Normal life was paralysed in several districts of strife-torn Manipur on Monday because of two separate bandhs called by the United Naga Council (UNC) and the Committee on Tribal Unity (COTU).
While the influential UNC — the apex body of 20 Naga tribes residing in Manipur — had called a 12-hour bandh from 6am across Naga areas in the state to express their resentment against the killing of a 57-year-old Naga woman in Imphal East on July 15, the COTU had called a 72-hour shutdown in Kangpokpi from Sunday midnight in protest against “continuous” attacks on Kuki-Zo people by Meitei groups.
“The bandh was total and peaceful in Naga areas of the state. However, we will intensify our stir if our demands are not met within 48 hours, that is by Tuesday evening,” said UNC information and publicity secretary James Hau.
The UNC demands included the immediate setting up of a judicial committee to probe the killing, immediate arrest of those involved, including “those Meira Paibis (women torch-bearers) complicit in the crime”, and justice for the victim according to Naga customary law. The UNC also wanted the Meitei civil society organisations to clear their position on the incident.
The incident has not gone down well with the Naga community which has remained neutral in the ongoing clashes between the Meiteis and the Kukis since May 3 and it does not want to be dragged into it, a Naga leader said.
Condemning the barbaric act, the UNC in a media statement on Sunday accused Meitei group Arambai Tenggol of murdering 57-year-old Lucy Marem, who was allegedly “apprehended by Meira Paibis” and “handed” over to the Arambai Tenggol.
The UNC also said vested parties who wanted to drag the Nagas into the ongoing Meitei-Kuki conflict would “not” be spared and that their “patience and accommodating acts of the recent past” should not be seen as a “sign” of weakness.
The police arrested nine suspects, including five women, in connection with the kidnapping and murder of the Naga woman on Sunday but the UNC still went ahead with the bandh, reflecting the disquiet in the community over the incident.
UNC’s James Hau said they also read in the newspaper about the arrests but they were not informed about the development.
The Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (Cocomi), a conglomerate of leading valley-based civil society organisations, will meet UNC leaders on Tuesday to defuse the situation, a Cocomi leader said on Monday.
Life was also affected in the Kuki-majority Kangpokpi district because of the 72-hour total shutdown called by the COTU. A relief worker from Kangpokpi said “everything was quiet” in the district as schools, offices, shops, colleges, business establishments and banks remained closed. Medical services were exempted from the shutdown.
Kuki-Zo rally on July 20
The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), a conglomerate of recognised tribes of Churachandpur district in Manipur, said on Monday evening that a rally will be held in four hill districts on July 20 on the “unanimous” demand of the Kuki-Zo people for a separate administration for themselves.
The ITLF said in a media statement that the rally, organised by the Kuki-Zo people, will be held simulatenously in Churachandpur, Pherzawl, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal districts to “voice our unanimous demand for a separate administration from the state of Manipur.”
The rally decision assumes importance because it comes four days after the Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM), the apex body of all Kuki tribes in the state, became the first Kuki organisations to “explicitly” specify that its demand for a separate administration is a “separate” state under Article 3 of the Indian Constitution.