In 2023, Manipur became the focal point of national attention as it grappled with one of its most severe ethnic conflicts, pitting the Kuki and Meitei communities against each other. The repercussions of this clash were devastating, resulting in over 200 fatalities and rendering nearly 60,000 people homeless.
The origins of the violence can be traced back to simmering tensions in the hill districts of Churachandpur and Kangpokpi. The catalyst for the conflict emerged in February when the state government initiated efforts to reclaim reserved forest areas from encroachers. This move, aimed at protecting the region’s valuable natural resources, took a contentious turn as the government demolished Kuki houses in Churachandpur district.
The demolition sparked outrage among the Kuki-Zo community, leading to condemnation and protests against what they perceived as an encroachment on tribal land. March witnessed clashes between demonstrators and the police in Kangpokpi district, where attempts to hold a rally against the alleged encroachment of tribal land escalated into violent confrontations.
The situation further escalated when, in the aftermath of these clashes, the state cabinet decided to withdraw from the tripartite Suspension of Operations (SoO) talks. These talks, in effect since 2008, involved the central government, state government, and two Kuki-based outfits—the Kuki National Army and Zomi Revolutionary Army. The state government’s withdrawal was grounded in the commitment to safeguard forest resources and eliminate poppy cultivation, asserting that it would not compromise on these measures.
The Kuki-Meitei conflict in Manipur underscores the complex interplay of environmental conservation, tribal rights, and the challenges faced by governments in managing such delicate situations. As the region seeks to heal from the wounds inflicted by this unfortunate episode, the path to reconciliation and sustainable coexistence demands a nuanced understanding of the underlying issues and a commitment to addressing them through dialogue and inclusive policies.