Independence Day in Manipur bore a quiet tone this year, as the state faced a general strike called by militant groups and grappled with the impact of ethnic religious conflict that has claimed many lives and property over the past three months.
In rural areas and prominent sections of Imphal, the capital city, a noticeable quiet enveloped the streets as shops and markets remained closed in observance of the general strike. Nevertheless, government employees answered the call, gathering in their offices to hoist the national flag amidst the prevailing tension.
According to media reports, while larger state and district-level events went on with fanfare, featuring prize distribution, the national anthem, and cultural displays, local celebrations were notably low-key, with many choosing to stay indoors. The days leading up to Independence Day saw preparations, with national flags adorning the streets and important buildings. Citizens also took part in the Har Ghar Tiranga campaign, draping their homes with the national flag.
In Churachandpur district Kuki-Zo villagers and volunteers joined in the 77th Independence Day celebration, with many Tricolours waving along Kangpokpi town's national highway.
Ginza Vualzong, spokesperson of the Indigenous Tribal Leader’s Forum (ITLF), shared the community's perspective: “We lived in this land from time immemorial, even before India got Independence. But the Meiteis call us ‘illegal immigrants’ ‘refugees.’ Today it is sad that we have to prove our nationality all over again.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi took 78 seconds out of his Independence Day speech to talk about Manipur. He noted that reports of peace coming from Manipur have been continuous in recent days, and that both the federal and state governments are diligently working to find answers to the problems that are currently plaguing the area.
“In the past few weeks, particularly in Manipur in the North-East, and in some other parts of India, there has been a spell of violence, where many people lost their lives, and the dignity of mothers and daughters was violated. However, in the last few days, we have been hearing continuous reports of peace, and the entire nation stands with the people of Manipur. The people of Manipur have maintained peace in the past few days, and they should continue to foster that peace, as it is the path to resolution. Both the state and central governments are working together to find solutions to the issues and will continue to do so,” said the Prime Minister.
During his customary Independence Day speech, the Chief Minister of Manipur, N Biren Singh addressed the misunderstandings, vested interests, and alleged that foreign involvement had
led to loss of life and destruction. He urged an end to violence and a return to the progress the state had achieved.
"The violence won't bring any development. If there was any misunderstanding and miscommunication among the communities, we can sit across the table and discuss all the shortcomings. For this, our door is always open," he said. He acknowledged the turmoil the state had undergone and pledged efforts to restore normalcy and assist those affected.
The violence in Manipur, which started on May 3, has led to the unfortunate loss of over 180 lives and left more than 3,000 individuals injured. With over 60,000 people still displaced and extensive property damage amounting to thousands of crores, the impact of the turmoil remains deeply felt.
Yet amidst the trials, though hurt, fearful, and shattered, Vualzong from ITLF expressed a sense of pride: "Today on Independence Day, we proudly sang our national anthem and waved the Tricolour, reaffirming our Indian identity."