Authorities had imposed an internet blackout and issued shoot-at-sight orders in ‘extreme cases’ in an effort to contain the violence.
New violence has hit India’s remote northeast region, local media reported, despite authorities rushing in troops to restore order after ethnic clashes.
Thousands of soldiers were sent to Manipur state after a protest march by a tribal group turned violent on Wednesday.
The situation remained tense after another bout of violence on Friday night, hours after the state’s top police officer warned that rioters had stolen arms and ammunition from police stations.
Authorities imposed an internet blackout and issued shoot-at-sight orders in “extreme cases” in an effort to contain the unrest.
Hospital morgues in the state capital Imphal and Churachandpur district further south had reported a combined total of 54 dead.
Kuldeep Singh, security adviser to the Manipur government, told journalists in the state capital Imphal that 18 to 20 deaths have been reported, “although we are still verifying whether these deaths took place due to the recent violence or related to some other incidents.”
“About 100 people were injured and were treated in various hospitals,” Singh said, adding more than 500 houses were burned down during the last few days and some vehicles were also set ablaze.
Manipur Director General of Police P Doungel said orders have been given to take strict action against anyone found involved in acts of violence.
“We have asked the army to stage flag marches in violence-hit areas and instructed the forces to take stringent action against anyone involved in violence,” Doungel told journalists.
The internet blackout has impeded the flow of information from Manipur and details of the latest clashes have remained sparse.
An Indian army unit based in neighbouring Nagaland state said 13,000 people had sought shelter from the violence.
On Thursday, security forces fired tear gas in Imphal to disperse protesters, some of whom had set alight vehicles and houses in parts of the city.
Burned-out vehicles were seen on streets otherwise empty due to the imposition of a round-the-clock curfew.
Defence officials said Friday that additional troops had been brought into the state by road and air.
The Meitei people, the largest single ethnic group in the state, have been agitating to be granted scheduled tribe status, while the other recognised tribes in Manipur oppose that move.
India reserves some government jobs, college admissions and elected seats, from village councils to the parliament, for communities under the scheduled tribe category as a form of affirmative action to tackle historical structural inequality and discrimination.
Last month, the Manipur High Court asked the government to consider the Meitei community’s plea and decide on it.
Manipur is part of India’s remote northeast, a region linked to the rest of the country by a narrow land corridor that has experienced decades of unrest among ethnic and separatist groups.
At least 50,000 people have lost their lives in the conflicts since the first rebellion broke out in Manipur in the early 1950s.
Over the years these conflicts have waned, with many groups striking deals with New Delhi for more powers.