Absolutely Inhuman, Says Manipur MLA Nishikant Singh Sapam On Highway Blockade By Kukis In Crisis-Hit State

Highway blockades in Manipur happen frequently amid the crisis (File)

Imphal/New Delhi:

The killing of two men in Manipur’s Kangpokpi district yesterday by suspected insurgents had led to a shutdown call, including the blocking of National Highway 2, by an organisation of the Kuki tribes.

Valley-based civil society groups have, however, criticised the move to block the highway as punishing an entire population over the action of armed miscreants.

Manipur’s lifelines that pass through hill areas are the first casualty whenever local tensions arise; they are immediately blocked – sometimes for months – by any group to use as a leverage for their demand.

One of the two men, Henminlen Vaiphei, who was killed on Monday, served in the Indian Reserve Battalion. Unidentified armed assailants ambushed them while they were travelling in a Maruti Gypsy on Monday, the Manipur Police said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

After the incident, the Kangpokpi-based Committee on Tribal Unity (COTU) in a statement announced the “emergency shutdown” in the district where one of the lifelines of Manipur passes through.

“… We are no longer safe under the partisan government… The meeting calls for an early materialisation of the demand for separation from Manipur… Political separation is the only option left now,” the Kangpokpi group that represents the hill-majority Kuki tribes, similar to the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), said in the statement.

Kangpokpi is 45 km from the state capital Imphal, the valley area where a majority of the Meiteis live. Both communities have been engaged in ethnic clashes since May.

Manipur’s independent MLA Nishikant Singh Sapam, condemning the sudden highway blockade, told Newsbust India only two highways connect the state with the rest of the country, and “imposing a blockade on these lifelines by anyone is similar to choking a person by the neck and threatening their survival”.

“This is absolutely inhuman, totally unlawful. Essential items reach in trickles with great difficulty, leading to price rise, making survival a lot more difficult to the already difficult situation in Manipur. This practice (of blocking highways) must stop. It’s cruelty to an extreme level,” said Mr Sapam, who is based in Imphal.

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Highway blockades in Manipur add more burden to transporters and eventually the consumers due to daylight extortion that operates as an open secret. Newsbust India on September 15 reported that the cost of illegal highway ‘tax’ extorted from truck drivers in Manipur is passed on to consumers in the ethnic violence-hit state.

The prices of essentials and other goods have risen between 10 per cent and 30 per cent, depending on the item. Fruit and fish cost 50 per cent more in Manipur, compared to other states.

The ethnic unrest in Manipur began on May 3 following a protest by the Kuki tribes against the Meiteis’ demand for inclusion under the Scheduled Tribes (ST) category. Though the immediate cause of the ethnic clashes is said to be over the Meities’ demand for ST tag, many leaders including Home Minister Amit Shah and Foreign Minister S Jaishankar have said entry of illegal immigrants is one of the main factors behind the unrest in the northeast state, which is ruled by the BJP.

India’s anti-terror body the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has said it is looking into an alleged transnational conspiracy involving terror groups hiding in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Manipur to exploit the ethnic violence in the northeast state.

The centre last week extended by five years the ban on nine Meitei extremist groups and their associate organisations, which mostly operate in Manipur, for anti-national activities and launching attacks on security forces.

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