Briefly, Manipur riots that are fairly noted recently arose as the Meiteis, valley habitant community, pleaded for their inclusion under Scheduled Tribes (ST) status, along with hill habitants ‘Kukis’. In response, resolving a decade-long pending case, Manipur’s apex court Acting Chief Justice MV Muralidaran, on April 27, 2023, recommended the same to the State Government. On May 3, 2023, violence broke out in Churachandpur town, located near the State capital, Imphal, amid increasing solidarity to the Kukis. Unfortunately, in Thoubal district on May 4, 2023, two Kuki women were paraded naked in public and gang-raped, which is an inhuman and shameful act. The perpetrators along with their supporters are liable for punishment. Though the strife has been between two Manipur native habitants Kukis and Meities, it was misinterpreted as ‘Hindu-Christian’ clashes to portray divisive policies that spreaded disharmony in society. Even the issue was wrongly presented in the European Parliament and the same was rejected by the apex body representing Meitei tribes ‘Coordinating Committee On Manipur Integrity’. There seems to be a number of interconnected nodes in this erupt, some of them are hidden. Specific simple questions to be answered to understand scope and depth of the riots:
- Does the narcotic supply chain nexus from the Western world and the working policies of current Governments in Afghanistan and Myanmar have a role in escalating the Manipur riots?
- Are the changed demographics causing social disharmony in the State?
- Why are human trafficking and illegal migrants in the region not major concerns?
‘Opium’ is a plant based non-synthetic and extremely addictive narcotic drug extracted from poppy crops. It is also a primary source for other narcotic drugs such as heroin, morphine, oxycodone, and codeine. Afghanistan produces more than 80 per cent of the world’s opium, while Myanmar has emerged as the second largest producer. According to a BBC report, about 95 per cent of heroin marketed in Europe is made from Afghan poppy. After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, their supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada declared a complete ban on poppy cultivation in April 2022. Consequently, cultivated poppy crop fields were destroyed and farmers warned that any violations shall be penalised as per Sharia law. As a result, Afghanistan’s poppy crop cultivation was limited to only 740 hectares in 2023, which is very low compared to 129,000 hectares in 2022. In fact, Taliban during their previous regime in 2000-2001, had cracked down on 90 per cent of poppy cultivation, which lasted for a short while and had a serious impact on the corresponding industry.
Adding to Taliban’s poppy crackdown, continuing Russia-Ukraine war had impacts on the narcotic drug industry and trafficking supply chains across the globe
Though the poppy cultivation ban is well justified from Afghan’s perspective, this decision received mixed response. It was not welcomed by the USA and Europe. However, many appreciated it for the intent to eradicate narcotics impact on their citizens. A recent article “The Taliban’s Successful Opium Ban is Bad for Afghans and the World” by William Byrd affiliated to an American federal institute, United States Institute of Peace (USIP) mostly funded by the US Congress highlights interesting and conflicting remarks for Taliban’s Afghanistan ban on poppy cultivation.
- Poppy ban can’t be counted as a victory on counter-narcotics
- The Afghans will have to face negative economic repercussions
- There will be a major impact on the reduction of humanitarian sanctions including the refugee crisis
- Europe will get impacted due to use of synthetic drug supplements alternative to poppy extracts
- Continuing Taliban’s ban on opium would be largely confronted by widespread narcotic lobbies both regionally and internationally
Adding to Taliban’s poppy crackdown, continuing Russia-Ukraine war had impacts on the narcotic drug industry and trafficking supply chains across the globe. Having estimated the potential drug market, soaring inflations and to maintain poppy reserves, the narcotic agencies have shifted their focus to Myanmar and the ‘Golden Triangle’. Nevertheless, Myanmar’s economy that is struggling from political instability, Rohingya insurgencies and other internal security crises provided fertile ground for narcotic agencies as the next potential poppy producer. To boost opium poppy cultivation in the region, the Myanmar poppy farmers and labourers were provided with huge incentives, along with sophisticated farm machinery. Ever since poppy cultivation was established as a potential cash crop and source of employment for Myanmar.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, in 2022 poppy cultivation jumped by a third to 40100 hectares. Further, these phenomenally geo-political connected narcotic driven strategies had given opportunity to the armed groups and their support network in South-East Asia. Consequently, the armed terrorist network intensified their operations across Indo-Myanmar porous borders through their established narcotic-terror agencies in North Eastern States in India including Manipur, Nagaland and Assam.
