Manipur High Court Modifies Order Amidst Ethnic Conflict Triggers

Manipur High Court modifies contentious order triggering ethnic conflict, removes directive for Meitei inclusion in Scheduled Tribes list. Tribal bodies' appeal pending.

The Manipur High Court modified its own previous order on March 27, 2023, by removing Paragraph 17(iii), which had instructed the Manipur government to consider including Meiteis in the Scheduled Tribes list. This paragraph was seen as a trigger for the ongoing conflict between Meiteis and tribal Kuki-Zo communities in the State.

The contentious paragraph directed the State government to "consider the case of the petitioners for inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list, expeditiously...," a direction that was questioned by the Supreme Court of India when tribal bodies appealed the High Court’s order last year.

After violence erupted following the order, tribal bodies like the All Manipur Tribal Students’ Union appealed the entire March 2023 order in the High Court. However, the original Meitei petitioners filed a review petition seeking only the modification of Paragraph 17(iii). The appeal by tribal bodies is pending before a Bench headed by Chief Justice Siddharth Mridul.

The review petition of the Meitei petitioners was heard and decided by a Bench of Justice Golmei Gaiphulshillu, which dismissed the tribal bodies’ application to be included in the case. The court noted, "I am satisfied and of the view that the direction given at Paragraph No. 17(iii) of the Hon’ble Single Judge dated 27.03.2023… needs to be reviewed, as the direction… is against the observation made in the Constitution Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court."

Despite calls from Meitei petitioners for a change in language, the court decided to delete the paragraph altogether. Advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing tribal bodies, stated that the removal made no difference as the rest of the order remains intact. He argued that the effect of the order still directs the State government to respond to the Centre on inclusion in the ST list.

Throughout the proceedings, neither the Manipur government nor the Union government filed any counter-affidavit, with the High Court recording that “they have nothing to say as they have not received any instructions from their concerned authority.”

Members of the All Manipur Bar Association and Manipur High Court staged a protest against the unauthorized entry of the Rapid Action Force in response to an agitation by women activists inside the Cheirap court complex. The women were demanding the unconditional release of six people arrested for looting weapons from an India Reserve Battalion armoury in Imphal East on February 13.

The March 2023 order caused widespread unrest and protests from all tribal communities in Manipur, leading to violence and the ongoing ethnic conflict between Scheduled Tribe hills-based Kuki-Zomi people and Valley-based Meitei people. The conflict, which started on May 3, 2023, has resulted in the deaths of 200 people, with thousands injured and tens of thousands internally displaced.