The Religious Transformative Odyssey of Bharat (Part 2): Manipur


Prof Hoosen Vawda – TRANSCEND Media Service

Propagation of Hindu Nationalism with Destruction of Democracy and Systematic Erosion of Human Rights

Street Decorations in Delhi for the G20, 2023 Summit.
Note the placement of the Huge Murti of Lord Shiva in the traditional Nadaraja Pose, emphasising the Hindutva of the Host Country.

“The present, significant Peace Disruption in the North East Region of Manipur, in India, is a prelude to Hindu dominated political party’s hegemony in the post 2024 general election if the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is reelected.” [1]

This paper, Part 2, in the series on India and its religio- socio-political transformation, from the largest democracy, globally, to a Hindu nationalistic state, under the ruling Hindutva party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, under the baton of the Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi[2], since initially coming in power in 2014 and re-elected, for a second term on 30th May 2019. This was after his party won a decisive mandate in the Lok Sabha elections 2019. The next general election are in 2024[3].  The author presents the recent increase in the trends of inter- communal violence, directed against minority groups in major cities and regions, with not only Islamophobia and marginalisation of the minority Muslim community in India[4], but all minority groups, such as the Sikhs, Christians and even tribal, Indegenous communities and specific religious followers.  This is cleverly orchestrated by stirring up Hindu Nationalistic fervour in the preceding moths to the general election, to be held in the first quarter of 2024.  These types of statements, made by international human rights bodies, are vehemently denied by the ruling party, in the mass media they control in India, since the Bharatiya Janata Party came into power[5].


To emphasis the Hindu aligned religious principles of the ruling party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, officially changed the name of India to Bharat.  This was done at a strategically important occasion, in fact, when the invitations were sent to the important representatives and leaders of the different governments, for the gala banquet, who attended the G20 Summit held in Delhi.[6]  The 2023 G20 New Delhi summit was the eighteenth meeting of G20. It was held in Bharat Mandapam International Exhibition-Convention Centre, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi between 09th and 10 September 2023. It was the first G20 summit held in India.[7]

It is important to appreciate the significance and religious background history of the name change of India, as described previously by the author[8] based on the present socio-political trends in India over the past five years. Bharatavarsha[9] is an ancient name for planet earth and the present Sanskrit name for India, named after Bharata Mahārāja[10], son of Ṛṣabhadeva[11]. The phrase had its beginnings in the Vedic era [12]and later developed during the Epic and Puranic ages[13].  According to the Puranas[14], Bharata conquered the whole subcontinent of India, ruled the land in peace and harmony, and the land was, therefore, known as Bharatavarsha[15] (`the subcontinent of Bharata. The name is derived from the ancient Hindu Puranas, which refer to the land that comprises India as Bhāratavarṣa and used extensively in Hindu scriptures[16], over eons.

A general Map of Manipur in India in relation to surrounding States and country

Various regions in India have become religious and political hotspots for intercommunal violence, especially in recent years, with overt aggression, acrimony, marginalisation and discrimination against non-Hindu citizens of the nation of over 1.3 billion people. According to reports by the United Nations Special Rapporteur[17], way back in 2021, the situation in India has become ‘massive, systematic and dangerous’[18] and there is a progressive erosion of fundamental right of minorities in India, under the BJP government[19]. There is a “steady” and “alarming” erosion of fundamental rights of religious and other minorities in India.


In 2023, this is especially evident in Manipur, India,[20] where religious riots, accompanied by murder, sexual violence, dehumanisation and destruction of ethnic property has been a recurring issue that stems from various factors, including ethnic, tribal, and historical tensions.

Since May 3, 2021, there have been repeated inter-ethnic clashes between the Meitei and Kuki communities in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur. The violence has resulted in over 130 deaths and the burning of at least 1,700 buildings, including homes and religious sites. More than 60,000 people have become refugees in their own land12. The unrest erupted after a protest march organised by the Kuki tribal group sparked clashes with the Meitei non-tribal group, resulting in widespread damage to vehicles[21]


Manipur is a northeastern state in India with a diverse population of different ethnic and tribal groups. It is situated in the northeastern region of India, which is known as the “Northeast” or “North East Region” of India. A brief description of Manipur’s geographic location within the Indian Peninsula is:


Latitude: Manipur is situated at approximately 24.6637° N latitude. It is north of the Tropic of Cancer, which means it experiences a range of climates, including a monsoon-influenced tropical climate in the valleys and temperate climates in the higher elevations.