MANIPUR, A CULTURAL JEWEL OF INDIA
Manipur (the land of gems), a North Eastern State of India, is part of Purvanchal mountain ranges with a beautiful natural landscape, spread across 22,327 sq. km sharing borders with three Indian states Assam, Nagaland and Mizoram and International border with Myanmar (Burma). Manipur is known for its rich cultural heritage, spiritual heights and wide spread contributions to the national freedom struggle. According to the 2011 census reports, 58.9 per cent of the population lives in the valleys and 41.1 per cent lives in the hill regions. The hills of Manipur are inhabited mostly by tribes with the entire population grouped into three major communities, Meiteis live in the Imphal valley (29 major tribes), while the other two major communities the Naga group (12 tribes) and the Kuki group (about 20 main and sub tribes) live on the hill regions. Other tribes including Paite, Zou, Gangte, and Vaiphei also live in the State. Even though there have been surge fights, mostly localised, between the habitants for a long time, their coexistence has been harmonised over a period of time.
RISE OF CHRISTIANITY IN MANIPUR
Though Christian missionaries started their conversion operations in early 1901, the State was strategically Christianised after Independence with Christian population rising from 11.48 per cent in 1951 to 41.29 per cent in 2011. According to 2011 census, Manipur demography by religious practices is listed as Hindu (41.39 per cent ), Christian (41.29 per cent), Muslim (8.40 per cent), Sikh (0.05 per cent), Buddhist (0.25 per cent), Jain (0.06 per cent), Other Religions (8.19 per cent) and Not Stated (0.38 per cent). The tribals living in hilly regions, the Kuki’s, are almost Christians. Also there are sizeable numbers from other communities. There are speculations that the State’s valleys may be reported almost with the Christian population in upcoming census records due to the intense focus of missionaries in the region.
According to a satellite data analysis, it is observed that after 1969 the number of villages in hill regions of Manipur State grew by 64 per cent, which is unnatural compared to other parts of the country. For example, in Imphal valley, Meiteis habitat zone, the number of villages dropped from 587 to 544 during 1969 – 2021. Conversely, in the distinct zones inhabited by the Kuki, Naga tribes villages and settlements rose from 1370 (1969) to 2244 (2021) villages. This abnormal growth in demographics and villages started impacting socio-political conditions of the region. In 2016 when the districts were reorganised, 16 districts emerged from nine. Among the newly formed districts, all seven hilly region districts Kangpokpi, Ukhrul, Churachandpur, Tengnoupal, Chandel, Senapati and Kamjong have a Christian dominant population.
According to’South Asia Terrorism portal, ‘SATP’, about 42 terrorist and extremist groups exist in Manipur – Proscribed (6), Active (6), Inactive (25) and Peace Talks / ceasefire groups (5). The Ministry of Home Affairs, India, MHA reports, in the North-East State the list of extremist/insurgent organisations are declared as “unlawful associations” and/or “terrorist organisations” under unlawful activities (prevention) act, 1967. The terror groups that are making fragile security situations through anti socio-economic-political operations.
- People’s Liberation Army(PLA) and its political wing the Revolutionary People’s Front(RPF)
- United National Liberation Front(UNLF) and its Armed wing the Manipur People’s Army(MPA)
- Peoples’ Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak(PREPAK)
- Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP)
- Kanglei Yaol Kanba Lup (KYKL)
- Coordination Committee [Cor-Com]
- Alliance for Socialist Unity Kangleipak (ASUK)
- Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF) Terrorist organisation
DEMOGRAPHICS & NARCOTIC DRUG LINKAGES IN MANIPUR?
During 2017-23, the Manipur special anti-drugs unit Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB) reported, that the poppy cultivation spread is over 15,400 acres mostly in the hill regions. As per NAB data, during 2017-2023, it’s quite evident that the Kuki-Chin community cultivated 13121.8 acres (84.7 per cent) of poppy plantation in the Manipur state while the Naga community cultivated poppy on 2340 acres (15 per cent) of land.
There are about 2,518 people who were arrested under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985 between 2017- 2023. Since the Kuki-Chin community habitant hilly regions cultivate most of the poppy crop cultivation compared to the other community areas, the number of drug arrests are higher from the hilly regions with distribution of Kuki-Chin community (873), Muslim (1083) and Meitei (381). Though the Muslim population accounts for only 8.40 per cent in Manipur State, one should probe their high level of engagement in narcotic allied activities.
