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The Crisis in Manipur: A Joint Statement issued by Human Rights Alert and the Asian Human Rights Commission

24 May 2010

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(Source: The Asian Human Rights Commission)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 24, 2010

A Joint Statement issued by Human Rights Alert and the Asian Human Rights Commission

INDIA: Manipur crisis is the result of brokering with factional interests

Three weeks after the Home Secretary Mr. G. K. Pillai’s discussion with the
Chief Minister of Manipur, Mr. Okram Ibobi Singh, the state and its people
continue to suffer from the unilateral economic blockade imposed by the Naga nationalist and political organisations including Naga student political
groups. After the meeting held in the first week of this month with the
Chief Minister, Pillai said, "*[u]nder no circumstances shall Manipur be
allowed to suffer any longer and there will be all help from the central
government to break the deadlock*".

44 days into the blockade, essential commodities in Manipur are priced at
such high levels that most people living in the state cannot afford to buy
their regular household provisions from the market should there be any
merchandise available to be purchased. A kilogram of rice, if available in
the open market, is priced at Rs. 30; a litre of petrol is priced between
Rs. 150 to 200. Diesel is hardly available in any fuel stations, so is
kerosene and cooking oil. A standard domestic LPG cylinder is priced between Rs. 1000 to 1500. Overall, the price of essential commodities has increased more than five times of their original cost.

It is reported that most public food distribution shops have shut down in
the entire state and the government warehouses are empty. Public vehicles
have stopped plying affecting the daily commutation of the people, including
students. The Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) and Jawaharlal
Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, two vital public health facilities and
hospitals for the entire state, have literally stopped functioning due to
the non-availability of life supporting medicines and patients are
discharged against their will.

The Intensive Care Unit at RIMS is closed since the past 30 days due to the
non-availability of medicines, nasal cannula oxygen and diesel for its power
unit. At present the RIMS has only 200 litres of diesel which can only last
for 14 hours. The hospital that used to conduct 30 to 40 surgeries each day
has limited itself to conducting two to three caesarean sections, that too
in unavoidable cases due to the acute shortage of nasal cannula oxygen.

There is nothing new about this blockade since in the past the Naga
political groups operating inside and outside Manipur have enforced similar
economic blockades against Manipur, for instance 52 days in 2005, between
June 20 and August 11. Manipur is a landlocked state in India’s northeast
where the vital link road, National Highway 39, connecting Manipur with the
rest of India has to pass through Nagaland, the neighbouring state.

The blockade that started on April 11 was initially organised by Naga
student bodies and some Naga nationalist civil society organisations in
protest against the decision of the Manipur state government to hold
elections to the Manipur Hill Areas Autonomous District Councils (ADC).
Sensing the political opportunity, Naga separatist leader, Mr. Thuingaleng
Muivah, in the first week of May publicly announced that he wanted to visit
his home village in Manipur, for which the Manipur state government denied
permission on the excuse of security.

Muivah is the General Secretary of National Socialist Council of Nagalim
[Isak-Muivah] (NSCN-IM), a political group mostly comprised of Tangkhuls, a Naga tribe generally living in the hill regions of Manipur. Within hours of
the Manipur government’s decision to prohibit Muivah from entering the
state, the NSCN-IM joined the blockade.

The NSCN-IM however is not the only Naga political outfit that has a claim
for setting up Nagalim. Stronger groups like NSCN (Khaplang) and NSCN
(Unification) also operate in Nagaland purportedly for the same cause. Most
of their leaders like Muivah and several of their cadres do not have a clean
record.

Nagalim is a claim raised by the Naga secessionist groups to constitute a
separate independent nation for the Nagas. Over the years the government of India has negotiated a peace agreement with some of these groups forcing them to abandon their claim for a separate nation and to join mainstream politics on the agreement to constitute a separate state with more autonomous powers.

The reduced concept of Nagalim is however opposed by several Naga groups and other ethnic communities in the region. Some Naga groups oppose the proposal as they view the peace agreement with the government of India as an unacceptable compromise, whereas many other ethnic groups view the concept of Nagalim as a threat against their territorial domain.

Until the blockade Muivah was considered as just one of the several leaders
of the Naga secessionist movement. The blockade has helped Muivah to enhance his political profile. Muivah’s wish to visit his home village Somdal in Manipur is the mere exploitation of the Naga sentiment against Manipur for declaring elections to the ADCs. Ibobi counteracted on similar fault lines
of political shrewdness by prohibiting Muivah from entering Manipur. The
resultant impasse has helped Ibobi and Muivah to emerge as the leaders of
Meitei and Naga nationalism.

