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Tension In Manipur’s Jiribam Linked To Decomposed Body Found In May, Residents Allege Local Case Blown Up

Tension In Manipur's Jiribam Linked To Decomposed Body Found In May, Residents Allege Local Case Blown Up

Soldiers evacuate members of the Meitei community from Manipur’s Jiribam

Imphal/Guwahati/New Delhi:

The security forces have evacuated some families from the Meitei community living on the outskirts of Manipur’s Jiribam town, a day after ethnic tension flared up over the killing of a 59-year-old man. The mutilated body of Soibam Saratkumar Singh, who is from the Meitei community, was found yesterday in the district neighbouring Assam which has a diverse ethnic composition and had so far remained unaffected by the ethnic strife which has been raging in Manipur since May last year.

Locals who NDTV spoke to on phone blamed the authorities and the police for not defusing tension that had been brewing since mid-May when the decomposed body of a 17-year-old teenager from the Kuki tribes was found in a river in Jiribam. Police sources, however, said deployment was thin in the area that had been relatively peaceful due to election duties.

Leishabithol, from where the Meitei families were evacuated, is near the hills where the Kuki tribes are dominant, while interior Jiribam has a large Meitei presence. Though no incident has been reported from the area today, the residents raised concern about their safety, which led to their evacuation, local administration officials in Jiribam told NDTV.

The families can return once the situation cools down and enough security forces reach there, the officials said, adding there are not enough forces in the area as many had left for election duties.

A group of women from the Meitei community has filed a first information report (FIR) with the Jiribam police station, alleging some “Kuki militants” have threatened them, a police officer in Jiribam told NDTV on phone. The women also mentioned the names of some men who they alleged were militants, the officer said, requesting anonymity.

Two of the accused in the FIR, seen by NDTV, have been mentioned as “Kuki militants, and Kuki Students Organisation (KSO) and its armed militant wing.” The KSO is yet to issue a statement on the allegations.

Linked To May Incident

The fresh tension can be traced to May when the decomposed body of a 17-year-old Kuki teen was found in a river in Jiribam, the police officer said. The case was taken up by the police of the neighbouring district, Tamenglong, as the body was found in the inter-district border and Tamenglong had jurisdiction over the area, the police officer said, adding the Tamenglong police took the body and conducted the post-mortem.

“The Kukis suspected a Meitei hand in the incident. The Tamenglong police must have been investigating the case as they did the post-mortem. No one has been arrested in that case yet. The body was decomposed, with many body parts consumed by fish,” the police officer said. “This river has seen many decomposed bodies float downstream in the past. Some murder cases due to personal rivalry, some drug overdose. The ethnic tension since last year has aggravated the issue.”

To defuse tension after the decomposed body was found in the river in May, a peace meeting was held between elders of both communities, a man who attended the meeting told NDTV from Jiribam. Some young people, however, walked out of the meeting in anger, he alleged.

Latest and Breaking News on NDTV

The tension came to a head on Thursday when the mutilated body of Soibam Saratkumar Singh was found. A group of people from the Meitei community came out on the streets in protest at 5 pm and burned an unoccupied structure that belonged to a Kuki family, another police officer who returned from Jiribam to the state capital Imphal today told NDTV. Later at night, some armed Kuki men set on fire an empty shed at a farmhouse belonging to a Meitei family, and recorded a video of it.

This morning, the security forces evacuated some 250 members of the Meitei community from the outskirts of Jiribam.

Appeal For Calm

The Jiribam district commissioner has appealed for calm and asked people not to fall for fake information spread by elements who want to stir trouble. Jiribam is 220 km from the state capital Imphal and is on the border with Assam. National Highway-37 passes through this district. There are many Kuki villages in the hills surrounding the highway.

The ethnic clashes between the Meiteis and the Kuki-Zo tribes began in May 2023 over cataclysmic disagreements on sharing land, resources, affirmative action policies, and political representation, mainly with the ‘general’ category Meiteis seeking to be included under the Scheduled Tribes category.

Over 220 have been killed, and more than 50,000 have been internally displaced.

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