Longitude: The state is located at around 93.9063° E longitude.


Borders: Manipur shares its borders with several neighboring states and countries. It is bordered by Nagaland to the north, Mizoram to the south, Assam to the west, and the country of Myanmar[22] (Burma) to the east. The state has a relatively remote and hilly terrain, which contributes to its isolation from other parts of India.


Geography: Manipur is known for its diverse geography, which includes flat valleys, hills, and mountains. The Manipur Valley is the central and most populous part of the state, while the surrounding hills are inhabited by various tribal communities.


Rivers: Several rivers, such as the Imphal River, Iril River, and Barak River, flow through Manipur, contributing to its rich natural landscape and agricultural productivity.


Lakes: The state is known for its picturesque lakes, including Loktak Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in India, known for its floating islands.


Climate: Manipur experiences a range of climates due to its diverse terrain. The climate varies from tropical in the valleys to temperate and alpine in the higher elevations.


Manipur’s unique geography, along with its cultural diversity and history, makes it a distinctive and significant part of the northeastern region of India.


A summary of the religious affiliations of some of the major tribes in Manipur, is outlined below:


Meiteis[23]: The Meitei community primarily practices Hinduism, although there is a significant influence of indigenous Meitei religion, which includes beliefs in various deities and spirits. Over the years, a syncretic form of Hinduism has developed among the Meiteis, incorporating elements of their indigenous beliefs.


Nagas[24]: The Naga tribes in Manipur are predominantly Christian. Christian missionaries, particularly Baptists, have had a significant influence in converting Nagas to Christianity. This religious shift has played a role in the cultural and social dynamics of the Naga tribes in the region.


Kukis[25]: The Kuki community is religiously diverse, with adherents of various faiths. Some Kukis practice Christianity, often influenced by Baptist and other Protestant denominations. Others follow traditional indigenous religions or are Hindus.


It is essential to note that these religious affiliations can vary among individuals within each tribe, and there may be a degree of syncretism or adherence to a mix of beliefs, particularly among the Meiteis. Additionally, religion is just one aspect of the complex social and cultural fabric of Manipur, and intercommunal violence in the region is influenced by a combination of factors, including ethnicity, history, and politics.

The situation in Manipur has raised concerns across India, with many calling for the central government to take action to quell the violence.  Tens of thousands of people are fleeing their homes in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur as violence between different ethnic groups.
Photo Credit: Times of India

Intercommunal violence in the region often revolves around the following key elements:


Ethnic Diversity: Manipur is home to multiple ethnic and tribal groups, including the Meiteis, Nagas, Kukis, and others. These communities have distinct languages, cultures, and histories. The diversity often leads to competition for resources, political representation, and autonomy.


Historical Conflicts: Manipur’s[26] history is marked by conflicts and disputes among these various ethnic groups. Historical events, such as the annexation of Manipur by the British in the late 19th century and the division of Naga-dominated areas between India and Myanmar, have left long-lasting grievances among some communities.


Territorial Disputes[27]: Territorial disputes between different ethnic groups in Manipur have been a major cause of intercommunal violence. These disputes often revolve around land ownership, boundaries, and resource distribution. Conflicts have arisen over the demarcation of territories inhabited by Meiteis, Nagas, and Kukis.


Political Factors: Manipur’s political landscape is complex, and various ethnic groups have different demands and aspirations. Competing political interests often exacerbate tensions and can lead to violence.


Insurgent Groups: Manipur is known for having numerous insurgent groups that demand autonomy, secession, or a separate identity for their respective communities. These groups have been involved in violence, including attacks on security forces, and have contributed to a cycle of violence in the state.


Efforts to address intercommunal violence in Manipur have included negotiations, peace talks, and attempts to find political solutions to longstanding issues. The central and state governments have sought to engage with various ethnic groups and resolve territorial disputes through dialogue and political representation. However, achieving lasting peace in Manipur remains a complex challenge due to the deeply rooted historical and ethnic tensions.


