Tribal Solidarity March takes ugly turn; houses, offices, vehicles burnt


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IMPHAL, May 3 : Thousands of people took out the 'Tribal Solidarity March ' in the hill districts of Manipur and expressed their opposition to the demand for inclusion of the Meitei in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category.
The protest rally christened Tribal Solidarity March was organised by the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM) under the theme "Come now let us reason together."
While the protest rally ended peacefully in several hill districts, the scene was otherwise in Churachandpur, Moirang, Motbung and Moreh with reports of arson, vandalism and confrontations taking place.    
At New Lambulane, one man was injured when a stray bullet struck him late in the evening today. Reports said he has been rushed to a hospital in Imphal.
Elsewhere in Imphal and Greater Imphal areas people took to  streets and burnt tyres purportedly against the torching of houses of many families in the aftermath of the Solidarity Rally of ATSUM.
Some of the sites in Imphal where the incident took place were New Lambulane, Sangaiprou, Tiddim Road, Khurai, Uripok and Singjamei.
Reportedly, the protesters raised slogans against the violence which struck some hill districts, burnt tyres and knocked electric poles to call out people.
As the situation intensified in some areas with more people coming out to join the protest, the police swung into action and fired tear gas shells to disperse them.
The call for Tribal Solidarity March across the hill districts was responded to by thousands of people in Churachandpur, today. The rallyists took out the rally from Lamka Public Ground upto Peace Ground, Tuibong and later submitted a memorandum to  Prime Minister Narendra Modi through the Deputy Commissioner.
The situation however took an ugly turn soon after some unknown miscreants travelling in a white Bolero started a fire at the foot of 'Anglo-Kuki War' gate at Leisang village.
Till the time of going to press, it is not clear who started the fire.
The miscreants reportedly escaped from the area after they were seen by the people who later doused the fire.
Reports about a clash between people who had imposed a counter-blockade at Torbung and those returning from the rally started doing the rounds at Torbung.
The stand-off that initially started with pelting stones soon escalated with vehicles and properties being targeted. Violence and arson rapidly engulfed the neighbouring Kangvai area as people were seen leaving their homes and running into an open field.
With people rushing towards the clash site, it soon turned to arson. Many houses, vehicles and other properties were reportedly burnt down and the clash had not yet subsided till the time of filing this report. More than a dozen people who were injured in the clash are said to have been taken to a hospital.
Earlier, during the rally, banners that opposed ST status for the Meiteis, pro-tribal slogans such as “No protection for our land if Meiteis become ST,” “Tribals of Manipur, unite,” “How can a community with two-third seats in the Assembly demand ST status?” “Stop your divide and rule policy” "Respect tribal land rights & chief rights", "Respect the customary rights of the tribals," "Respect the Constitution of India," "We demand justice and equal treatment’ etc were held aloft by the rallyists while some banners read ‘No Sixth Schedule, No Rest’.
Concurrent to the rally, reports started doing the round that many Forest Beat Offices located in the district were either ransacked or set on fire. The Beat Offices of the Forest Department located at Bungmual, Singngat, Muallum, Mualtam and Saikot were set afire or ransacked by unknown miscreants.
Meanwhile, the violence reportedly reached Churachandpur town as gunshots, sound of ambulance sirens overwhelmed the air and fires could be seen at several localities.
Several houses, shops and vehicles have been torched at Torbung, Bangla, Kangvai and Phougakchao Ikhai situated along the adjoining areas of Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts.
It is reported that the properties were torched for launching a counter agitation against the Solidarity March of ATSUM.
There was an intense confrontation between the supporters of ST demand for Meetei/Meitei and the rallyists and they pelted stones, used slingshots against each other in the evening.
Later, a large number of people from Churachandpur side stormed towards Bangla and Torbung along Tiddim Road and destroyed several shops.
The agitators overpowered the locals and began attacking the Forest office at Phougakchao Ikhai before they were dispersed by the police who fired rounds of tear gas shells and resorted to blank firing.
Reportedly, agitators coming from Churachandpur side also shot some rounds in retaliation and set on fire at least six houses and vehicles including a van, Maruti Alto, Honda Activa and two heavy vehicles (JCB) at Phougakchao Ikhai.
There is a report of people on both sides sustaining injuries but there is no report of people succumbing to injury so far.
Meanwhile, a specific report received by The Sangai Express said that many people from Kaprang, Torbung, Phougakchao Ikhai and over 100 poeple who were housed at a relief camp set up at Durga Mandop at Saiton have fled elsewhere in view of the tense atmosphere.
Ibudhou Moirang Thangjing Lai Committee is currently providing shelter to four-five families at the relief camp at Saiton.
At Moreh, a report of protesters torching at least four hotels have been confirmed by our correspondent and the figure may increase as tense atmosphere was prevalent till the time of filing this report at the border town.
Reportedly, police resorted to firing rounds of tear gas shells as many protesters were seen on streets and alleyways and rioting.
Hill Tribal Council (HTC), Kuki Students' Organization (KSO) Moreh Block and Kuki Chief Association (KCA) Moreh Block were the organisers of the rally.
The protesters held placards with inscriptions such as "Civilized Meitei should never be categorised as ST", "Stop your divide & rule policy,"  "Meiteis are not tribals, they are SC, OBC", "As genuine tribals, we strongly oppose Meitei demand for ST,"  "Do not infringe on our rights," "Don't send the recommendation" and "Tribals of Manipur unite" etc.
