Manipur became a part of India subsequent to signing of the controversial Merger Agreement in 1949. The events that unfolded after signing of the agreement are believed to have triggered the rise of armed opposition groups fighting for restoration of Manipur’s independence. Thereafter, many other armed groups were launched both in the hills and valley of Manipur to achieve similar ends with varied objectives and ideological dispositions. All these armed movements have cast their shadow on the polity of Manipur in the following decades. By the 1990s, ethnic based armed movements caused polarizations in the hill areas of Manipur. The period coincided with blatant ethnicization process of all forms of politics based on negotiable and non-negotiable contradictions.
It would be worthwhile to also remind oneself that India’s Northeast has long been driven by conflicts among ethnic communities on issues of exclusivity, dominance and integration. Identities that shape conflict are not necessarily primordial but are a creation of political necessity and administrative convenience. Conflicts among ethnic groups demonstrate that identity conflicts have been waged by complex tussle on the questions of land, migration and possession of resources.
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The fragmented social order as one sees it now has been largely due to the asymmetrical socio-economic development witnessed in Manipur after it became a part of the Indian Union in 1949. The fractured polity became even more apparent with ethnic assertions by groups seeking or demanding various versions of right to self-determination ranging from sovereignty to relative autonomy within the Indian Union.
The prolonged militarization of Manipur after the introduction of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has also left an indelible mark on the people of the State. The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Ordinance 1958 was promulgated by India in 1958. It was replaced by the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958 on September 11, 1958. This Act also popularly known as AFSPA empowers the security forces to “arrest without warrant” on “reasonable suspicion”. It also protects the security forces from legal processes for actions taken under the act. This Act in many senses turns the territory of Manipur into some “alien space” and also creates the notion of the “other” thus further alienating the citizens in Manipur.
The politically violent climate under which Manipur continues to thrive since the 1960s has also been directly or indirectly confronted by numerous social maladies including rise of drug-users in the state, lack of transparency and accountability in governance, poverty, lack of development infrastructure, unemployment and a moribund economy. The inhabitants of Manipur broadly divided into two – tribal and non-tribal communities have reeled under prolonged militarization. This has been one of the probable causes of development deficit making the average citizens express everyday frustrations through numerous protests rallies, blockades and strikes. When such situations take precedence over requisite peace and development, many of the collective issues that need collective wisdom would be viewed and articulated through the prism of unending contradictions that are self-aggrandizing.