By Syed Ahmed Ali
NEW DELHI—In Manipur, the Muslim community has emerged as a crucial peacemaker amidst the ongoing conflict between the two largest groups: the majority Hindu Meiteis and the minority Christian Kukis.
Meities account for about 53.5 percent of Manipur’s total population while 42 percent of the population belongs to Kukis. The rest are Muslims and other groups. The clashes between the two groups began when Kukis, who are Scheduled Tribes and live in hilly areas of the state, protested against the Manipur high court order granting ST status to Meities. Kukis felt that privileges available to them by virtue of being ST would be grabbed by Meities who are in majority and have control over the state government.
When the violence between the two communities began on May 3, Meities living in Kuki dominated and Kukis residing in Meitie-majority areas began fleeing to protect their life and property. There was so much hatred that in many cases, it were the neighbour attacking their neighbour of the opposite group.
Manipuri Muslims, who are called Pangals and are converts from the Meitie community, were targeted by Meitie Hindus in May 1993. About 140 Muslims were reported to have been killed in the 1993 violence. Muslims also suffered huge loss of their properties.
But the Muslims forgot what had happened with them in the past and came forward to offer a helping hand to Meities as well as Kukis at the risk of their own safety because both the groups had warned Muslims not to give help to their opponents. Ignoring the threats, Muslims offered, food, shelter, clothes and other relief materials to the victims irrespective of the group they belonged. In the process, many Muslims were attacked and sustained injuries. However, no Muslim was killed.
An incident worth mention occurred on May 4 when Kuki individuals sought shelter in the Muslim-dominated area of Hatta Golapati in the state capital of Imphal. The Meitei Muslims bravely opened their doors, risking their safety, to save the lives of more than 3000 Kuki people. Subsequently, the Meitei Muslims handed them over safely to the security forces. In this endeavour, men, women, and children from Hatta Golapati played a significant role. Women cooked food for the refugees, while men and children provided clothes, food, and other necessities.
Similarly, in the neighboring Churachandpur district, the Meitei people rushed to KWAKTA Village, where approximately 20,000 Muslims reside. Although the local Muslims are not financially well off, the they collected grains, vegetables, and other essentials from their homes and mosques to feed the victims. The Kwakta Muslims prevented the Kukis from attacking nearby Meitei villages and also stopped the Meitei from attacking Kuki villages near Kwakta. Tragically, many Kwakta Muslims were injured in crossfire and bomb blasts.
Throughout their relief efforts, the Muslim civil society and Muslim student organizations have been diligently collecting relief material from Muslim families and distributing it in the refugee camps.
Moulana Syed Ahmad, President of Jamait Ulama-i-Hind, Manipur, and SM JALAL, President of All Manipur Muslim Organisations Coordinating Committee, an apex body of all Muslim Civil society in Manipur, addressed the media recently. Speaking to the media, Moulana Syed Ahmad, President of Jamait Ulama-i-Hind, said, “We have always lived in brotherhood, as children of one father and mother.” The violence has targeted the co-existence and peace of both communities, which have been living peacefully since the inception of the state of Manipur.
Notably, many interfaith groups have also stepped forward to promote peace and harmony under the banner of “INTERFAITH FORUM FOR PEACE AND HARMONY.” This forum has organized meetings, rallies, and prayers, appealing for peace, with participation from various groups, including Jamaat-e-IslamiI Hind, Catholics, Baptists, Federation of Madrasa Sana Mahi (Meitei religious group), International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Brahma Kumaris, and Vishnu Gaurav, etc.
In this time of crisis, the collective efforts of the Muslim community and interfaith organizations are providing a glimmer of hope for peace and reconciliation in Manipur.
At least 150 people are reported to have lost their lives, 400 are wounded, and more than 60,000 have been displaced from their homes. The authorities, including the army, paramilitary forces, and police, are still struggling to quell the escalating violence even after more than two and a half months when the violence began.