The history of Manipur [28]is complex and multifaceted, and the question of who the land originally belonged to is a matter of historical debate and contention. Manipur, like many regions in India, has a long and diverse history that has seen the rise and fall of various kingdoms, dynasties, and indigenous communities.


Historical Context:


Manipur has an ancient history dating back to at least the 1st century AD. It was ruled by various indigenous kings and dynasties.


During its history, Manipur had interactions with neighbouring regions, including present-day Myanmar, Tibet, and Assam.


In the 18th century, Manipur came under the rule of the Manipuri king, Maharaja Gambhir Singh[29], who sought to expand the kingdom’s influence.


In the late 19th century, Manipur was annexed by the British colonial administration as a princely state, following the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891.


The Question of Ownership[30]:

The question of who the land originally belonged to is a matter of debate and depends on one’s perspective.


Indigenous Communities: Many of the indigenous tribal communities, such as the Meiteis, Nagas, and Kukis, have lived in the region for centuries and consider it their ancestral homeland. Each of these communities has its own historical and cultural connection to the land.


Historical Realities: Throughout history, the boundaries and rulers of Manipur shifted, and different kingdoms and dynasties held sway over parts of the region. The concept of land ownership in the modern sense was often different in earlier times.


British Annexation: The British colonial administration’s annexation of Manipur in 1891[31] was a pivotal historical event that changed the region’s political landscape. This annexation led to significant resentment among the people of Manipur.


Modern Political Borders: The question of land ownership has been further complicated by the establishment of political borders through modern nation-states, including India and Myanmar. The drawing of these borders did not always align with the historical territorial claims of the various ethnic groups.


It is essential to recognise that discussions of land ownership in Manipur are influenced by the historical context, the perspectives of different communities, and the impact of colonialism and nation-state formation. Today, these historical complexities continue to shape the dynamics and disputes in the region.


The indigenous people of Manipur, including the Meiteis, Nagas, and Kukis, are of diverse ethnic and cultural origins, and their histories are intertwined with the region’s complex past.


Meiteis: The Meiteis are the predominant ethnic group in Manipur. They are of Indo-Aryan origin and are believed to have migrated to the Manipur Valley in antiquity. They have their distinct language (Meiteilon or Manipuri) and culture. The Meiteis have a long history in the region and are often referred to as the indigenous people of the Manipur Valley.


Nagas: The Naga tribes, who inhabit parts of Manipur, are of Tibeto-Burman origin. They are believed to have inhabited the hills of northeastern India for centuries. The Nagas have a unique and diverse cultural and linguistic heritage, and they are distinct from the Meiteis in terms of ethnicity and language.


Kukis: The Kuki community is another major ethnic group in Manipur. They are of Tibeto-Burman origin and are known for their distinct culture and language. The Kukis have a long history in the region, and they have lived in the hills of Manipur for generations.


It is important to note that the various communities in Manipur have coexisted for centuries, and while there may have been historical conflicts and interactions, it’s not accurate to describe one group as “invading” the land of another. These communities have their own unique identities, languages, and cultures, and their presence in the region dates back for a considerable period of time.


The complexities of the historical and cultural interactions in Manipur have contributed to the diverse and multifaceted nature of the region, and these complexities continue to influence the social and political dynamics in the present day.


To complicate the intercommunal violence, there are also Indian communities living in Manipur, and they have also been part of the region’s social fabric for many years. While the indigenous communities in Manipur, such as the Meiteis, Nagas, and Kukis, have historical and cultural ties to the region, there are non-indigenous Indian communities who have settled in Manipur for various reasons, including employment, business, or government service.


These non-indigenous Indian communities may include people from different parts of India who have migrated to Manipur. They have acquired land, established businesses, and integrated into the social and economic life of the region. However, their presence can sometimes lead to land-related disputes and tensions, as there may be competing claims to land ownership or usage, which can contribute to intercommunal conflicts in the state.


The presence of non-indigenous Indian communities in Manipur[32], along with the indigenous communities, adds to the complexity of land-related issues and contributes to the broader dynamics of the region. Efforts have been made by both the state government and various communities to address these issues through land reforms, negotiations, and other means to ensure a peaceful coexistence and resolution of land-related disputes.


