The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has been extended for six months in violence-hit Manipur. AFSPA grants special powers to the Indian armed forces to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”.
Barring 19 police stations, AFSPA has been extended across Manipur, according to a government notification, which states that the entire state has been declared a “disturbed area” for a period of six months.
The notification reads, “Governor of Manipur hereby accords approval to declare the entire state of Manipur, excluding the areas falling under the jurisdiction of 19 police stations…as ‘Disturbed Area’ for a period of six months with effect from October 1, 2023.”
The police station areas which have been exempted from the AFSPA are: Imphal, Lamphel, City, Singjamei, Sekmai, Lamsang, Pastol, Wangoi, Porompat, Heingagng, Lamlai, Iribung, Leimakhong, Thoubal, Bishnupur, Nambol, Moirang, Kakchin and Jirbam.
The extension to the AFSPA comes a day after the state capital Imphal was rocked by protests over the death of two students. Seventeen-year-old Hijam Linthoingambi and 20-year-old Phijam Hemjit had gone missing at the height of ethnic violence in Manipur on 6 July.
Following the incident, police baton-charged protestors and fired teargas shells. According to media reports, almost 45 students, which include girls, were injured in the fracas. In light of the protests, the state’s BJP government had ordered that a CBI inquiry be conducted into the deaths of the two students.
Meanwhile, in response to the development, Congress leader and Assam MP Gaurav Gogogi attached the Modi government at the Centre for being incapable of protecting the people of Manipur.
“The prime minister of the country has shown his back to Manipur. Violence started in Manipur about 5 months ago, but PM Modi has not gone there till date. Has the country made Narendra Modi PM just for publicity and inauguration? We want to know how many times PM Modi himself has talked to CM Biren Singh in the last 5 months?” asked Gogoi.
He said further that the BJP government has suppressed the voice of the people by force and demanded immediate action against “criminals”.
On 3 May 2023, ethnic violence erupted in India’s north-eastern state of Manipur between the Meitei people, a majority that lives in the Imphal Valley, and the Kuki tribal community from the surrounding hills. As of 29 July, over 181 people have been killed in the violence, more than 300 wounded, and approximately 54,488 displaced. As of 1 September 2023, the violence had continued for nearly four months since it began and the state has become deeply segregated as all Kuki inhabitants of the valley, including government officials, have been displaced to Kuki-dominated hill districts.
On 14 April 2023, acting on a writ petition by the Meitei Tribe Union that demands Scheduled Tribe status for the valley-based Meitei community, the Manipur High Court ordered the state government to send a recommendation to the central government, a decision later criticised by the Supreme Court. To protest the Meitei demands for the scheduled tribe status, the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur called for a peaceful protest to be conducted on 3 May. After one of these rallies, clashes broke out between Kuki and Meitei groups near the border between the Churachandpur district and Bishnupur district, followed by house burning.
In addition to the ST status, other issues had been festering prior to the violence. For example, the Kuki people in the hill districts saw themselves as being the target of the state government’s treatment of indigenous land rights concerns. There have been evictions of Kuki communities as a result of efforts to survey forests, which were ostensibly made to stop the cultivation of poppy.