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People wait at a temporary shelter in a military camp after being evacuated by the Indian army as they flee ethnic violence that has hit the northeastern Indian state of Manipur. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Tens of Thousands Return Home in Northern India After Violent Ethnic Clashes

Thousands of people who had fled intense ethnic rioting in the Indian state of Manipur last week have begun returning home under the watchful eye of security forces, according to multiple news reports. Through the weekend and Monday, no new reports of widespread violence have surfaced.

More than 60 people died in the clashes, and as many as 35,000 people were displaced. Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh announced that 230 people were injured and 1,700 houses burned in the riots, and that thousands of people were returning under escort from security personnel after police and military patrols enforcing a nighttime curfew quelled the violence.

“The situation is slowly limping back to normal,” he said. “We shall order a high-level probe to enquire into the violent clashes.”

Manipur is in Northeast India, bordering Myanmar. The ethnic group Meitei, largely Hindu, accounts for approximately half of the population in the province. The violence began when members of the Naga and Kuki tribes, predominantly Christian, protested a proposal that would extend privileges to Meitei.

The Naga and Kuki tribes, as well as others in the province, are designated as scheduled tribes, a status that acknowledges socio-economic disadvantage and grants them special access and privileges to education and job opportunities as a result. The Meitei have long sought scheduled tribe status as well. According to a CNN explainer article on the region: “The Naga and Kuki groups fear the change in status could result in their steady removal from a protected area they have occupied for decades and leave them vulnerable to exploitation.”

The tensions between the communities had been building for a month since the Manipur High Court petitioned the Indian government to grant the Meitei request for scheduled tribe status. A rally one week ago to protest the request precipitated several days of riots and violence.

Authorities announced a curfew, but police and military personnel had to help evacuate tens of thousands of people to safe areas before they were able to effectively enforce the curfew.

“The tribal and nontribal groups have had a history of jealousy over the distribution of economic resources and opportunities, but this time their anger just could not be contained,” Khuraijam Athouba, a member of the Coordination Committee on Manipur Integrity who participated in Monday’s peace talks, told Al Jazeera. “We are urging both sides to really put an end to the violence, or they will have to live under strict curfew for months,” he said.