II. Background: Conflict in Manipur

The northeastern part of India is linked to the rest of the country by a narrow corridor through the hill districts of West Bengal state. Surrounded by Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, and the Tibetan region of China, the northeast is a strategically sensitive area. A large deployment of troops has long been stationed to guard the borders.

The region is populated by diverse ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups, including a number of indigenous tribes.1 It makes up roughly 7 percent of India’s total area and is home to about 3 percent of its total population.2 The northeast now includes the states of Manipur, Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Sikkim.3 Many of these states were created to win the allegiance of ethnic groups and to accommodate political aspirations.4

Integrated into India after the end of British colonial rule in 1947, most people from this region have little ethnically in common with the bulk of the Indian population. The landlocked region has endured decades of neglect, widespread corruption, and a failure by successive governments to deliver economic growth and sustainable development.5 Separatist armed groups from the Naga tribes first started resisting integration with India in the mid-1950s.6

Manipur is an area of roughly 22,000 square kilometers, about half the size of Switzerland, made up of a valley surrounded by hills. Two-thirds of the population lives in the valley, which is roughly 10 percent of the total area. The population of 2.2 million, according to the 2001 census, includes the majority Hindu Meiteis, who occupy the valley, and tribal groups, including the Naga and Kuki tribes, who practice Christianity and live primarily in the surrounding hill districts.7 Muslim immigrants, known as Pangals, are about 8 percent of the population. There is also a small population of migrants from other parts of India who are called Mayang (“outsiders”).8

Manipur was an independent kingdom until defeated by Britain in 1891. It remained a princely state under British suzerainty until the end of colonial rule. The maharajah (king) of Manipur then signed an Instrument of Accession, placing Manipur within the dominion of India and granting it exclusive power over Manipur’s defense, foreign relations, and communications. However, a movement demanding an end to the old feudal system had already begun in Manipur which, in 1948, led to the establishment of an elected legislature with the king becoming only a constitutional head of state.9 But King Bodhchandra signed a Merger Agreement with the Indian state on September 21, 1949,10 and Manipur formally merged with India on October 15, 1949. It was directly governed by New Delhi until January 21, 1972, when it became a state with the right to elect its own legislative assembly.

Many Manipuris believe that their right to self determination was violated in 1949 when the Manipuri king, who apparently went to Shillong to meet the governor of Assam and other Indian officials to discuss the law and order situation in the region, was instead, allegedly forced to sign the Merger Agreement.11 Such an agreement had not been discussed by the newly formed legislature, and was not ratified by it. Instead, the assembly was dissolved and Manipur placed under the direct administration of New Delhi.12

Many Manipuris believe that Indian government actions in 1949 justified an armed response. One elderly woman, referring to the events of that year, described her outrage as follows:

What happened in Manipur was a denial of rights. They tried to snatch what was left to us by our ancestors. What do you do then? If you have guns, you use guns. If you have knives, you use knives. If all you have is a spade, then that it what you will use.13

Because of separatist activity by Naga tribes that spilled over into Manipur, the Indian government enacted the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act in 1958, which provided troops with extraordinary powers during counter-insurgency operations.14 This law became applicable in the areas of present-day Nagaland and in the hill areas of Manipur. Later, when armed groups from other ethnic communities started their own insurgencies, the law was extended to the remaining parts of Manipur and remains in effect today.15

The first armed opposition group in Manipur, the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), formed in November 1964 demanding independence. Since then many armed groups led by Meiteis were established with similar objectives. The People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak16 (PREPAK) was formed in 1977. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which received arms and training from China, was formed in 1978.17 The Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) was formed in 1980. These groups began a spree of bank robberies and attacks on police officers and government buildings.18 

In 1980, all of Manipur was declared “disturbed” and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was imposed in the state because the state government said that “the use of the Armed Forces in aid of the Civil powers is necessary.”19

The violence in Manipur has not simply been between security forces and armed groups (called “undergrounds,” or “UGs” by Manipuris). There is also a history of differences between the Meiteis, Nagas, Kukis and other tribal groups.20 Once the Naga tribes in Manipur began to support the separatist groups in Nagaland in their demand for a sovereign “Nagalim”—a large swathe of Naga majority areas that include parts of Manipur, Assam, and Burma—the Meiteis began to form organizations to demand independence and protect their territories from Naga claims. In 2001 widespread protests broke out when Meitei Manipuris feared that a peace agreement between Naga insurgents and the Indian government would lead to the truncation of Manipur.21 In the riots that followed, a number of government offices came under attack and the Manipur State Assembly building was burned down.22

The Kukis and Nagas have had numerous clashes, with hundreds killed in the 1990s.23 The Kukis support the demand of a separate Kukiland that would include the Kuki tribes of Burma.