By stirring up the issue, both Ibobi and Muivah have only contributed to
deepening the divide between the two ethnic communities, the Meities and
Nagas. The latest public expression of this divide is the statement issued
yesterday by the president of Naga Hoho, Mr. Keviletuo Kiewhuo. "*The
problem in Manipur initially started with Autonomous District Council
elections which led to economic blockade to prevent the polls in certain
areas. In the midst of that, NSCN-IM General Secretary Th. Muivah’s proposed visit compounded the situation and now it has crossed that certain level ... while we will not comment on the issues of Muivah’s proposed visit or the ADC election, we want the total separation of the people, that is the Nagas and the Meiteis. We have to live as different identities, we cannot co-exist anymore*". Naga Hoho is the apex body of Naga tribal organisations.

The central security agencies that have overshadowed life in Manipur and
Nagaland by means of arbitrary and often brutal use of force against any
form of dissent have thus far avoided involving in the issue. The government of India which uses the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 in Manipur, and in the region generally, has failed to do anything further other than organising security for trucks that used a long alternate route to enter Manipur though National Highway 53 that passes through yet another state Meghalaya. Some cargo is also brought into Manipur by air from Assam. None of this however is a permanent solution to the problem.

For instance the minimum requirement of essential commodities to be brought into Manipur each month to meet domestic demand is 7887 metric ton of rice; 1763 metric ton of sugar; 1106 metric ton of wheat; 2131 kilolitre of kerosene; 2200 kilolitre of petrol; 6600 kilolitre of diesel and an
estimated 1900 standard LPG cylinders each month. This is not a requirement that could be met physically or economically by air transit between Guwahati and Imphal. The worst affected from the lack of food supplies is the 4.8 million children aged between one to eight years in Manipur.

The government of India has the singular responsibility of allowing the
issue to escalate to this proportion. The current situation is the predictable result of the government of India’s flawed policies of brokering with criminal elements operating in the region, like Muivah and Ibobi. The
deepening divide and the fragility of peace between the ethnic communities
is also the result of unilateral negotiations that were brokered in the past
by the government of India, ignoring the collective tribal and ethnic
identities of the people living in the region.

The government of India has literally walked into a trap set by Ibobi and
Muivah. At the very minimum the government cannot ask Muivah to restrict his movement within India, the least to prevent him from visiting his home village since over the past decade Muivah has been encouraged by the government to accept the Constitutional premise in the country with all its guarantees including the freedom of movement. Any attempt to restrict Muivah could probably result in a unilateral withdrawal from the peace accord by the Nagas, a costly affair for the government and Nagas alike. Ibobi on his count has added fire to the issue by allowing his police to kill Naga protesters in Mao town two weeks ago. Mao is a border town in Manipur adjacent to Nagaland.

At the minimum, Muivah and Ibobi are individuals with tainted records who
cannot be trusted to sort out the crisis. Muivah for instance is believed to
be the mastermind behind the ethnic violence that hit the region in 1992-93
where an estimated 780 Kukis were killed. In spite of the omnipresence of
military and paramilitary units in the region, various Naga, Meitei and Kuki
insurgent groups operate abundantly in Manipur and Nagaland. They run
parallel governments openly and uninterruptedly within their respective
domains, a feature the state as well as central government have let continue for so long.

The economic blockade of Manipur and the plight of its ordinary people is
the ultimate example of the failure of the government of India and that of
the state governments in Manipur and Nagaland to counter armed insurgency in the region. The blockade is sheer exploitation of the many political power loopholes that exist in the region. It epitomises the continuing failure in the governments’ flawed policies of using sheer force than democratic means to curb violence and secessionist ideologies rooted in complex and ethnic identity issues.

The government over the past decade has spent millions worth of taxpayers’ money to militarise the region, but has failed to contain serious human rights violations like murder, rape, abduction and torture committed by both state and non-state actors. Yet, the political and democratic solution to the existing crisis is with the people living in the region, irrespective of their tribal and other ethnic identities.

It is for a responsible government to publically address the people living
in the region, in Nagaland and Manipur in particular, calling for an end to
the crisis. For this, the government will have to regain the lost confidence
of the ordinary people.

The government must hold open and engaging discussions with the political
and other democratic groups including the members of credible human rights organisations working in the region to resolve the crisis. The government forces stationed in the region will have to be tightly disciplined and the people must be given the guarantee that abuses of rights committed by state as well as non-state actors will face prosecution in civilian institutions.

The government of India has not yet devoted enough intellectual and
financial resources to find a peaceful solution to the crisis and to avoid
the impending human catastrophe in Manipur. The government of India has the responsibility and the mandate to immediately intervene in the situation.

About HRA & AHRC: Human Rights Alert is a Manipur based human rights organisation. The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional
non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.