The Manipur Government has been vigilant and enforced measures through various operations to eradicate poppy plantations. According to NAB, between 2017-2023 about 18,664 acres of poppy plantations were destroyed in 12 districts out of which 93.2 per cent of destructed opium plantation account from seven hilly region districts, Kangpokpi (4397.4 acres), Ukhrul (3018 acres), Churachandpur (2699.8 acres), Tengnoupal (2575 acres), Chandel (1982.5 acres), Senapati (1682 acres) and Kamjong (1048.5 acres) with christian dominant population. Surprisingly Kangpokpi district, which has the highest poppy plantation, is just 45 km from the State’s capital, Imphal. The other five districts Imphal East, Bishnupur, Tamenglong, Kakching, and Noney, which accounted for 6.8 per cent of destroyed opium plantation, are relatively valley areas where the majority Meitei community lives.
MYANMAR REFUGEE INFLUX AND DRUG TRAFFICKING
A huge number of Myanmar’s illegal immigrants are entering Indian territory through porous borders. According to a recent Manipur IGP of Intelligence, Narcotics and Affairs of Border report, 2,480 illegal immigrants were noted from four Manipur border districts Tengnoupal (1,147), Chandel (1,175), Churachandpur (154) and Kamjong (4).
India-Myanmar international border spreads over 1640 km of which Manipur shares 400 km of international border with Myanmar. Manipur-Myanmar international border is highly porous, only 10 per cent fenced, hence open for infiltrators, poppy cultivation and crossborder illicit drug trafficking from “Golden Triangle” – the tri-junction of the Myanmar, Laos and Thailand borders, Fig.3. Narcotic trade is actively reported in Indo – Myanmar borders through Manipur especially among border hill districts Ukhrul, Churachandpur, Tengnoupal, Chandel, and Kamjong. On the other hand Myanmar poppy cultivation is rising high due to various international geo-political reasons. Myanmar’s Chin State has very dense poppy cultivation in the Indo-Myanmar border villages. Culturally, the Kuki-chin community and Myanmar have had very close relations since pre-independence times.
According to a research article by Thounaojam Naresh Singh (2023) titled ‘The poppy menace in Manipur: causes, consequences and responses’, most of the narcotic substances produced in the Manipur are aimed for international markets in the USA and Europe, yet significant portion of the drugs are being sent across India for domestic markets using brand names labeled such as ‘two lions and a globe’, ‘double globe’, ‘five star’ and ‘dangerous’. Besides, several tracks used by smugglers for illicit drug trafficking were developed.
There are twelve primary drug trafficking routes reported in North Eastern India, Among these routes eight routes pass through the Manipur – Myanmar border while other four routes originate from Myanmar to Indian territory through other north eastern states. In controlling the narcotics trade, NAB is actively pursuing their anti-narcotic drive in the region however, there is a hidden spectrum of people from various groups ranging from religious, terror groups, businessmen, politicians, police and military officers involved in the narcotics trade.
SURGING POPPY CULTIVATION IN MILITARY MYANMAR
Afghanistan and Myanmar are the largest poppy cultivators in the world sourcing opium supplies for organic production of heroin. In a way these countries’ economies are largely influenced by this cash crop. As per UN estimate Myanmar’s Poppy trade is about $2bn (£1.6bn), while the regional narcotic trade in the country is around $10bn. This sudden increase evolved after the Military government took over power in Myanmar in 2021, especially in the conflict zones of northern Shan and other border states, Fig.4. The economic and security analysts estimate that this rising narcotic economy is a funding source for armed terrorist groups within Myanmar and extending across the narcotic drug trafficking routes across Southeast Asia through “Golden Triangle” – the tri-junction of the Myanmar, Laos and Thailand borders. Further, the five drug trafficking routes originating from Myanmar to India raise concerns about the illegal entry of migrants from Myanmar through porous international borders.
As per published reports of UNODC Myanmar Opium Survey 2022, opium poppy cultivation showed drastic increase in Myanmar in 2022. The territorial data analysis indicates spread intensity and cultivation trends in Myanmar since 2015. It is quite evident that Myanmar’s poppy production will soon cross their highest record in 2013 (870 metric tons). The visual cause for the Manipur violence incident i.e., the ST reservation case can be resolved through the legal intervention of both State and Central Governments, following the standard protocols, considering the influx of illegal migrants from both Myanmar, and Bangladesh. Since the violence motives are deep rooted, in most cases to the international narcotic supply chain nexus funded terrorists and anti-Indian groups, effective measures are essential to disrupt their strategies. in the interest of humanity and peace. Apart from Manipur, other North Eastern States of India are suffering from illegal immigrants, it is essential to have a long term and multi-level development plan to establish peace and social harmony in the region.