Satkhojai Chongloi of the Kuki Movement for Human Rights told Human Rights Watch that the primary concern of the Kukis has been land. He summarized Kuki views of the situation as follows:

There are many different groups in Manipur. Some want a separate state under the Indian Constitution. Others demand a sovereign nation. But the main concern of the Kuki people is that the customary law should be protected. The real issue in the hill areas is land. Some are out to grab it by force…. We are caught in between the army and the Nagas. The Nagas killed over 900 people in the 1990s. Over 350 villages were uprooted. The army has continued human rights abuses.24

There is particular resentment among the Meiteis for the secessionist demands of the Nagas and Kukis because of the special protections reserved for tribal groups under the Indian Constitution including quotas in universities and government jobs. The Meiteis are not eligible for these privileges. Under Manipuri law to protect indigenous tribes, they are also not allowed to settle in the hill districts. However, there is no such restriction on Nagas and Kukis settling in the valley.

Despite the deployment of the Indian army, the insurgencies have continued.25 Militant groups have split and new ones formed, all of them representing their own community interests.26 The three largest Meitei groups—the UNLF, PLA and PREPAK—have operated under a unified platform called the Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF) since 1999, though they maintain their independent identities and command structure.27

After clashes between Meiteis and Muslims in 1993, Islamist groups such as the People’s United Liberation Front, North East Minority Peoples Front, Islamic National Front, Islamic Revolutionary Front, and United Islamic Liberation Army were formed.28 Conflicts between the Nagas and the Kukis of Manipur led to the emergence of a number of Kuki armed opposition groups such as Kuki National Army, Kuki National Front, Kuki Revolutionary Army, and the United Kuki Liberation Front.29 The Nagas back the National Socialist Council of Nagaland­-IM, which is led by a Manipuri Naga called Thuingaleng Muivah.

There are now an estimated 30 armed groups belonging to various ethnic or religious groups operating in Manipur.30 At present there is a cessation of hostilities by most of the Kuki groups.31 The main Naga groups have also ceased hostilities against the state because of ongoing talks with the Indian government.32 However, counter-insurgency operations have continued against the Meitei and Islamist groups.

The continuing violence in Manipur since separatist conflicts began has led to fear, anxiety, and terror for many residents, greatly impacting daily life and the region’s development. Since the beginning of the conflict, the armed groups have been responsible for torture, targeted killings, the indiscriminate use of bombs and landmines, abduction for ransom, and forced recruitment into combat.33 In the villages, militants also demand food or shelter from civilians. While Manipuris complain about the daily abuse and human rights violations by the state security forces, they are also held hostage by the stranglehold of the militants.

The biggest problem Manipuris face from militants is extortion, euphemistically called “taxes” by various armed groups. Many of these groups are so powerful that even government officials, including very senior officials, allegedly pay these “taxes.”34 Manipuris describe how they have been forced to seek the protection of one group from the threats and extortion of another, thereby risking arrest by the security forces for collusion with militants.

A prevailing lawlessness has prevented private business enterprises from emerging, since traders and entrepreneurs are reluctant to share their profits with a number of different extortionists. In February 2008, transporters went on strike, protesting against extortion demands by some militants.35 In April 2008, government engineers went on strike following numerous attacks by militants, including the murder of one engineer.36

The militants have also imposed moral diktats, such as on the sale of cigarettes and heroin or the screening of Hindi movies, and implement their orders violently. In 2001, there was outrage when one group imposed a dress code for women.37 Many of them also punish perceived corruption and other crimes without due process.38 A former militant told Human Rights Watch that his commanders implemented strict restrictions on alcohol use and punished violence against women. “The people from the area are consulted and they decide on the punishment,” he said. Suspected informers “are taken very seriously and usually killed.”39 Forced recruitment by militants has been an overwhelming problem since the beginning of the conflict. In July 2008, there were protests against the abduction and recruitment of children into combat.40