Manipur, like many other regions in India’s northeastern states, has natural resources, but the presence of these resources has not been a primary driver of the intercommunal strife in the region. Some of the natural resources found in Manipur include:


Forest Resources: Manipur [33]has dense forests, and it is known for its rich biodiversity. Timber, especially Teak, bamboo, and various non-timber forest products are important resources. However, disputes related to forest management and land usage have arisen over the years.


Hydroelectric Power: The state has potential for hydroelectric power generation due to its hilly terrain and numerous rivers. Hydroelectric projects have been a subject of debate, with concerns about their environmental and social impact.


Agricultural Land: Agriculture is a crucial part of the economy in Manipur. The fertile land in the valleys of Manipur is suitable for the cultivation of a variety of crops. Land disputes and land-use conflicts have been significant issues in the region.


Minor Mineral Resources: Manipur [34]has some minor mineral resources like limestone, marble, copper, chromite, nickel, asbestos and salt. and clay. However, these resources have not been a primary cause of intercommunal strife.


It is important to note that while natural resources play a role in the region’s economy and land-use disputes, they have not been a central factor in the intercommunal violence in Manipur. The main drivers of the strife in Manipur are the complex historical, ethnic, and political factors, as well as territorial disputes and demands for greater autonomy or self-determination by various communities. These issues have overshadowed the role of natural resources in the conflict in the region.


The question of law enforcement and its perceived bias in the context of intercommunal violence in Manipur, or any region, is a complex and sensitive issue that can be influenced by a range of factors.  Some of the insights into the factors that may contribute to perceptions of bias in law enforcement:


Political Influence: The perception of law enforcement bias may be rooted in the influence of political parties in power, such as the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), and their affiliations with certain religious or ethnic groups. Political influence can shape the priorities and actions of law enforcement agencies. In some cases, there may be concerns about law enforcement agencies favouring or targeting specific communities based on political considerations.


Lack of Trust: Communities that feel marginalized or underrepresented may have less trust in law enforcement agencies, leading to perceptions of bias. This lack of trust can be a result of historical grievances, unequal treatment, or a perception that law enforcement does not adequately protect their interests.


Complex Ethnic and Tribal Dynamics: Manipur is a region with complex ethnic and tribal dynamics, and it is possible that law enforcement agencies may struggle to navigate these complexities. Differences in language, culture, and customs can make it challenging to ensure equal protection and maintain law and order without bias.


Resource Constraints: Law enforcement agencies in some regions may face resource constraints that limit their ability to address violence and conflict effectively. This can lead to a perception of inaction or bias.


Institutional Reforms: Ongoing efforts to reform law enforcement agencies to ensure fairness and impartiality are essential in addressing these issues. Institutional reforms can help build trust among various communities and promote transparency and accountability.


Media and Civil Society: Media reporting and civil society organizations play a crucial role in highlighting concerns of bias in law enforcement. Public awareness and advocacy can lead to increased scrutiny and accountability.


Addressing the perception of bias in law enforcement and ensuring fair and equal treatment for all communities is a challenging task, but it is critical for promoting peace and harmony in regions with diverse populations. Government authorities, civil society, and the public can all play a role in working toward solutions that address these concerns and promote justice and security for all communities in the region.


Manipur is a northeastern state in India, not a city. It is one of the 28 states of India, each of which has its own government and administrative structure. The state of Manipur is located in the northeastern part of the country and is known for its diverse culture, landscapes, and ethnic communities.

In a swift and decisive action, the Indian Army has evacuated hundreds of civilians from the violence-hit area in Manipur. The area had been in the grip of intense clashes between rival factions, resulting in the loss of lives and destruction of property. The operation, which was carried out with precision and efficiency, saw the Indian Army deploying its resources to rescue stranded civilians and transport them to safe locations. The evacuees included men, women, and children, who were all in a state of panic and distress.
Photo Credit: Times of India

The largest city in Manipur is Imphal[35], which is also the capital of the state. Imphal serves as the major urban center and the administrative hub of Manipur.


The nearest large cities to Manipur, outside of the state, are in neighbouring states or countries:


Guwahati: Guwahati[36] is the largest city in the neighbouring state of Assam and is one of the major urban centers in the northeastern region. It is located to the west of Manipur.


