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The European Parliament has shaped the narrative of the Manipur turmoil into a religious clash

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R K Sanayaima
R K Sanayaima
Assistant Professor School of Law Manav Rachna University, Haryana

On the 13th of July, the corridors of the European Parliament (EP) echoed concerns as a resolution urging Indian authorities to quell the violence in Manipur and safeguard religious minorities, particularly Christians, was passed.

However, beneath the surface of this seemingly well-intentioned act lies a sugar-coated maneuver laden with vested interests, an act of interference with India’s internal matters.

The European Parliament’s portrayal of the clashes in Manipur as religious persecution against the Kuki Christians is an exaggeration that distorts the reality on the ground. Reducing the recent ethnic turmoil to religious strife oversimplifies a much more intricate situation. Seeing the EP’s failure to grasp the context and nuances that shape Manipur’s challenges while diligently deliberating in their Strasbourg chambers is disheartening.

To truly understand the complexities at play, it is essential to delve into the concrete issues at hand. First and foremost, the Meitei’s demand for Scheduled Tribe status in the line of affirmative action has triggered apprehension and insecurity among existing ST communities, especially the Kuki community. They fear a potential reduction in their share of reservations if Meitei are included. Additionally, concerns arise about Meitei’s encroachment into the hills should they obtain ST status.

Another significant issue pertains to the government’s eviction efforts from reserved forests in both valleys and hills. While the government sees it as necessary, the Kuki community perceives it as an infringement on their land rights. Additionally, the ascent of Pan-Nationalism within the Chin-Kuki-Zo ethnic group stands as an additional influential element that cannot be disregarded. At the same time, the government’s fight against poppy plantations in the hills further exacerbates tensions.

Simultaneously the recent push for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Manipur has left the Kuki community feeling targeted, deepening their sense of unease. In the midst of these complexities, several Chin-Kuki-Zo individuals from Myanmar, belonging to the same ethnic group, have illegally entered India, seeking refuge from violence and persecution. The government’s stringent measures to verify their immigration status have stoked anger among the Kukis, as they share kinship with these individuals.

Simultaneously, the Meitei community, residing in the valleys that account for a mere less than 10 percent of Manipur’s total land area, feels besieged. They face legal restrictions preventing them from settling or acquiring land in the hill areas, which constitute a vast 90 percent of Manipur’s territory. This glaring disparity breeds a palpable sense of exclusion and marginalization.

European Parliament’s trial of Manipur violence is Vague and concocted
As the resolution on Manipur violence unfolded within the European Parliament, a reductionist approach emerged, pitting Hindu Meiteis against Christian Kukis and perpetuating the narrative of religious persecution and minority displacement. However, a closer examination of the recent ethnic turmoil in Manipur reveals a distinct pattern that challenges this oversimplification.

One crucial aspect becomes evident when we analyze the pattern of violence, for instance, in early May, the Kuki Baptist Church, for the Kuki community in Imphal, suffered damage, and the nearby Tangkhul Baptist Church for the Tangkhul Naga community remained unharmed. Except for rare isolated incidents, the churches belonging to the Naga community in Manipur have largely been untouched by the violence. This stark contrast debunks the notion that the violence in Manipur is purely driven by religion. If it were, the Naga churches would have suffered equal harm.

Interestingly, during the discussions, European legislative members predominantly focused on the burning of churches, and theological institutions. While these incidents are undeniably true, they conveniently overlooked the destruction of hundreds of Meitei temples. It is worth noting that Meitei religious Rituals/Puja, are often conducted in places called ‘Laishang’ or ‘Mandir,’ which are attached to almost every Meitei household. In the Kuki majority areas such as Churachandpur, Moreh, and various foothill villages, numerous Meitei houses and their attached Laishang/Mandir were set ablaze.

This selective portrayal of the violence perpetuates an incomplete narrative, failing to acknowledge the diverse religious communities affected by the unrest in Manipur. By focusing solely on one aspect, the European Parliament’s trial of Manipur violence becomes vague and concocted, devoid of a comprehensive understanding of the situation on the ground.

Unveiling the Blind Spot: EP’s Oversight of Meitei’s Diversity
In the discourse surrounding Manipur’s violence, the European Parliament (EP) members have showcased a disheartening ignorance of the intricate religious dynamics within the Meitei community. While it is true that a majority of Meitei identify as Hindus, it is equally crucial to acknowledge the significant presence of Meitei Christians, numbering around 1.5 lakhs in Manipur.

Amidst the turmoil, it is disconcerting to note that hundreds of Meitei Christian households have been subjected to violence and displacement, particularly in areas like Churachandpur and Moreh, where the Kuki community holds a majority.

Furthermore, it is essential for EP members to grasp the ground realities in Manipur. The destruction of more than 31 Umang Lai Laipham– sacred groves that have been revered for generations as shrines of worship for local forest deities by the Meitei people, is a profound loss. The burning of Koubru Khubam, a sacred and holy site located at the peak of Mount Koubru, one of Manipur’s highest mountains, holds immense significance. According to mythology, this sacred site is believed to be the origin of various indigenous communities in Manipur, including the Meitei and Zeliangrong. The European Parliament’s debate on religious rights and values should be all-encompassing, considering the diverse ethnic communities involved in Manipur.

Shedding Light on the Consequences: EP’s Colonial-inspired Resolutions and the Harm to India and Manipur

The recent resolutions from the European Parliament reveal a lingering colonial mindset, reminiscent of a bygone era of civilizing missions. In their attempts to impart moral guidance to India, a sovereign nation and the epitome of democratic values, the EP overlooks India’s remarkable history of tolerance and harmonious coexistence among diverse communities spanning centuries. It is high time for the EP to redirect their attention towards pressing matters within their own jurisdiction rather than interfering in internal matters of India.

Regrettably, the EP’s resolution has inflicted significant damage, particularly in Manipur, by unjustly demonizing the entire Meitei community. Such misrepresentation overlooks the rich tapestry of peaceful coexistence that has defined Manipur’s diverse communities throughout history. The EP’s failure to grasp the essence of mutual respect and shared heritage undermines the very fabric of Manipur’s identity.

Instead of perpetuating a colonial mindset, the EP ought to introspect and address the intricacies within their own territories. By doing so, they can foster positive change within their societies and contribute to genuine progress at home.

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R K Sanayaima
R K Sanayaima
Assistant Professor School of Law Manav Rachna University, Haryana
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