Government officials in Manipur say that armed groups operate under varying ideologies. One senior government official told Human Rights Watch that because of widespread unemployment in Manipur, “militancy has become a low risk, high returns option.”41 Many of these groups use “overground workers” for house-to-house tax collections and also make money through abductions for ransom.42 Officials say it is possible for the groups to intimidate civilians because they all have access to weapons; they receive arms and training in Burma, and safe havens in Bangladesh.43

Civil society activists in Manipur say that while some militants might be in the business of making money, most are fighting for independence in a cycle of violence that has been fueled, at least in part, by decades of government neglect and corruption and human rights violations by Indian security forces.

R.K. Anand, a human rights lawyer and an elected legislator with the Manipur People’s Party, said that civilian suffering has peaked:

People are caught between the state actors and the non-state actors. People think we need the militants to gain our independence. And we need the military to control the militants. The underground groups go beyond tolerance because of threats and extortion. And whenever you meet the army they are always shouting and being rude. The army has proved counterproductive because it has alienated the common man.... Unfortunately, the Indian government treats the violence in Manipur as a law and order problem. But it is a political problem. There are sovereignty issues that have to be addressed for the violence to end.44

According to the army, at least 53 civilians have been killed by militants in Manipur in 2008, while 108 were killed in 2007.45 The army arrested 771 alleged militants and killed 111 alleged militants in 2007. Through August 2008, 54 alleged militants had been killed and 207 arrested.46

A large number of police and other security forces are deployed in Manipur. The state has over 14,000 police. Estimates suggest that at least 50,000 soldiers and paramilitaries are deployed in the state.47 These forces include the army, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Force, the Assam Rifles, and Indian Reserve Battalions. According to Manipuri activists, the extent of militarization is such that it is estimated that there is one member of the security forces for every 20 Manipuris.48

Because of the overwhelming influence of various militant groups, since the beginning of the conflict, most civilians have been forced to interact with at least some militants. The security forces have not acknowledged their own failure to provide adequate security to Manipuris, which drives civilians to seek the protection of militants. Instead, the security forces have treated ordinary citizens with suspicion and subjected them to random checks, arbitrary arrest, coercive interrogation and torture. There are numerous allegations of custodial deaths, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings disguised as armed exchanges (“encounter killings”) with combatants.

When there are protests after a human rights violation by the armed forces or other security forces, typically the Manipur government sets up a commission of inquiry.49 However, these commissions usually lack transparency during the investigation. The reports are rarely made public, nor is it ever clarified whether any action was taken based on the findings.

The state government also established the Manipur Human Rights Commission over ten years ago, in 1997. The dismal state of the commission reflects the government’s lack of commitment to ensure the protection of human rights. The commission operates without a proper office, with skeletal administrative support, and no investigative staff all. Under section 19 of the national Human Rights Protection Act, the commission is not empowered to investigate violations by the army.50 However, it has the right to ask for information from civilian authorities. But commission chairman, retired justice W. A. Shishak, complained that, “Often, there is no response when we seek information from them. That is not surprising because we do not have the status where our autonomy is retained. In fact, we are nothing but a ‘signboard’ commission.”51

The director general of police confirmed the commission chairman’s remarks, telling Human Rights Watch, “I am tired of these inquiries by the human rights commission. Often, I just shove their letters in a drawer and forget about them.”52

In Jammu and Kashmir, where security forces have also been deployed in large numbers to quell a separatist rebellion, there have been some genuine efforts to protect human rights. For instance, the government of India signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in June 1995 to ensure the protection of all those in jails or detention centers.53 The presence of journalists representing the national and international media, and regular visits by diplomats and human rights workers have also acted as some sort of deterrence.

But foreigners seeking to enter Manipur require a special permit called the Protected Area Permit.54 This permit is not easy to secure, and often valid for only a few days making proper investigations by international groups or journalists extremely difficult. It thus leaves human rights violations unnoticed and unreported.