Dimapur: Dimapur is the largest city in the neighbouring state of Nagaland[37] and is situated to the north of Manipur.


Aizawl[38]: Aizawl is the capital city of the neighbouring state of Mizoram and is located to the south of Manipur.


Mandalay (Myanmar)[39]: Mandalay is a significant city in neighbouring Myanmar (Burma) and is situated to the east of Manipur. However, travel and movement between Manipur and Myanmar can be subject to specific regulations.


These cities are the nearest urban centers to Manipur, and they are important in terms of regional connectivity, trade, and transportation links.


The economy of Manipur is primarily agrarian, and agriculture plays a significant role in the state’s economy. The state is known for its production of various agricultural products, which serve as the main exports from the region. Some of the key agricultural exports from Manipur include:


Horticultural Products: Manipur is known for its horticultural produce, including oranges, pineapples, and other fruits. These products are often exported to other parts of India and neighbouring countries.


Handicrafts and Handloom Products: Manipur is famous for its handwoven textiles[40] and handicrafts. These products, including shawls, textiles, and traditional crafts, are exported to domestic and international markets.


Spices[41]: The state produces a variety of spices, such as ginger, turmeric, and black pepper, which are exported to different parts of India.


Medicinal and Aromatic Plants: Manipur [42]is rich in medicinal and aromatic plants, and some of these plants are cultivated for export, contributing to the state’s economy.


Bamboo and Cane Products[43]: Bamboo and cane-based products, such as furniture, baskets, and mats, are also manufactured in Manipur and have export potential.


It is noteworthy that Manipur’s trade and economy have the potential for growth and diversification, and the government has been making efforts to promote and expand exports from the state. However, challenges related to infrastructure, logistics, and market access can impact the export potential of the region.


Manipur is associated with Hinduism and the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata in Hindu scriptural texts[44]. While Manipur has a diverse population with a mix of indigenous tribal and non-Hindu communities, Hinduism has a significant presence in the state, and the Hindu epics have had an impact on the cultural and religious landscape.

Mahabharata: The Mahabharata, one of the two major Hindu epics, is associated with Manipur through the character of Babruvahana, the son of Arjuna [45](a central figure in the Mahabharata) and Chitrangada. Chitrangada was the princess of Manipur, and her story is told in the Mahabharata. This connection to the epic is part of Manipur’s cultural and historical heritage.

Ramayana[46]: The Ramayana, another important Hindu epic, has also influenced the religious and cultural traditions of Manipur. Rama and Hanuman are venerated figures in Manipuri Hinduism, and the Ram Lila[47], a dramatic reenactment of the Ramayana, is performed during festivals in the state.


While Manipur has its indigenous religious traditions and tribal communities, Hinduism has been a significant part of the religious landscape for centuries. The state has a blend of cultural influences, and its history is interwoven with Hinduism, as reflected in its association with Hindu epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

Manipur, like many regions around the world, is subject to various geological, environmental, and security-related challenges. Here is an overview of some of the factors mentioned:

Geological Stability: Manipur[48], being located in a seismically active region, is susceptible to earthquakes. It is part of the Himalayan seismic zone, and earthquakes can occur, though their frequency and intensity can vary.

Flooding:  Certain areas of Manipur, particularly in the valley regions, are prone to seasonal flooding during the monsoon season. Flooding can cause damage to homes, agricultural land, and infrastructure.

Wildfires:  Like many forested regions, Manipur may experience wildfires, especially during dry periods. These can have ecological and environmental impacts.

Volcanic Eruptions:  Manipur is not known for volcanic activity, and there are no active volcanoes in the region.

Security Concerns: Manipur has faced security challenges, including tensions with neighboring Myanmar, leading to occasional incursions. This has historical and political dimensions.

Human Trafficking and Drug Routes: Like some other regions, Manipur has faced issues related to human trafficking and drug trafficking routes. Its location, bordering Myanmar, can make it a transit point for such activities.

Deforestation for Timber:  Deforestation and illegal logging can be issues in Manipur, leading to environmental concerns and the depletion of forest resources.

