Why is Manipur reverberating with protests?
The Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System in Manipur, which often claims to represent the voice of the native people of the northeastern state, is a misrepresentation of ground reality.
This committee only represents the Manipuris or Meiteis, who live in the capital city of Imphal. They are the inhabitants of the valley areas of four Manipuri districts that make up less than 10 <g data-gr-id="72">per cent</g> of the total territory of the state. They are the predominant ethnic group in the state. The remaining areas are domiciled by the tribal population under the broad families of Nagas, <g data-gr-id="73">Zomis</g>, Kukis, and Hmars.
Other Manipuris cannot own land in the five hill districts (which constitute more than 90 per cent of the state’s territory) since it is protected by a special constitutional provision for the tribals in the state. Now the question arises: Why is only a one-sided view of Manipur known to the outside world?
The main reason is a shortage of democratic representation in the state Assembly. Voices of other communities are continuously suppressed and marginalised using various state-patronised entities, like the Meiteis from the valley have a much higher representation in the state Assembly.
This act of suppression is well-crafted with a close nexus between politicians and leaders of various Manipuri/<g data-gr-id="75">Meitei</g> civil societies like AMUCO, UMC, AMSU, and Manipuri underground outfits. Take the case of Senapati district. With a huge Naga and Kuki population of 4.79 lakh (2011 census), it has only 6 Legislators while Meitei district of Imphal East with a population of 4.52 lakh (2011 census) has 11 Legislators. It is a big insult to Indian democracy and the Constitution that within the same state, a district with lesser population has almost double the number of members of Legislative Assembly than the one that has a much greater population.
The question of Manipuri underground outfits linking to the movement can be best manifested by the 2008 killing of seven Hindi-speaking people in Imphal valley, or banning of Hindi movies etc. All these actions are connected to the three bills passed by the Manipur Assembly on August 31 - Protection of Manipur People Bill, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill (7th Amendment), and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (2nd Amendment) Bill. It was the Manipuri civil societies that formulated the bills, which were accepted in toto by the state government and passed in the Assembly.
It mocks inhabitants of more than 90 percent of the state’s territory when the Inner Line Permit Demand Committee talks of protecting the interests of the “indigenous people” of the State. What the Manipuris account for is around 50 per cent of the state’s population (as per decadal census data) doing is an unacceptable act of marginalisation and suppression of the native settlers of the hill districts. This has been going on since the day hill areas were put under the valley administration forcefully after the Imphal Valley was colonised by the British Empire in 1891.
In more than a month of protests in Imphal Valley, no live bullets were fired at the Meitei protesters. Only rubber bullets and tear gas were used. When the hills took to protests and rallies, on the first day itself live bullets were fired at the tribal protesters.
This is not the first such case. For instance, on May 6, 2010, at Mao Gate, two students died. On August 30, 2014, in Ukhrul two protesters were killed; and now in Churachandpur, 9 died, succumbing to injuries from bullets fired at them. The Central government must stop appeasing the Meiteis at the expense of the hill people for lasting peace in the region and to bring justice to all the people who are still suffering from the legacy of British colonial administrative design.
The state government has no regard for Constitutional provisions for the hill people in the state. For instance, the 3rd Amendment of Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous Council Act, 2008, was passed, bypassing the Hill Areas Committee (HAC), comprising all legislators from the hill areas.
The committee was set up under the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972, and Article 371C of the Constitution to protect tribal interests. Its concurrence is mandatory for all legislations affecting tribal areas. Similarly, the current bills were passed without any official communication with the Hill Areas Committee.
The people in the valley districts often say that there is a huge pressure on land, and, therefore, a certain mechanism is required to address the issue. They continue to keep all the important educational institutions, government offices, hospitals, government institutions, and various other government infrastructures within the four valley districts.
The state has, therefore, reached a situation whereby peaceful separation between hill districts and valley districts through the Centre’s intervention is the last resort.
(The writer is a research scholar at National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal)