing any initiative for peace after he returned to Delhi.”
Another elderly representative, Janu Begum, said: “Even during the home minister’s visit, violence took place…. Instead of more youths dying, we mothers are ready to sacrifice our lives in Jantar Mantar for the sake of our children.”
Meitei women have played a historic role in dissent in the state, notably against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and fake police encounters since 2004.
Several speakers at Monday’s news conference put the blame for the violence solely on Kuki insurgents, allegedly from Myanmar, and claimed that Meiteis had only been defending themselves.
However, their anger at the breakdown of governance in the state was directed mainly at the Centre.
Representative K. Prabha said: “The home minister announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the dead. What use is a mere 10 lakh?... We did not ask for money. We ask for peace and effective action to control the violence.”
The key demands in a memorandum that the Khwairambam Ema Keithal Joint Coordinating Committee for Peace wants to submit to the Prime Minister are that the Centre ensure peace, hold Kuki militants accountable, and withdraw from the Suspension of Operations Agreement, 2008, with them.
The representatives also asked the Centre to “stop divisive politics”, “stop complicity with conflicting parties”, and protect the integrity of Manipur.
Binodini said: “We have given many memos to the chief minister also but he has not done anything effective and we fear that the Centre has shut his mouth…. There is so much fear in the community that no dialogue has started with Kuki women’s groups as of now.”
Since the Manipur violence began, several Meitei and tribal groups in Delhi have held protests demanding the Centre intervene in their favour. Some multi-ethnic student groups have held vigils for peace.
Last week, more than 550 civil society groups and citizens demanded a court-monitored tribunal to prepare the ground for justice and reconciliation, and fast-track courts for the sexual offences committed during these clashes