Jade Smuggling: Manipur’s proximity to Myanmar, known for its jade mining, means that the illegal trade of jade and other precious minerals can be a concern.

Nefarious Syndicate Activities: Various criminal activities, such as smuggling, have been reported in the region, including the trade in wildlife, narcotics, and other illicit goods.

The challenges in Manipur are complex, and the state government, along with national and regional authorities, work to address these issues. Efforts are made to enhance disaster preparedness, improve security, combat illegal activities, and promote sustainable environmental practices. Manipur’s unique geographic location and diverse population make it a region with both opportunities and challenges that require attention and management.


The Bottom Line is that minorities in all regions of the world face serious threats, discrimination and racism. They are frequently excluded from taking part fully in the economic, political and social life of their countries. Today, minority communities face new challenges, including legislation, policies and practices that may unjustly impede or even violate minority rights[49].

The future of Manipur, like many regions in India, is influenced by a complex interplay of factors, including its multifaceted communities, the dynamics of religious nationalism, and the broader political and social landscape. It is important to recognize that predicting the future with certainty is challenging, but we can outline some potential scenarios and challenges:

Multifaceted Communities: Manipur’s diverse communities, including the Meiteis, Nagas, and Kukis, have rich cultural traditions and histories. The future of Manipur will depend on efforts to respect and promote the rights and aspirations of these communities while fostering unity and harmony.

Religious Nationalism: The rise of religious nationalism in India, particularly associated with certain political ideologies, has raised concerns about social and religious harmony. Manipur’s future may be influenced by how religious nationalism is managed at the national level and its impact on the region.

Erosion of Democracy: The erosion of democratic values is a concern in India, and its impact on Manipur’s democratic institutions and governance should be closely monitored. The protection of democratic principles and the rule of law is essential for the region’s stability and development.

Intercommunal Violence: Efforts to address intercommunal violence and foster inter-community dialogue will be vital for Manipur’s future. Promoting inclusivity, mutual understanding, and conflict resolution mechanisms is crucial to preventing violence.

Peace Disruption: Peace and stability in Manipur may be influenced by ongoing peace processes and negotiations with insurgent groups seeking greater autonomy or independence. Progress in these processes will be key to peace and development.

Economic and Social Development: Manipur’s future will also be shaped by its economic development, infrastructure improvement, and access to education and healthcare. These factors can play a role in addressing some of the underlying issues contributing to violence.

Environmental Sustainability: The sustainable use of natural resources and environmental protection will be essential to maintain the region’s ecological balance and livelihoods.

The future of Manipur will depend on how these factors are managed, along with the involvement of the central and state governments, civil society, and the local communities. While challenges exist, Manipur also has the potential to harness its cultural diversity for social and economic development and to play a positive role in the northeastern region of India. However, with the general elections on the horizon in April-May of 2024, the prospects for peace in Manipur appears distant and bleak. It is to be noted that while the two major political parties: the ruling BJP and the main opposition lead by the Gandhi dynasty, have a great deal to lose or gain, depending on how the civil unrest and the central government management pans out in the interim.

While this paper concentrates mainly on the Manipur region highlighting the peace disruption due to inter communal dynamics between the different minorities and the central government, in Part 3 of the author will elaborate on the rise in Hindu Nationalism, post-Independence and the impact it has on the largest minority, Muslim community.  The general, government sentiments remains one of anti-Muslim and Islamophobia, in India and the various political leaders have repeatedly emphasised that “India is for Hindus[50], as their election mantra to stir up Hindu nationalism.  This has led to intolerable Peace Disruption, in a country where previously all the religious groups lived harmoniously, side by side for centuries, in days bygone.


[1] Personal quote by author, October 2023




















































Professor G. Hoosen M. Vawda (Bsc; MBChB; PhD.Wits) is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment.
Director: Glastonbury Medical Research Centre; Community Health and Indigent Programme Services; Body Donor Foundation SA.

Principal Investigator: Multinational Clinical Trials
Consultant: Medical and General Research Ethics; Internal Medicine and Clinical Psychiatry:UKZN, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine
Executive Member: Inter Religious Council KZN SA
Public Liaison: Medical Misadventures
Activism: Justice for All

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 23 Oct 2023.

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