The agitations demanding Inner Line Permit, which has held the Imphal valley hostage for well over a month, has now reached the Indo-Myanmar border town of Moreh in Chandel district on Tuesday leading to the first inter-communal clashes in the trading town in nearly a decade.
The clashes took place between the Meitei community, which has been demanding that the Inner Line Permit be introduced in Manipur, and the Kuki tribe, which is the dominant community in this area. The tribals in Manipur (under the umbrella groups of the Nagas and the Kukis) have not been supporting the introduction of the Inner Line Permit, which has so far primarily been a Meitei demand.
Residents in Moreh said that the Meitei Council in Moreh had called for an ILP rally in town to be taken out yesterday. The Hill Tribal Council of Moreh had requested that the rally not be taken out as this was a “Kuki area” and that “many different communities lived here together in harmony.” Apart from the dominant Kukis and the Meiteis, Moreh has a large population of Yamils, Punjabis, Marwaris and traders from across the country who have been living here for decades.
“Despite the directive released by the Hill Council, in the morning yesterday, a number of Meitei protestors went around shutting shops. Then the Kuki student leaders went around opening the ones which were forced to shut. Then the Meiteis came around and made us shut our shops again. This went on for some time, then the Meiteis and Kukis came out and started pelting stones at each other,’’said a Moreh resident talking to The Indian Express.
By morning, a large mob of Kuki student leaders had started taking out goods from Meitei run shops and burning them on the road. The office of the Meitei Council was attacked, ransacked and set on fire by Kuki Tribals.
“The police was there and so was the Army (Assam Rifles), but they just stood and watched,’’said the resident.
SDPO Moreh Sadananda Akoijam, however, said that the situation was controlled by the Moreh police. “The clashes started around 9.30am in the morning and it was controlled soon by the police. It took some time because we don’t have the right equipment, which is mostly outdated. We can’t go out onto the roads and start shooting people. The tear gas that we had and other anti-riot equipment did not work properly – most of them were outdated and did not burst. We were also completely outnumbered by the local population,’’he said.
General Secretary Kuki Students Organisation Seiboi Haokip who was in Moreh today to assess the situation told The Indian Express, “Regarding ILP and rallies associated with the movement, we have clearly told the Meiteis that the hill districts – whether it be the Nagas or the Kukis – be left out of it. We don’t want anything to do with it. We don’t have a problem with outsiders coming into Manipur. Our Hill district council had clearly told the Meiteis to not hold the rally.”
A meeting was conducted today between the KSO and the Kuki Inpi (the apex body of the Kuki) and AMUCO and United Council of Manipur (Meitei organisations) at Moreh today but sources said that they did not arrive at any solution.
The ILP movement has created discontent among the Kuki population of Manipur for some time as various ILP leaders in the past have called the Kukis “foreigners’’ who had come from Myanmar and settled in Manipur. The strong connections between the Kukis and the Burmese (both of whom belong to the same Indo-Chin racial stock) has created a certain suspicion and distance between the the Kukis and the Meiteis.
Moreh has in the past been the epicenter of some of Manipur’s most violent communal clashes. In 1992, violent clashes between the Nagas and the Kukis in the state started in Moreh. Nearly 1,000 kukis were killed, 360 kuki villages razed to the ground and around 100,000 were rendered homeless. It was in nearby Moreh that the clashes first started with the NSCN (IM) trying to claim dominance over a very lucrative Moreh – the dominant Kuki clans resisting.
Last year, Kukis protesting the setting up of the smart city located two kilometers from Moreh claiming that it was a Meitei attempt to grab their land.
Moreh is Manipur’s most lucrative trading town and the hub of cross-border smuggling. Arms and drugs to and fro between the two countries find rite of passage through this small town of 40,000. Moreh once had a population of over 1.5 residents but various clashes – Nagas with the kukis and then Kukis with the large Tamil population ensured that the population dwindled. The Nagas left entirely. Many Tamils and non-Manipuri communities also packed their bags and relocated. Now the township is dominated by the Kukis, to be closely followed by Meiteis, the Tamils and then the Manipuri Muslims.
Today according to an estimation from various reports as much as Rs 40,000 crore worth of annual trade is carried out with as much as Rs 3-4 crores of trade taking place daily. Over the years, various underground groups have repeatedly tried to control the township.