Manipuris, by and large, do not wish for the security forces to be withdrawn. They simply want human rights violations by troops to end, and for the perpetrators to be punished. As Phanjoubam Ongbi Sakhi, a Meira Paibi leader, explained:

People cannot sleep at night because they are scared of a knock on the door. Everyone is responsible, not just the army. These are people that snatch sons from their mothers. The brutality is beyond limit… The army people are also human beings. We are mothers. There is no reason not to love them. When we were young the army used to make us feel safe and secure. But now they are behaving like beasts… We are not saying that the UGs should not be arrested. But why rape? Why kill? We can no longer look upon these people as mothers.55

1 Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Annual Report 2006-2007, p. 16.

2 According to projections based on 2001 census, the population in India’s northeast is estimated to be around 43.56 million out of a total population is 1.14 billion. Census of India, “Projected Population for the year 2008,” (accessed April 21, 2008).

3 Apart from the kingdoms of Tripura, Manipur and Sikkim, the rest of the northeast was initially part of Greater Assam.

4 Sikkim was an independent kingdom until it merged with India in 1975.

5 B.G. Verghese, “Building Northeastern Futures, Looking East,” Eastern Quarterly, vol. 4, October 2007-March 2008, Manipur Research Forum, New Delhi, p. 158.

6 South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center, “Armed Forces Special Powers Act; A Study in National Security Tyranny,” November 22, 1995, (accessed April 21, 2008).

7 Population of North-Eastern States, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, (accessed April 5, 2008). The population in 2008 is estimated to be 2.6 million according to the Census of India, “Projected Population for the year 2008.”

8 R.Upadhyay, “Manipur-In a Strange Whirlpool of Cross-Country Insurgency,” Paper No. 1210, South Asia Analysis Group, January 3, 2005, (accessed March 14, 2007).

9 South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center, “Armed Forces Special Powers Act; A Study in National Security Tyranny.”

10 Agreement between Governer General of India and the Maharajah of Manipur, “Merger of Manipur with India,” September 21, 1949, Text of the Agreement, (accessed March 13, 2008).

11 Jiten Yumnam and Phulindro Konsam, “Militarization and Impunity in Manipur,” Article 2, vol. 5, no. 6, Asian Legal Resource Center, Hong Kong, December 2006, p. 2.

12 South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center, “Armed Forces Special Powers Act; A Study in National Security Tyranny.”

13 Human Rights Watch interview with a Manipuri woman (name withheld), Imphal, February 26, 2008.

14 Ministry of Home Affairs, “Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958,” (accessed April 20, 2008).

15 The Armed Foreces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act was amended in 1972 to extend to the new states that had been formed in the region and its name was changed to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

16 Kangleipak is the historical name for Manipur.

17 The People’s Liberation Army is the armed wing of the  Revolutionary People’s Front, Manipur, (accessed March 13, 2008).

18 South Asia Terrorism Portal, “Terrorist/Insurgent Groups- Manipur,” (accessed April 24, 2008).

19 Government of Manipur, Home Ministry Notification No. 183, September 8, 1980.

20 Sanjay Hazarika, Strangers of the Mist, (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1995), p. 242-245.

21 Subir Bhaumik, “Analysis: Manipur’s Ethnic Bloodlines,” BBC News, June 19, 2001, (accessed April 24, 2008).

22 “13 Killed, Indefinite Curfew in Imphal,” Press Trust of India, June 19, 2001, (accessed April 5, 2008).

23 Subir Bhaumik, “Analysis: Manipur’s Ethnic Bloodlines,” BBC News, June 19, 2001.

24 Human Rights Watch interview with Satkhojai Chongloi, Imphal, February 26, 2008.

25 Somini Sengupta and Hari Kumar, “A Forgotten Civil War in Northeastn India,” The International Herald Tribune, September 3, 2005, (accessed August 21, 2008).

26 Lianboi Vaiphei, “Adressing Multiculturalism for Ethnic Equations in Manipur,” Eastern Quarterly, vol. 4, October 2007-March 2008, Manipur Research Forum, New Delhi, p. 229-237.

27 Bobby Sarangthem, “Revolutionary People’s Front,” IPCS Database on Armed Groups in South Asia, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, (accessed August 22, 2008).

