By Daniela Morales, 10th Grade
India is a country rich in diversity—something reflected in the massive amount of ethnic groups that live in the country. Taking into consideration many factors such as language and religion, there are more than 2,500 ethnic groups in India (Joshua Project, 2023). However, not all of these groups are recognized by the government, only 705 of them are officially recognized under the status of “scheduled tribe” (IWGIA, n.d.). Ethnic groups recognized under this category have special access to education and employment opportunities when compared to those who don’t. There are certain government jobs, posts, and college admissions reserved for members of this community. The vulnerability that all ethnic people face in the country, and the many variants of beliefs has led to conflict between different ethnic groups and also between smaller groups and the bigger ethnic group they’re part of.
There are different ways in which ethnic conflict has been reflected in Indian society, some of those include movements for autonomy or self-determination and interethnic violent conflicts. Violence is especially seen in the northeast region of India, where fights between ethnic groups break out with frequency. One of the states in the Northeast, Manipur, made headlines the past week because of the outbreak of ethnic violence. The conflict stars the Naga and Kuki tribes, which are minorities and are against the Meitei community which is the major ethnic group holding 50% of Manipur’s population. There are two main differences between these ethnic groups: 1) their religions and 2) their legal status. While the Naga and Kuki tribes are Christian, the Metei community is Hindu. Additionally, while the Naga and Kuki are scheduled tribes, the Metei community isn’t.
The reason behind the conflict is that the Naga and Kuki tribes don’t want the Metei community to become a scheduled tribe. In their perspective, since the Metei community is already a majority they shouldn’t be granted the same legal protections minorities have. The Naga and Kuki tribes are concerned that if the Metei community becomes a legal tribe, it will have even more power over them and take some of their lands. Currently, most Meteis live in plains while the Nagas and Kukis live in hills and forested areas, which Nagas and Kukis want to protect from Metei dominance.
The protests began with a rally on May 3rd but they soon turned more physical, with houses and temples getting destroyed in the way, and even casualties. On May 7, 58 people were reported to die as a result of the protests and 23,000 have been displaced. Teachers have evacuated students from schools, some shelters have been established, and the local government has sent military officers, surveillance was increased, and a curfew was established. However, violence hasn’t stopped and since protests erupted the internet services in Manipur have been cut off, which limits the ability of people experiencing the tensions to inform the outside world.
This instance is also not the first time conflict between these ethnic groups erupts, and since there has been no change in historical tensions, the conflict is bound to continue and happen again. What’s the historical tension? Myanmar has always been a territory with a substantial ethnic variety, it wasn’t even part of India until 1949, when the British monarchy forced it to become part of this country. Britain’s intervention in the division and grouping of territories was never able to fulfill everyone’s needs. The dissatisfaction of ethnic groups and tribes not only in India, but in the rest of the world, has violent outcomes every once in a while.
Will the conflict be resolved? I think that it most likely won’t, because when it comes to tensions between ethnic groups there are many factors at which to look and when a consensus is reached, there’s always a party that comes out winning more than the other one. What authorities have to focus on right now is diminishing the violence, because the loots and fires involving the protests affect the whole state, which includes civilians that are not inside any of the ethnic groups. A dialogue should be established so that even if the conflict is not solved, the Meteis, the Kukis, and the Nagas, can tolerate and coexist with each other.
Project, J. (2023). How many people groups are there?. How many People Groups are There? https://joshuaproject.net/resources/articles/how_many_people_groups_are_there
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Staff, A. J. (2023, May 7). What has spurred ethnic violence in India’s Manipur? Conflict News | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/7/what-has-spurred-ethnic-violence-in-indias-manipur
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