The violence that has shaken Manipur since the first week of May is being reported in the news media as a “riot”. This is clearcut disinformation.
Not a riot
A riot implies that masses of people have spontaneously resorted to violence. However, the violent acts that have taken place in Manipur this month and continue to take place, have not been spontaneous. They have been organized and carried out according to a plan. Armed gangs who indulged in the violence wore masks to hide their identity. The police stood by and permitted the attacks to take place.
Every time there is large-scale violence targeted at any group in our country, the official line is to call these riots and to blame the people. For instance, when the genocide of November 1984 took place in Delhi, the official propaganda was that Hindus and Sikhs were killing each other. However, the reality was entirely different.
The Congress Party, in charge of the central government, organised various gangs to attack Sikhs. The murderous gangs were provided with voters’ lists to identify the homes of Sikhs. Mass hysteria was created by the police and intelligence agencies, by spreading false rumours that “Sikhs have poisoned the drinking water of Delhi”, etc. in order to justify the massacre of Sikhs. Numerous Hindu families protected their Sikh neighbours, hiding them in their homes. These are by now well-known facts. However, that genocide continues to be called “anti-Sikh riots” in the official records.
Similarly, the Gujarat genocide of 2002 is also referred to as “riots”, to hide the fact that it was an organised crime by those in power. Similar was the case of the state organised communal violence in North East Delhi in February 2020.
The use of the term “riots” is a deliberate attempt to blame ordinary people for crimes which the ruling class, its politicians and political parties have committed.
In the case of Manipur, the use of the word riot is even more jarring, given that this is a state where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in operation. This law empowers the army and paramilitary troops to fire on people and kill on mere suspicion. On 5 May, the central government sent in thousands of additional troops to Manipur, in the name of restoring order. However, arson and looting has continued. Armed gangs have been seen on the National Highways, looting vehicles and checking the identities of passengers. Nobody can dare to commit these acts unless they have the support of those in power.
There are several districts which have remained peaceful, such as the areas where Naga people’s organisations have mass support. Such organisations announced that no one can dare to stop vehicles and check the identities of the passengers. If peoples’ organisations could ensure that their areas remain violence free, the question arises, how come the Central and Manipur governments, with the armed forces and police at their disposal, could do nothing to stop the violence in Imphal and other areas?
People of Manipur, including both those in the valley and in the hills, have all been living peacefully together for many centuries. They have united and fought for their common rights as Manipuris.
In the violence-affected districts of Imphal, Churchandpur, Moreh, and other places, so many poignant stories have come out, of people of one community risking their lives to protect people of the other community.
Those in power have deliberately created tension between Meiteis and Kukis. They spread disinformation through social media to arouse passions amongst the people. On the night of 3 May, targeted attacks against Meiteis took place in Churchandpur and Moreh. The next morning, armed gangs went around burning, looting and killing Kukis living in Imphal, allegedly to take “revenge” for the events of the previous night. Eyewitness reports confirm that the killer gangs were made up of outsiders, unknown to the local residents.
The rulers and not the people are to blame for the prevailing situation in Manipur. Neither Kukis nor Meiteis are responsible for the mayhem and violence. On the contrary, they are the victims. The sectarian violence in Manipur is a crime committed by those in power, with the assistance of the security forces, courts and other arms of the state machinery. It is a form of state terrorism. It is the outcome of the divide and rule strategy of the Indian ruling class.
Divide and Rule
India is ruled by the capitalist class, which is a tiny minority of the population. At the head of this class are about 150 monopoly capitalists. The capitalists enrich themselves by exploiting the land, labour and natural resources of all the peoples constituting India. The workers, peasants and tribal peoples all across the country keep rising up against this unjust, exploitative and oppressive system, demanding their rights. In order to keep the people divided and subjugated, the ruling class constantly incites rivalry and conflicts among the toiling people based on religion, caste, nationality, or tribal identity.
Exploiting the real grievances of people, the rulers pit one section of the people against another. They blame one section of the people for the problems of another. In this way, they kill two birds with one stone. Firstly, they ensure that people do not identify the real source of their problems, which is the capitalist system of exploitation and the Indian state that defends this system. Secondly, by setting people against each other, they break their unity and weaken their common struggle to solve their problems. All the people of India have been victims of this strategy of the ruling capitalist class.
The youth of Manipur are second to none, in terms of their talents, their capacity for hard work, and their thirst for knowledge. However, adequate number of institutions of higher and technical education have not been established in Manipur. Nor are there adequate employment opportunities for the youth. They are forced to travel to distant regions of the country to get education or find jobs.
This is a problem affecting the vast majority of youth, irrespective of whether they are hill people or valley people. However, the ruling class deliberately carries out propaganda that the hill peoples have benefited, and the valley people have been discriminated against, allegedly because of reservation for members of Scheduled Tribes.
Over the past few years, lakhs of refugees have come into Manipur from across Myanmar, in the wake of the repression unleashed by the Myanmar Army. Many of these refugees are closely linked with the hill peoples of Manipur. It is the responsibility of the Indian state to take care of the humanitarian needs of these refugees. Instead of doing so, the Government of India has used this influx of refugees to set different sections of the people against one another.
