The fragile ethnic landscape of India is best exemplified by the Manipur crisis, especially in the years since the BJP came to power in 2014. The indigenous tribal community has been subjected to state-sponsored persecution on a constant basis throughout history. An outspoken backlash against a court decision that threatened to significantly change the demographic makeup of the state set off the crisis, which took place on May 3, 2023. Manipur, a state in northeastern India, is encircled by wild mountains and shares a border with Myanmar. The Meitei ethnic group, which dominates the region and is largely Hindu, lives in the central valley. The Kukis and Nagas, two tribal groups that primarily practice Christianity, live in the mountainous regions, in contrast. The coexistence of the minority Muslim population in this multi-ethnic mosaic only adds to the complexity and conflict in the region.
The mountainous area has been designated solely government property by the government, citing the need to preserve the forest and protect the environment. Unfortunately, countless instances of coercive evictions and unfair property seizures have occurred under the cover of this pretext. In an effort to stop the illegal cultivation of poppies, the Kukis’ main source of income, the tribal community has been the target of government raids. Given that the majority of the tribal community is Christian, this discriminatory policy has unsettling similarities to the divisive tactics the BJP uses against religious minorities.
However, the Meitei are the numerically dominant group in the state, making up 54% of the total population. Tribal communities make up 40% of the population, and various smaller groups make up the remaining people. The central government granted them the coveted Scheduled Tribes (ST) status because of their distinctive tribal way of life, in an effort to preserve their distinctive cultural heritage. They are granted certain privileges as a result of their ST status, including exclusive land authority in mountainous areas, which has become a major source of contention. The Meitei, who make up the majority of the population, continue to reside in the central valley, which only makes up 10% of the state’s total area.
The main reason for hostilities and tensions in the state is this contrast between the Meitei, who live in the valley, and the hill tribes. The alleged one-sided narrative spread by the BJP’s extreme Hindutva politics, however, is what makes the situation worse. Even if minority communities ostensibly support the government’s agenda, whereas, critics contend that the ruling party’s strategy appears to favor majoritarian interests, marginalizing their rights and concerns.
Sadly, the central government’s glaring silence in the wake of the Manipur tragedy serves as a metaphor for the perceived flaws in their purported democratic system. Therefore, critics claim that India is quickly assuming the features of a fascist majoritarian state, where the rights and interests of minority groups have been placed in a subordinate position. This situation is especially troubling when even those who could be viewed as allies of the political system find themselves ignored and marginalized.
Therefore, the Manipur crisis essentially serves as a sobering warning about the fragility of India’s wide range of ethnic groups, which is made worse by the BJP’s divisive politics and its extreme ideologies. Moreover, the government’s response has been to impose a permanent curfew and implement a thorough internet ban, rather than dealing with the people’s justifiable complaints. The central government has been accused of escalating tensions by supporting one group while marginalizing the other, especially when the latter is a member of a religious minority, despite the fact that Kukis members serve as allies in the Manipur government.
Last but not least, these harsh policies have caused thousands of people to be forced to leave their hometowns and ancestral villages, escalating already heightened tensions. Families are now in a state of uncertainty because they cannot guarantee the security and well-being of their loved ones due to the communication blockade. Unfortunately, this lockdown has had terrible side effects, including a lack of food and a breakdown in communication. Despite the government’s claims that such actions are required to stop violence, the Kukis’ issues have only grown worse as a result of these measures. The government’s actions have essentially only fueled the fire, perpetuating a cycle of suffering and hopelessness within the Kukis community, rather than fostering peace and understanding.