We are on the way back to Manipur’s state capital Imphal when a large group of men armed with lengths of pipe and bricks emerges, blockading the road. The crowd does not let us go until they are convinced we are not their enemy – in this case, the mostly Kuki tribal community who have lived in harmony alongside the majority Meitei people for decades until the sudden explosion of ethnic violence here two and a half months ago.
In a matter of days, this state in the northeastern corner of India – more than 1,500 miles from Delhi, and only about 70 miles from the border with Myanmar – was divided into territories controlled by either side, with men from each community taking up arms to form private militias and setting up checkpoints along major roads complete with trenches, bunkers and armed patrols.
At least 142 people have died so far in the fighting, according to official figures, with the true number likely far higher. Fires have been the backdrop – with houses and places of worship set ablaze. It has been difficult to verify the true scale of the situation, in part because the Indian government has restricted foreign media from travelling to the region, and in part because of an internet blackout that has restricted the flow of information in the state.
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