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Naga campaign for leader to return to the Manipur Region, 2010
The Naga people have been entrenched in a largely violent struggle with the Indian government since the 19th century in an attempt to unify and secure the independence of areas in northeast India that are primarily populated by members of the Naga community. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN)--the leading Naga rebel group--declared a ceasefire with the Indian government in 1997 in order to begin peace talks, but little progress has been made since that point.
Thuingaleng Muivah, the leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) had planned to visit his birthplace in Manipur in 2010. However, the government of Manipur declared that he would not be allowed to complete his trip, because of the potential impact his presence would have on the stability of the region.
In response to the Manipur government's decision as well as election that had been held in autonomous district councils in the hills, the Naga began an "economic blockade" on April 11, 2010. Led by the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) in close collaboration with the All Nagaland Students Association of Manipur (ANSAM) and the United Naga Council (UNC), Nagas blocked two highways, 39 and 53. These two roads are the only major entrances into landlocked Manipur. The blockade was achieved through sit-ins on the roads, as well as the placement of boulders and fallen trees in the paths of oncoming trucks.
There was no timeline given for the blockade, and as supplies began to run low in Manipur the price of food rose as the availability of essentials diminished. Hospitals began to put-off routine surgeries due to lack of supplies, and, although it is not apparent that anyone died of insufficient food or care, the shortage put an extraordinary degree of strain on the people of Manipur.
On May 4 and 5, the Mao Women's Welfare Association (part of the Naga Women's Union of Manipur) organized a peaceful rally at Mao Gate to protest Muivah's having been prohibited from visiting his homeland. That night a Naga elder was brutally assaulted by police, and the next day, Thursday May 6, police attacked another nonviolent protest rally at Mao Gate (this one attended by thousands of Naga villagers). Although sources disagree on the exact numbers, between two and six protestors were killed and between seventy and over a hundred people were injured. Most of the injured were women who had taken part in organizing the protest. The protest on May 6 was against police commando brutality, the local imposition of 144 CrPC (a portion of the criminal code banning public assemblies of more than five people) and Mr. Muivah's prohibition from entering the area. In response to police fire, protestors threw stones and went to the Town Hall where the commandos were housed, where they took, and in some cases destroyed, the clothing and bedding they found.
The international Naga community stood in solidarity with the largely nonviolent protestors. In Bangalore, Nagas held a candlelight vigil and sit-in on Tuesday May 11 condemning the Manipur government's violence. Approximately 2,000 Nagas attended the vigil, despite rain.
On May 13, Manipuri women opposed to the Naga campaign staged a nonviolent rally, sit-in, and counter-protest against the continued possibility of Mr. Muivah's visit. Organized in Imphal by the Advanced Women Society, the protest attracted approximately 1,000 women. One woman claimed that Muivah's homecoming was "a ploy to cause communal crisis in the state." That same month, the Naga people boycotted the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) elections, as Nagas believed they were being conducted unfairly.
On June 14, members of the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) met with India’s Prime Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh and subsequently agreed to lift the blockade. Three days later troops arrived in Manipur to clear the blockade, and the next day ANSAM and UNC, the two other groups involved in maintaining the blockade, agreed to dismantle it as well. The Naga leaders demanded that, in return, the Prime Minister revoke arrest warrants that had been issued for the Naga leaders organizing the blockades, yet in 2011, at the time of this narrative’s writing, the government still offered substantial rewards for handing over Naga leaders.
On July 1, Naga leaders publicly declared their intention to no longer communicate with the Manipur government, and have not attended meetings that the government has called, since they believe these meetings are traps built to tempt their leaders into revealing themselves. A second and largely separate blockade was begun on August 4, forty days after the main one was called off. This was originally intended to last 20 days but extended another 25 due to the government’s inaction in response to the people’s demands. This proved fruitless, and conflict continued largely unabated between the Naga people and the government of Manipur.