[Burning Issue] Manipur Ethnic Violence



  • The Northeastern state of Manipur has been witnessing violent clashes between different ethnic groups since February 2023.
  • The latest round of unrest erupted on May 3, when a tribal student union organized a march to protest against the demand of the non-tribal Meitei community to be included in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list. The march turned violent and the police imposed a curfew and shoot-at-sight orders to control the situation.
  • In this context, this edition of the Burning Issue will elaborate on these clashes and the fundamentals involved in this issue.

Cause of the current violence

  • The tensions started brewing when the state government launched an anti-drug drive that targeted poppy cultivation in the hill districts. The tribals alleged that the drive was a pretext to evict them from their lands and accused the government of favouring the Meiteis.
  • Also in April 2023, The Manipur High Court’s order to expedite the recommendation for granting ST status to the Meiteis further inflamed the tribal sentiments and led to the massive protest on May 3.

Manipur High Court’s Ruling

  • The court directed the government to consider the inclusion of the Meitei community in the tribe list of Manipur.
  • It observed that the petitioners and other groups have been fighting for a long time for this inclusion, suggesting that it is an important issue for the community.
  • The court has directed the government to submit its recommendation after considering the case of the petitioners, preferably within four weeks of receipt of the order.

Merger of Manipur with the Union of India:

  • Pre-1947: Manipur was a princely state under British colonial rule. The Maharaja of Manipur, Bodhachandra Singh, was the ruler of the state.
  • August 1947: The Maharaja of Manipur signed the Instrument of Accession, agreeing to accede to the Indian Union.
  • 1972: Manipur, along with Meghalaya and Tripura, became a full-fledged state under the North Eastern Region (Reorganisation) Act, 1971.

Who are the Meiteis?

  • Largest community: The Meiteis are the largest community in Manipur.
  • Community’s Language: They speak the Meitei language (officially called Manipuri), one of the 22 official languages of India and the sole official language of Manipur State.
  • Geographical Distribution: Manipur is geographically divided into the Imphal Valley and the surrounding hills. The Imphal Valley is dominated by the Meitei community, which accounts for more than 64% of the population. The hills, which comprise 90% of Manipur’s geographical area, are inhabited by more than 35% recognized tribes, which are largely Christians.
  • Major Festivals: festivals of meiteis are Lai Haraoba, Cheiraoba, Yaosang among others. Also, The Manipuri martial art Thang-ta had its origin in the Meitei knights during the king’s rule.

Tribal groups’ opposition to the ST Status

  • Advantaged community: Many tribal groups say the Meiteis have a demographic and political advantage besides being more advanced than them academically and in other aspects.
  • Benefits at others’ cost: They feel the ST status to the Meiteis would lead to loss of job opportunities and allow them to acquire land in the hills and push the tribals out.
  • Already benefited: The language of the Meitei people is included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, and many of them have access to benefits associated with the SC, OBC, or EWS status.
  • Political vendetta: The demand for ST status is a ploy to attenuate the fervent political demands of the Kukis and Nagas, as well as a tacit strategy of the dominant valley dwellers to make inroads into the hill areas of the State.

Arguments in Favour

  • “Prior Recognition as Tribe: The petitioners contended before the High Court that the Meitei community held the status of a tribe before the integration of the princely state of Manipur with the Union of India in 1949. They also claimed that the community’s recognition as a tribe was lost after the integration.
  • Cultural Preservation: The Meiteis’ demand for ST status was based on the need to protect and preserve their culture, ancestral land, tradition, and language. The petitioners argued that granting ST status would aid in safeguarding the community’s cultural identity.
  • Advocacy for Constitutional Safeguards: The Scheduled Tribes Demand Committee of Manipur (STDCM) has been actively advocating for ST status for the Meitei community since 2012. They claimed that the community has been deprived of constitutional safeguards due to their exclusion from the ST list.
  • Population Decline: The STDCM argued that the Meitei community has been gradually marginalized in their ancestral land, resulting in a decline in their population. According to the 2011 Census data, the Meitei population, which was 59% of the total population of Manipur in 1951, has now reduced to 44%.
  • Contempt Proceedings Against HAC: Meitei community members have filed contempt proceedings against the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) of the Manipur Assembly for opposing their inclusion under the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category.

Current situation

  • In view of the prevailing unprecedented burning situation, the Centre has imposed Article 355 in the state, in an effort to control the situation, according to reliable sources.

What is Article 355?

  • Article 355 of the Indian Constitution is a provision that empowers the Union government to protect every state in India against external aggression and internal disturbances.
  • It is based on the principle of “duty to protect” enshrined in the Constitution, which makes it mandatory for the Union government to protect every state from external and internal threats.

Restrictions under Article 355

  • Under Article 355, the Union government has the power to issue directions to any state to ensure compliance with the Union’s laws and regulations. However, there are certain restrictions on this power:
  • The directions can only be given when there is a failure of the state machinery to comply with or give effect to any Union law or regulation.
  • The directions should be of an urgent nature and may not extend beyond the necessary period for remedying the failure of the state machinery.The state government should be given an opportunity to submit its views before the issuance of such directions.The Union government cannot use this power to intervene in the internal affairs of a state unless there is a failure of the state machinery.The duration of the assistance provided under Article 355 is not specified in the Constitution.
  • The duration of the assistance provided under Article 355 is subject to judicial review and can be challenged in court if it violates any fundamental rights or constitutional provisions.

Moving Forward

  • Encouraging dialogue: The ongoing conflict in Manipur reflects a deep-seated ethnic divide and lack of trust between various communities. Both the state and central governments must engage in a transparent and fair dialogue with all stakeholders to address their concerns.
  • Maintaining law and order is crucial to prevent any innocent lives from being affected or lost during the unrest.
  • Avoiding misinformation spread: Civil society and media should promote harmony among different groups and refrain from spreading misinformation and rumors.
  • Embracing each other: The people of Manipur must understand that violence is not the answer to any problem and that peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, and tolerance are necessary for a sustainable future.


  • The conflict between the Meiteis and tribals in Manipur stems from long-standing political, economic, and cultural grievances. The Meiteis, who dominate the valley region, seek Scheduled Tribe status to protect their identity and rights from outsiders, while the tribals from various ethnic groups in the hills oppose this demand, fearing a loss of their privileges and autonomy.
  • The lack of development in Manipur is also a reason for the rumbling suspicion between the hill and valley areas. Both the Union and the state governments must rectify this at once to help develop better relations between the hill and valley. This is essential for peaceful co-existence.

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