Sporadic incidents of arson were reported in Manipur on Friday and several people are said to have taken shelter in jungle camps fearing for their safety.
A disclosure that caches of weapons and ammunition had been looted from at least seven to eight places in the state is keeping security forces on their toes.
The flare-up was ignited by a backlash against a perceived move to grant the Scheduled Tribe status to the majority Meitei community.
Security personnel evacuated over 17,000 people stuck in the affected areas and lodged them in relief camps set up across the state.
“We are now really worried about the nights but the administration is taking all possible steps to maintain order and instil confidence,” a security official in Imphal told this newspaper over the phone.
According to the police, at least 23 police stations are being viewed as “vulnerable”. They are now being manned by senior officers. The army and central paramilitary forces have been deployed.
One of the flashpoints was the inter-disrict border of Churachandpur and Bishnupur. Clashes, vandalism and arson spread to other areas, prompting the administration to clamp curfew in 10 of the 16 districts on Wednesday and issue shoot-at-sight orders on Thursday.
Manipur chief minister and BJP leader N. Biren Singh said on Thursday that precious lives had been lost. But no casualty figures had been announced till Friday evening.
The army said on Friday that Imphal East and Imphal West districts witnessed “sporadic incidents of arson and attempts at enforcing road blockades by inimical elements” but the security forces managed to control the situation.
The security forces have also brought the situation under “firm control” in Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, Moreh and Kakching with no major incidents reported since Thursday night, sources said.
Addressing a news conference in Imphal on Friday, Manipur police chief P. Doungel said arms and ammunition were looted from several places.
The police chief did not list the places or quantify the arms looted. Sources said they were looted from police posts.
Doungel appealed to those with the looted arms and ammunition to return them within the next few days or face strict action. Action will be taken not only against the looters but also against their family members, he added.
The police said they had CCTV footage but they were giving the raiders an opportunity to return the arms and they could do so without revealing their identity.
Sources said the Imphal West police on Friday recovered six sub-machine guns, three INSAS rifles, ammunition and three protective vests snatched by a mob.
The Meghalaya government on Friday night evacuated 66 students studying in Imphal by a chartered flight provided by the Centre, Meghalaya DGP L.R. Bishnoi said. The Assam government has set up relief camps in Cachar to accommodate 1,100 affected people from Manipur.
The Guwahati-based army PRO, Lt Col M. Rawat, said around 13,000 people had been accommodated on the army campus.
Annu Doungel, 67, and five of her family members hurriedly packed bags, taking some rice and a few utensils and fled to the jungle on foot, trekking around two hours in the dark, PTI reported.
The family was leaving Bethel, a tribal village 30km to the northwest of Imphal, which till the other day was an abode of peace.
Annu and her husband, both retired government employees, are now staying with their grandchildren and sons in makeshift camps made of tarpaulin and bamboo.
Other than the rice, forest produce is keeping them going — water from streams and wild vegetables and edible leaves from plants.
“We left in the small hours of Thursday after attacks on villages inhabited by non-Meitei people. We heard that groups armed with guns and daos (machetes) are coming and burning village after village,” Annu told PTI over the phone.
Her family members were among hundreds who have been forced to take refuge in the jungle.
Sobbing, Annu said: “Here I am running away from the village I thought would be the most peaceful place after retirement. Please send the army and tell them to provide us guns so we can protect ourselves.”