Internet shutdown fuels unrest in Manipur

Internet shutdown fuels unrest in Manipur

The Tragic Unfolding of Violence in Manipur: Hidden in the Dark

Joshua Hangshing Joshua Hangshing, a victim of the violence in Manipur. Image: Parth M.N.

The peaceful state of Manipur in northeastern India has been ravaged by escalating violence between the Meitei and Kuki-Zo communities. The conflict, triggered by a court ruling in late March, has resulted in the deaths of at least 180 people and displacement of over 60,000 individuals. This brutal and heartbreaking situation should have made headlines worldwide; however, an internet blackout has kept the tragedy hidden from the world’s sight. For three months, Manipur burned in the dark.

The root cause of the violence lies in the long-standing tensions between the majority Meitei community, predominantly Hindu, and the minority Kuki community, largely Christian. A military coup and civil war in neighboring Myanmar have led to an influx of Kuki-Chin-Zo refugees into Manipur, causing further tensions between the communities. The court ruling awarding Meitei community “tribal status” intensified the unrest, as Kuki groups feared it would consolidate the Meitei’s political dominion and jeopardize their interests.

On May 4, the Indian government responded to the escalating conflict by imposing an internet shutdown in Manipur, a tactic it has frequently employed during periods of internal conflict. The blackout was intended to control the spread of misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms. However, the blackout failed to achieve its desired objectives and further exacerbated the situation.

Armed Kuki men on guard Armed Kuki men on guard in Manipur. Image: Biplov Bhuyan/Getty Images

The internet blackout proved to be a double-edged sword. Instead of halting the spread of disinformation, it allowed rumors to multiply unchecked and hindered fact-checkers’ ability to counter false claims. The blackout also impeded human rights groups’ efforts to collect evidence of human rights violations and communicate with colleagues abroad. As a result, those responsible for heinous crimes were able to operate with impunity.

Throughout the conflict, acts of violence have been carried out by both communities, leading to widespread destruction and displacement. Witnesses and survivors recount horrifying incidents of lynching, beheadings, gang rapes, and arson. The violence has torn families apart and left lasting scars on the social fabric of Manipur. The state is now divided along communal lines, with abandoned homes and deserted areas serving as grim reminders of the community divide.

One tragic incident that captured international attention was the viral video of two Kuki women being stripped and paraded naked by a mob. The video shed light on the gravity of the situation and compelled Prime Minister Narendra Modi to finally address the crisis in Manipur. However, the incident had taken place months earlier, and it was only the widespread dissemination of the video that prompted action from the authorities.

Sadly, the violence and its devastating consequences continue to unfold. The families affected by the conflict are left in despair, longing for justice and a return to their normal lives. The economic impact has been severe, exacerbating the suffering of the already traumatized population. Relief efforts have been hindered by the blackout, making it difficult for aid organizations to reach out to potential donors and provide much-needed assistance to the affected communities.

While some fixed-line connections have been restored, the majority of Manipur’s population relies on mobile internet services, which remain inaccessible. The partial lifting of the blackout has done little to alleviate the suffering and address the underlying issues. Furthermore, the scars left by the violence continue to fester, with intermittent gunshots in the border zones serving as a grim reminder of the potential for the conflict to reignite.

In this dark chapter of Manipur’s history, it is crucial that the international community stands in solidarity with the affected communities and amplifies their voices. The tragic stories of individuals like Joshua Hangshing, who lost his son and wife to the violence, must not be forgotten. Manipur needs not only immediate assistance but also sustained efforts to address the underlying causes of the conflict and promote reconciliation between the communities.

Internet shutdowns, as demonstrated by the situation in Manipur, not only fail to achieve their intended objectives but also contribute to impunity and hinder the efforts of those working to rectify the situation. Governments must reconsider this approach and seek alternative strategies that prioritize accountability, dialogue, and justice.

It is a reminder that shining a light on atrocities can herald hope for change and facilitate much-needed support. The world must not turn a blind eye to the suffering in Manipur. The people of Manipur deserve justice, peace, and an end to the darkness that has engulfed their lives.

Photograph: Parth M.N.