Article 371 C of the Constitution of India limits the power of the Legislative Assembly of Manipur over the hill areas of the state. This article gives the Central Government the power to give directions to the Manipur government regarding administration of these areas. This provision enables the Central Government to effectively bypass the state government of Manipur with respect to the hill areas. The Central Government has repeatedly used this provision to deepen the divide between the people of the valley and the hills.
Despite the divisive and criminal methods of the ruling class, the people of Manipur have united and fought for their common interests. They have a long history of united struggle in defence of their national rights and against army rule.
Army Rule and AFSPA
Manipur has been under Army Rule since the 1950s. Initially, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA, was in place in the Naga inhabited areas of Manipur. On 18 September 1981, it was extended to cover the entire state.
AFSPA is modelled after a similar act that the British Colonial rulers enacted in 1942, to crush the rising tide of the anti-colonial struggle. After India gained independence, AFSPA was promulgated to crush the Naga people’s struggle for self-determination. It has been used against all the peoples inhabiting the different states of the North East, as well as the people of Jammu & Kashmir.
AFSPA is a draconian act that gives the armed forces the right to shoot to kill, abduct, arrest and torture people, raid and search their homes, on grounds of mere suspicion. The armed forces personnel cannot be tried in any civil court of law for their crimes against the people.
A petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India in 2012, by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, a group of family members of those killed by the security forces in Manipur. That petition had documented 1,528 fake encounter killings since the 1970s. It had pointed out that no action had been taken against the army personnel involved in any of these cases.
In response to that petition, the Supreme Court had ruled on 8 July, 2016, that “there is no concept of absolute immunity from trial by a criminal court” even in what is declared a “disturbed area.” It ruled that “every death caused by the armed forces, including in the disturbed area of Manipur, should be thoroughly enquired into if there is a complaint or allegation of abuse or misuse of power.”
On 12 April, 2017, the Government of India filed a curative petition with the Supreme Court, seeking recall of its order of 8 July, 2016. The Attorney General who represented the Government of India argued that the implementation of that order would “be detrimental to the morale of the armed forces.” He submitted a petition stating that in Manipur there is a war situation and “actions taken by the armed forces in such a situation cannot be subjected to judicial scrutiny.”
This shows the cynicism and contempt of the Indian ruling class for the people of Manipur. The central state justifies rape, torture and murder of innocent people by the armed forces in the name of upholding the “morale of the armed forces”. It is undiluted state terrorism, a blatant violation of democratic rights and human rights.
People from all walks of life within Manipur have been waging a long and protracted struggle against AFSPA and the terroristic rule of the armed forces. It is their persistent and united struggle which compelled the Government of India to withdraw AFSPA from some areas of the capital city of Imphal in August 2004.
The real aim behind the unleashing of large-scale anarchy and violence in Manipur this month is to create a pretext for the continuation of army rule and AFSPA.
For over 40 years, the justification for army rule has been that it is needed in order to deal with armed insurgents and separatists. This justification is no longer believed by the people. It has become well known that many of these groups work in close coordination with the intelligence agencies of the Indian state.
The Indian Armed Forces and various armed groups collaborate in oppressing and terrorising the masses of people they claim to protect. Together, they carry out various operations, including poppy cultivation, drug peddling, and smuggling across the international border with Myanmar. Like parasites, they suck the blood of the people, and amass private wealth. The civilian governments in Manipur work in close coordination with various armed groups, under the supervision of the central state. All this is increasingly becoming public knowledge.
Now a new justification is being created. Army rule is being justified in the name of preventing people from massacring each other.
Since the 1990’s, the Indian ruling class is pursuing a “look east” policy. It is a policy aimed at expanding Indian imperialist influence in South East Asia, in contention with China. There are plans to build road and rail routes from India to the countries of South East Asia, which will go through Manipur and Myanmar. The Indian ruling class needs to create a new pretext for continuing with army rule and AFSPA, to keep the people of Manipur subjugated.
The way forward for the people of Manipur is to defend and strengthen their unity and their common struggle in defence of the rights of all. The criminal plots of the ruling class must be foiled. The situation calls on all democratic and progressive forces in the country to demand that the armed occupation of Manipur and all forms of state terrorism be ended at once.
The people of Manipur can and must draw upon the glorious history of united struggle in defence of their human, democratic and national rights. Thousands of patriots have been martyred in this great cause. Yet never have the people given up their just struggle.
All those who are victimised by the existing state of bourgeois dictatorship must unite and fight with the aim of replacing it with a new state of workers’ and peasants’ rule. The oppressive colonial-style Indian Union must be replaced with a truly voluntary union of the many nations, nationalities and peoples who together make up India. The relation between the union and its constituents must be based on respecting and guaranteeing the economic, political and cultural rights of all the peoples who together make up India.
There is need to carry out a radical transformation of the political system to ensure that sovereignty is vested in the people. The highly criminalised political process must be replaced by a new political process which empowers people to control their representatives and exercise decision-making power. With political power in hand, workers, peasants and other working people will be able to reorient the economy to fulfil their needs instead of being geared to fulfil capitalist greed.