Reportedly, the protesters also submitted a memorandum listing their demands to President Droupadi Murmu through the ADC Moreh.
During the rally, no vehicles were seen moving at Moreh Town while shops, hotels, banks, schools and college were closed.
At least 40 houses have been reduced to ashes at Motbung in Kangpokpi district after ATSUM's rally at around 7 pm.
There, however, is no report of any casualty.
The ATSUM's "Solidarity March '', taken out by over 5000 people ended peacefully in Kangpokpi district.
The Forest office at Kangpokpi was set ablaze today at about 8 pm.
Speaking to the media, ATSUM's finance secretary Kakai Singsit, who is also one of the in-charge of the Solidarity March in Kangpokpi district said that the unity of the tribal people in Manipur has come out in the open given the massive response given to the call of ATSUM.
He continued that the collective response of the tribal populace also demonstrated that the tribal unitedly stand against the ST demand by the Meetei/Meitei.
Responding to a query over the counter-blockade in some valley districts, Kakai Singsit said that it was very unfortunate as the ATSUM's 'Solidarity March' was a peaceful rally  and appealed to all concerned to lift the counter-blockade in the larger interest of peace and harmony.
He also said that the Meetei/Meitei brethren need to withdraw its ST demand to resolve the imbroglio besieging the State.
Meanwhile, during a short meeting at Brig M Thomas Ground, one of the tribal leaders who addressed the crowd said that the tribal populace may demand for separate administration if their stand against the ST demand of Meetei/Meitei is taken lightly.
Over 5000 people walked for about 3 Kms along National Highway-2 from Yaikongpao village playground at 11 am and reached Brig M Thomas Ground at around 12.30 pm.
The rallyists shouted the slogan, "Be Bold and Courageous".
The demonstrators marched toward Deputy Commissioner Kangpokpi's office from Brig Thomas Ground where some ATSUM leaders accompanied by other tribal organization leaders met the Deputy Commissioner and submitted a memorandum addressed to the President.
The memorandum was submitted by Kuki Inpi Kangpokpi, Thadou Inpi Kangpokpi, Gangte Tribe Union, Vaiphei People's Council, etc.
The ATSUM team thanked the District Administration and district police for taking extreme precautionary measures during the solidarity rally.
All shops and schools in Kangpokpi town were closed during the rally.
Vehicles, however, were seen plying along the highway normally.
Denizens of Ukhrul town also took out the Tribal Solidarity March to show their support to the movement of All Tribal Students' Union Manipur (ATSUM) against the Meitei/ Meetei community demand for inclusion in the ST list of the Constitution.
The procession began from Ava Market at Phungreitang, Ukhrul and converged at TKS office Hamleikhong, following which a public meeting was held.
The rallyists holding placard read as "Stop your divide and rule policy,"  "Meitei already enjoy SC, OBC, EBC reservations," "Don't recommend Meitei ST demand," "Stop thriving by exploiting tribals and our rights" etc
The rally was also participated by volunteers of Kuki Students Organization (KSO) Ukhrul branch.
During the meeting, presidents of Tangkhul frontal organizations viz Tangkhul Katamnao Long, Tangkhul Shanao Long and Tangkhul Naga Wungnao Long expressed their support and endorsement to the movement called by ATSUM to safeguard tribal rights.
A memorandum  jointly signed by Tangkhul Katamnao Saklong (TKS), Zingtun Tangkhul Katamnao Long (ZTKL), Zingsho Katamnao Long (ZKL), Raphei Katamnao Long (RKL), Tangkhul Aze Katamnao Long (TAKL) and Sagolmang Area Naga Students' Association (SANSA) was also also read out during the meeting.
Later, the memorandum of Tangkhul student organisations and a separate memo of KSO, Ukhrul  were submitted to the President trough Ukhrul Deputy Commissioner Krishna Kumar Ukhrul seeking her intervention 'as the future of the tribal communities look bleak and uncertain in Manipur.
The memoranda mentioned that tribal communities need political autonomy to protect the 'weak and marginalized' tribal communities from the 'onslaught' of the 'dominant' Meitei/Meetei.
The rally was organised by TKS under the aegis of the parent tribal student body ATSUM.
Various civil society organisations of the Longmai area organised the Tribal Solidarity March at Longmai, Noney District Headquarters, today.
The rally commenced from near Longmai Bazar Bridge and concluded at Longmai Common Ground where a public meeting was convened.
Thousands of people from Longmai area, including various CSO leaders and women, took part in the rally.
Later, the demonstrators submitted a memorandum signed by CSO leaders to the President through the district Deputy Commissioner.
Similar rally was organised at Tengnoupal by KSO Tengnoupal, KCA Tengnoupal and Kuki Women Human Rights Tengnoupal at Tengnoupal District Headquarters against the demand to seek ST status  for Meitei/Meetei.
The protesters also submitted a memorandum to the President through the DC Tengnoupal.
The rally began from Tengnoupal Village Community Hall, proceeded towards Imphal-Moreh road and culminated at Tengnoupal DC office.
Placards which read "Meitei ST demand is purely selfishness", "No protection for our land if Meiteis become ST", "Meiteis are not tribal", "Respect tribal rights, "Our land our right," "Stop discrimination," "There is no Government land in tribal areas," "Don't send the recommendation" were displayed during the rally.