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Rediff.com  » News » Assam Rifles dilemma: Caught between two warring groups of Manipur

Assam Rifles dilemma: Caught between two warring groups of Manipur

By Sumir Kaul
July 26, 2023 17:13 IST
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The Assam Rifles, which operates under the command of the Army's 3 Corps, finds itself in the midst of trying circumstances while maintaining peace between the two warring ethnic groups in Manipur, with officials saying the country's oldest paramilitary force often face a hostile crowd and at times a non-cooperative state machinery.

IMAGE: Indian Army along with the Assam Rifles and Manipur police conducting a joint operation across the vulnerable areas of violence-hit Manipur, in Imphal East, June 28, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Known as 'Sentinels of the North East' and 'Friends of the Hill People', the officers, drawn from the Army, and jawans have been fighting a war of nerves since the ethnic clashes between majority Meitei and hill tribe Kukis erupted on May 3.

 

These clashes have resulted in the death of over 160 people till now.

Having footprints in entire Manipur, the Assam Rifles along with the Army and other paramilitary forces has been tasked with maintaining peace or ensuring some semblance of calming angry people of the two communities.

"But at the end, we are facing flak from every side," says a senior officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The officer, who has been monitoring the situation in the valley and hill areas since the outbreak of violence, said "none of us slept for 96 hours and we had thrown open our camps for the displaced people be it Meitei or Kuki. Every one caught in the riots knew the address or safety and that was the Assam Rifle or Army camp."

"But today both the communities are accusing us of helping the other whereas our only job is to ensure that peace is the order of the day and human life and dignity is respected," the officer said.

Recently 31 MLAs demanded replacing the 9th, 22 and 37 battalions of the Assam Rifles with other central security forces citing need for promoting unity in the state.

While 9 Assam Rifles is placed at the border of Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts, 22 AR is deployed in Kangpokpi area and 37 in areas of Sugnu.

However, the demand by the MLAs has left the officers and jawans of these units shell shocked as they were the saviours of many people when the violence broke out. After that, these units have been maintaining peace at the 'buffer zone', an area where the villages of the two ethnic groups are in close proximity.

Explaining the operations of these strategically-located units, the officials said that from May 3 they were instrumental in saving many people who had fled their homes due to clashes.

The officials feel that some people are making desperate attempts to undermine the credibility of a witness and in this case, the Assam Rifles has a fair amount of idea where things have gone right or wrong.

Citing an example, another official referred to an incident at Sugnu, a small town at the southern tip of Kakching, where an officer of the rank of a Colonel of the Indian Army was roughed up by Manipur Police personnel.

The entire incident was caught on camera in which a junior police officer, wearing an undershirt, cocked his rifle in anger at the Army officer, who had come to complain about digging of an entire road in front his camp by miscreants.

The digging of roads was done to ensure that vehicles of Assam Rifles could be prevented from moving out in case an armed clash takes place in the vicinity which houses both sides of warring communities.

The officials said that even before May 3, Army and Assam Rifles had kept 17 columns on standby to respond to any contingency at a short notice.

One column of the Assam Rifles and the Army comprise 40 to 50 personnel.

It was the presence of Assam Rifles and the real time assessment of the situation that helped Army and the AR in saving around 8,000 people, mainly from the majority community, within the first few hours across Manipur, they said.

Another senior official said the numbers of displaced people started swelling within the first few days to 24,000.

It was the fast-paced movement of Assam Rifles and the Army from neighbouring Assam and other states that 128 columns were mobilised within the first five days. The number at present is around 170.

The officials pointed out that in Churchandpur, where the majority community was facing the gravest of threats, over 4,600 civilians were safely rescued from Khumujamba, Hmar Veng, Saikot and Mantop Leikai.

A pro-active deployment facilitated faster reaction in de-notified areas of Imphal as also in villages of Tegnoupal and Churachandpur districts where Assam Rifles does not have any company operating base in the vicinity.

Imagine, says an official of the paramilitary force, "our ration trucks meant for troops stationed in hills were stopped in Imphal valley by people. We can't be using force against our own people to whom logic was failing.

"I guess the hatred runs deep between the two communities and it will take a while before we will see Manipur prosperous again."

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Sumir Kaul in Imphal
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