The two ethnic groups have been clashing in the streets of Imphal in India’s east and elsewhere. Representation image. Dinodia Photo/Gettyimages

Hospital administrators and the Indian army report that ethnic violence in the Indian state of Manipur has claimed more than 50 lives, hospitalized hundreds, and displaced 23,000 people.

Hospital officials in the city of Imphal said on Sunday that since fighting between members of the Kuki and Meitei ethnic groups earlier this week, at least 55 people have died and another 260 have been hospitalized.

In the meantime, the Indian military reported that 23,000 civilians had escaped the violence and were being accommodated on military installations and garrisons across the state.

Conflict between the two ethnic groups has been occurring elsewhere including in Imphal, India's easternmost city.

"Most of the patients are coming in with severe bullet injuries or having been hit in the head with lathis [sticks]," Dr Mang Hatzow of Churachandpur District Hospital in Manipur told CNN.

According to representatives from Imphal hospitals like the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, and Churachandpur District Hospital, gunshot wounds are the most common injury.

Television stations in the area flashed images and video of burning cars, buildings, and thick black smoke pouring from the streets.

A five-day mobile internet ban is in effect, and Indian army forces have been deployed to the streets.

A young tribal leader who lives and works in Imphal told CNN that on May 4, his home was broken into and ransacked, and ever since, he has been residing in an army camp.

"What we are witnessing here unfortunately is there seems to be a very systematic, well-planned series of attacks. The execution is almost clinical and they know exactly the houses where people from tribal communities reside," said the leader, who asked to not be identified due to fears for his safety.

"A lot of houses are burnt, all our churches have been vandalized, some have been burnt. I barely escaped – the mob was already in the house. I climbed the fence over to the neighbors' house. I just came with my laptop bag to this camp. I don't have anything."

"There have been so many deaths," he added. "A mother and son they were on their way to a camp. On their way, a mob encountered them and beat the son to death. The mother was trying to protect the son, she was killed too."

He said there were about six or seven camps in Imphal in total and there were about 5,500 people staying in his camp.

The orders were authorized for "extreme cases whereby all forms of persuasion, warning, reasonable force etc. had been exhausted" and the situation "could not be controlled," a statement from Manipur's home department said.

The army claimed to have relocated 23,000 civilians to military garrisons and operations sites. The 120-125 Army and Assam Rifles, which had been "working tirelessly for the past 96 hours to rescue civilians across all communities, curb violence and restore normalcy," were credited with providing a "ray of hope" and a break in the conflict.

It said that it has intensified its use of helicopters and drones for surveillance.

Anusuiya Uikey, the state's governor, issued "shoot-at-sight" orders earlier this week in an effort to manage the situation.

As a result of the All-Tribal Students Union of Manipur's march against the probable inclusion of the dominant Meitei ethnic group in India's "Scheduled Tribe" grouping, which resulted in the participation of thousands of tribal people, skirmishes first erupted.

Since many years, the Meitei group, which comprises roughly 50% of the state's population, has fought for recognition as a scheduled tribe, which would provide them access to more advantages including health, education, and employment in the government.

Scheduled tribes are among the most economically and socially disadvantaged communities in India, and they have historically been excluded from opportunities for employment and education.

Other tribal groups said they worry that if the Meitei community is given scheduled tribe status, they won't have a fair chance to apply for jobs and other benefits.

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