Protests in Manipur’s valley escalated into violence as demonstrators demanded the release of five individuals arrested on charges of possessing firearms and wearing camouflage uniforms.
The situation intensified at Singjamei police station in Imphal West, where protesters vandalized the officer-in-charge’s residence. In response, police and security personnel used teargas shells, resulting in three civilians sustaining injuries.
Notably, the Meitei society’s stakeholders, including the prominent civil society organization COCOMI and the influential Meira Paibis (women vigilantes), have generally called for the withdrawal of Assam Rifles from the state but have not previously clashed with the state police. This incident marks one of the first instances of Meitei civil society members directing their anger at the state police in the valley.
The arrests occurred on September 16 when five individuals were apprehended in Konga, Imphal East, under various sections of the IPC, the Arms Act, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, and the Official Secrets Act for alleged misuse of official uniforms. They were found in possession of an INSAS rifle, an SLR, two .303 rifles, multiple magazines, and rounds of ammunition. One of the detainees, Moirangthem Anand Singh (45), had previously been associated with the separatist group People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur and later the Kangleipak Communist Party (Noyon) group, with seven prior arrests between 1997 and 2010. The other arrested individuals range in age from 28 to 39.
Following the arrest of the five individuals, there were several attempts to storm police stations in Imphal East and other districts, with demands for their release. Meitei groups claimed that the detainees were “volunteers.” A 48-hour bandh (strike) was called by local groups in response to the arrests.
Protesters attempted to storm police stations in Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal, Kakching, and Bishnupur districts. Teargas was deployed not only at the Singjamei police station but also at stations such as Heingang and Porompat.
Manipur’s Additional Secretary (Home), Maharabam Pradip Singh, addressed the media during the week, highlighting the threat to law and order posed by individuals misusing police uniforms. He stated that the arrests of the five individuals were part of an effort to combat this issue. Singh mentioned the presence of armed individuals posing as CDOs (Commando) and engaging in extortion and threats, which had disrupted police efforts to restore normalcy in the state.
The police had conducted search operations and set up multiple checkpoints to address this issue, leading to the apprehension of the five armed individuals in supposedly CDO or camouflage uniforms carrying weapons at a checkpoint in the Kongba area on September 16. Reports of increased complaints regarding extortion demands and threats in various valley districts of Manipur have also been received.
Tensions have escalated in Imphal following the arrest of five individuals on September 16 for carrying firearms and wearing camouflage uniforms. The arrest of these individuals, Moirangthem Anand Singh, Athokpam Kajit, Loukrakpam Michael Mangangcha, Konthoujam Romojit Meitei, and Keisham Johnson, sparked widespread protests and demonstrations in the valley areas.
In response to the arrests, a 48-hour bandh (strike) was called by the Meira Paibis, a community of Meitei women, on Tuesday. They demanded the unconditional release of the five men, claiming that they were village volunteers.
On Thursday, protestors carrying placards and shouting slogans attempted to enter several police stations, including the Porompat Police Station in Imphal East, Singjamei Police Station, and Kwakeithel Police Outpost in Imphal West district. They demanded the immediate release of the five individuals or their arrest.
A group of 20-25 individuals also vandalized and partially burned the residence of Deputy Superintendent of Police Ingoucha Singh, who is the officer-in-charge of Imphal Police Station in Imphal West district.
The conflict between the Meiteis and the Kukis in Manipur, which began on May 3, has resulted in over 200 casualties and forced nearly 60,000 people to flee their homes. The state has witnessed cases of rape and murder, and mobs have looted police armories and set several homes on fire despite the heavy presence of central security forces.