Manipur has been in turmoil for more than two months now over demand for Inner Line Permit (ILP) by the Meiteis. State capital Imphal has been witnessing protests led by Joint Committee of Inner Line Permit (JCILP).
It has cost the life of a young man and students are feeling the brunt with schools and colleges remaining closed for over two months. In the face of this uproar, there is a huge divide between Meitei community, predominantly residing in Imphal valley, and hill people consisting of Nagas, Kukis and Zomis, which is reflected in the fresh violence in Churachandpur district.
As many as six people were killed and many others injured in a clash between state security personnel and villagers in Churachandpur on Monday evening after the Manipur Assembly unanimously passed three bills--Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015; Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th amendment) Bill, 2015; and Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015.
The state government also passed a resolution relating to the recent historic "Naga peace accord"--signed by the government of India and NSCN (I-M)--maintaining that territorial integrity of the state should be kept intact.
The JCILP has expressed satisfaction over the passage of the bills, hinting that protests in Imphal valley that have disturbed daily lives of the people might finally come to an end, but more violent protests erupted in hill districts which reflects the big divide in the state.
The Kuki Students' Organization (KSO), All Naga Students' Association Manipur (ANSAM) and All Tribal Students' Union Manipur (ATSUM) had earlier called for a 12-hour shutdown in all hill districts of the state opposing the bills.
Violence broke out in hill districts, particularly in Churachandpur after the bills were passed on Monday. People hit the streets in protest and set aflame houses of Manipur Health Minister Phungzathang Tonsing, Outer Manipur MP Thangso Baite and five MLAs. The state government has imposed an indefinite curfew in the district fearing more violence following the killing of six people, allegedly by the security personnel.
The violence is a clear manifestation of a failed state. The sudden outburst of anger could be seen as a culmination of continued negligence on part of the state government towards people from hills, which is reflected in concentration of infrastructural works, institutions, health care, government offices etc in the valley.
Under representation of hill people in the state assembly is another pain in the neck. Tribals have only 20 seats in the legislative assembly despite constituting over 40% of the state population while 40 seats go to Meiteis, predominantly from Imphal valley, in the 60-member assembly. So, there are possibilities of voices of minority 20 MLAs going unheard which many had raised in the past.
People from hill districts, which have been crippled by lack of basic infrastructure like roads, hospitals and government colleges, were alarmed by two of the bills passed on Monday--Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th amendment) Bill, 2015 and one of the clauses of the Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015 which has not much to do with Inner Line Permit demand.
Why are tribals figting tooth and nail against the Land Bill, 2015?
Education Minister M Okendro has said in a statement that Manipur Land Bill will not harm the interest of the tribals in the state, insisting that it is aimed at making proper verification if non-Manipuris have to buy land in the state.
However, tribal students' bodies have maintained that the bill overlaps Article 371C of Indian Constitution 1949 and Manipur Hill People Administration Regulation Act, 1947 that give tribals the right over its land and resources. There is fear among the public that land, which is the prime asset and source of living for hill people, will be grabbed by people from the valley which could add more distress to their lives.
The Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, which is a prototype of ILP system, has also not been received well by people from hills. People are not dead against ILP, but angered by one of the clauses in the bill.
According to Clause 2 (b) of the Manipur People Bill, 2015, 1951 is the base year to identify non-indigenous people, which means only people who have settled in the state before 1951 can enjoy property rights and the rest have to give up property and they might even be asked to leave the state. It defines "Manipur people" as those whose names are in the National Register of Citizens, 1951, census report of 1951 and Village Directory of 1951 and their descendants who have contributed collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur.
Going by the definition of "Manipur people" in the bill, thousands of people whose ancestors have been settling in the state for decades and even centuries, could be branded as outsiders in their own land and the most victims could be from the hill districts due to geographical factor and failure on part of the government.
There is a high chance of government machinery failing to reach out to every corner of the state at that time (1951) considering the fact that several villages do not have motorable roads even today. So, some people reasoned that 1972--the year Manipur attained statehood--could be made the base year to be categorised as indigenous people of the state.
But the government of Manipur was adamant to go ahead with its plan without even consulting the tribal hills council and apex bodies before passing the bills. And the result is "violence".