28 Sanjay Hazarika, “100 Dead in India Religious Strife,” The New York Times, May 5, 1993, (accessed April 24, 2008).

29 Hazarika, Strangers of the Mist, p. 242-244.

30 These groups include the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), United National Liberation Front (UNLF), Revolutionary Peoples Front (RPF), Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), Manipur Liberation Front Army (MLFA), Kanglei Yawol Khnna Lup (KYKL), Revolutionary Joint Committee (RJC), Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Peoples United Liberation Front (PULF), National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K), National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-I/M), Naga Lim Guard (NLG), Kuki National Front (KNF), Kuki National Army (KNA), Kuki Defence Force (KDF), Kuki Democratic Movement (KDM), Kuki National Organisation (KNO), Kuki Security Force (KSF), Chin Kuki Revolutionary Front (CKRF), Kom Rem Peoples Convention (KRPC), Zomi Revolutionary Volunteers (ZRV), Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), Zomi Reunification Organisation (ZRO), and Hmar Peoples Convention (HPC).

31 “Manipur Govt to hold talks with underground groups,” North East News Agency, August 1-15, 2007,,%2007/mj4.htm (accessed April 3, 2008).

32 “Govt, NSCN (I-M) Agree to Extend Ceasefire,” Press Trust of India, January 15, 2001, (accessed April 5, 2008).

33 The abuses have continued even after some groups committed to comply with the Geneva Conventions.  The Revolutionary People’s Front announced its “unequivocal intention to comply” with common article 3 of the Geneva Convenstions in  its “Declaration Made by RPF during the 49th session of the Human Rights Sub-Commission at Geneva,” August 6, 1997, (accessed August 23, 2008).

34 This claim was made in numerous Human Rights Watch interviews with lawyers, journalists, politicians and activists.

35 Neelesh Misra, “Manipur: Going, Going, Nearly Gone,” The Hindustan Times, July 8, 2007, (accessed March 30, 2008).

36 “Engineers Stir, CM Assurance Fails to Cut Ice, Agitation On,” The Sangai Express, April 5, 2008, (accessed April 5, 2008).

37 “Islamic Outfit Bans Skirts for Girls in Manipur,” The Times of India, December 9, 2007, (accessed April 22, 2008) and  Syed Zarir Hussain, “Militants’ Dress Code Outrages Manipuri women,”, August 28, 2001, (accessed April 22, 2008).

38 “PULF alleges, sets 5 days deadline from Feb 28,” The Sangai Express, February 29, 2008, (accessed April 15, 2008).

39 Human Rights Watch interview with a former militant, Imphal, other details withheld, February 2008.

40 “Many anti-child abduction protests held in state,” The Imphal Free Press, July 22, 2008, (accessed July 26, 2008). Also Teresa Rahman, “Jackboots Too Large For Them,” Tehelka Magazine, vol. 5, Issue 30, August 2, 2008, (accessed July 26, 2008).

41 Human Rights Watch interview with senior official (name withheld), Government of Manipur, Imphal, February 26, 2008.

42 Ibid.

43 Subir Bhaumik, “Guns, Drugs and Rebels,” Seminar, June 2005, (accessed April 24, 2008).

44 Human Rights Watch interview with R.K. Anand, human rights lawyer and MLA, Imphal, February 25, 2008.

45 Eastern Command, Indian Army, “Acts of Violence by Militants,” (accessed August 23, 2008).

46 Eastern Command, Indian Army, “Counter insurgency operations by security forces,” (accessed August 23, 2008).

47 Committee on Human Rights,“Submission concerning the Universal Periodic Review of the Government of India at the UN Human Rights Council,” April 2008.

48 Laishramcha Jinine, “The Militarization of Manipur,” Article 2, vol. 5, no. 6, Asian Legal Resource Center, Hong Kong, December 2006, p. 6.

49 Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, (accessed April 21, 2008).

50 Human Rights Act, 1993, (accessed August 22, 2008).

51 Human Rights Watch interview with W. A. Shishak, Chairman, Manipur Human Rights Commission, Imphal, February 24, 2008.

52 Human Rights Watch interview with Manipur police chief, Yumnam Joykumar Singh, Imphal, February 26, 2008.

53 “Jammu and Kashmir: the government of India grants the ICRC access to detainees,” ICRC, June 22, 1995, (accessed April 21, 2008).

54 “Protected Area Permit,” Guidelines/Instructions of Ministry of Home Affairs regarding grant of Protected Area Permit (PAP) to foreign nationals visiting Manipur, (accessed August 25, 2008).

55 Human Rights Watch interview with Ph. Sakhi, Imphal, February 26, 2008.