In Manipur, a long road to healing

The Supreme Court-appointed three-member panel to examine the humanitarian fallout of the ethnic violence in Manipur has flagged a sensitive issue that is indicative of the long road to reparation in the state. The panel, led by former Jammu and Kashmir High Court Chief Justice Gita Mittal, has sought the intervention of the highest court to keep civil-society organisations from exerting pressure on families and relatives to stay away from performing the last rites of their kin claimed by the violence until their demands are met. It has further suggested that the state shoulder the responsibility, should families still fail to come forward. The official death toll in the current crisis stands at 175, of which 169 bodies have been identified. Only 81 bodies have been claimed so far.

The report is a crucial indicator of the work that still remains to be done in the Northeastern state, even for people to feel free to give their loved ones a farewell they deserve and give grieving families the closure they need. The pressure by civil-society groups indicates the trust deficit the state government continues to suffer from, despite tentative steps taken by it. In a welcome move, Chief Minister N Biren Singh has announced the initiation of talks with a Valley-based Meitei insurgent group — the first since the recent bout of ethnic violence broke out in May. This is also the first time that any Imphal-based Meitei group has come to the table. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland had signed a ceasefire agreement in 1997, as did Kuki insurgent groups, Kuki National Organisation and United Progressive Front in 2008. Last year, the Zeliangrong United Front, too, had entered into a ceasefire agreement with the government.

Yet, as sporadic instances of violence continue to break out in Manipur, it reinforces how healing can only be achieved if it is not skin-deep. The missing arms and ammunition, looted from security forces in the months of flagrant violence, continue to be a cause of concern as does the state’s history of interminable internet shutdowns. The government needs to step up its efforts and do better by its people — all of them. For the continuing chill between the hill and valley tribes to thaw, outreach programmes that actively involve the ordinary citizen and the rehabilitation of those displaced need to begin in earnest. In this, recommendations by the 2014 Virginus Xaxa committee might provide useful assistance, especially in critical issues of education, health, migration, employment and displacement.