One year after nine young boys were killed in a police firing ---- sadly, they are yet to be buried ---- in the tribal hill district of Churachandpur in Manipur, the town is out on the streets again.
“Hundreds of people have gathered today and there is a day-long programme to honour the dead. It has been decided that this day would be commemorated as Tribal Unity Day every year,” T Romeo Hmar, convener, Manipur Tribal Forum Delhi told HT over phone from Churachandpur.
“But no decision has been taken yet on the burial of the nine bodies,” he added.
The tribal-hill district erupted on August 31, 2015, after the legislature passed the Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, and two amendments: The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th Amendment) Bill and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (2nd Amendment) Bill.
The Protection of Manipur People’s Bill sought to give the state the power to determine who was a Manipuri and who was not, with the rider that those who had come to live in the state before 1952 would be considered Manipuri.
The tribal communities are opposed to giving the Manipur government the power to decide who is a Manipuri, and feared that using the other two Bills, it could take away their land and properties.
The Bills were the culmination of an agitation by the non-tribal Meitei in the Imphal valley for introducing an Inner Line Permit system to regulate and control the entry of ‘non-Manipuris’ into the state.
The hill people, mainly comprising of mostly Nagas and Kukis, did not take part in these agitations.
While Manipur’s Congress government claimed that the three Bills were drawn up after a thorough consultation with all MLAs, including tribal representatives, tribal groups deny it. They allege that they were not consulted and that the Bills will lead to an encroachment of tribal areas by the people of the plains — mostly Meitei.
The passage of the three Bills led to protests by tribal student groups on August 31 and September 1 in Churachandpur. The police over-reacted and shot several locals.
The President, however, did not clear the Bills, forcing the state to rework.
A NEW CONTROVERSY
The state has now come up with The Manipur Regulation of Non-Local People Act, 2016, which was made public on August 9.
Once adopted and implemented, people from other Indian states will have to seek permission to visit Manipur .
One of the aims of the Bill is to maintain peace and public order, but there is a significant opposition to it from tribal and non-tribal communities who are seeking major changes.
The joint committee for inner line permit system (JCILPS), comprising mostly of the non-tribal Meiteis, which is spearheading a campaign to regulate entry of outsiders, wants the draft bill to set 1951 as the cut off base year, instead of 1972, to define locals.
The state’s minority tribal population have also opposed the Bill terming it ‘old wine in a new bottle’ and similar to the earlier one rejected by the President.
A POLITICAL TURF WAR
The tribals are not just angry about the Bills but also that there has been no probe into the police action into the Churachandpur killing but the state government only sent a senior IAS officer to conduct a magisterial inquiry.
That magisterial inquiry could not happen because the tribals protested.
Earlier this year, BJP MP Tarun Vijay had met a tribal delegation from Manipur and after listening to their side of the story had promised to take up the issue with the central government .
“These people want a solution within the constitutional framework of the country and a panel must be set up to look into the issue … Their voice must be heard in Delhi,” Vijay had told me.
But nothing concrete has happened till now.
The Congress, on the other hand, is blaming the BJP-led central government for instigating the tribal groups.
How to break the logjam now?
No one seems to have an idea and every stakeholder is busy securing his own corner.
An editorial, E-Pao, an e-platform on Manipur, paints an ominous picture: “How things will proceed from here is tough to say but Manipur can certainly gear up for some tumultuous days ahead.”
And in this tug of war between the two diametrically opposing voices (the tribals and non-tribals), the real issue, which is to save the “indigenous people from the incessant influx of non-local people into the soil of Manipur seems to have evaporated”.