31st August in Manipur – The day and after: Roluahpuia

Guest Post by ROLUAHPUIA

In Manipur, most days are not merely a day as they appear in the calendar. Many days in fact are commemorated and remembered and therefore political. For instance, the 18th of June is commemorated as the Great June Uprising by the Meitei mostly led by the United Committee Manipur (UCM) as a mark of remembrance to the loss of 18 lives as a result of the protest over the extension of ceasefire beyond territorial limits between the Government of India (GoI) and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim- Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM). On the contrary, 27th August is commemorated by the Mao Naga as ‘Martyrs Day’ to commemorate the loss of seven lives in 27th August of 1948 for the cause of Naga integration movement. For the last, 13th September of every year is commemorated by the Kuki as Kuki Black Day against the mass killing of Kuki by the Naga militants. What this three different commemoration displays is the noticeable cleavages and ethnic divides among the three ethnic groups of the state.

The latest to make an entry is 31st August, 2015. Before proceeding further, let us make a rapid sweep to the background of the day. This takes us back to the two month long agitation that wrecked the valley areas of Manipur with the demand for the implementation of Inner Line Permit (ILP) in Manipur. The movement is led by the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS) joined by numerous social organizations such as the Meira Paibis and others. The movement came in the wake of the increasing migration of ‘outsiders’ in the state causing fear of demographic change in state. ILP therefore is considered as an answer to control the movement of outsiders, in short, the entry and exit of outsiders within the state of Manipur.

The much popular movement led by the JCILPS led to an unprecedented wave of protest, violent and non-violent within the valley areas. Administration was brought to standstill and the police and security personnel’s along with protestors filled the streets in and around the state capital Imphal.  The death of Sapam Robinhood who succumbed to his injuries on 8th of July gave an impetus to the movement. Two things need to be mentioned here about the ILP movement. Firstly, the movement remains confined within the valley areas. Secondly, the tribals of the hill districts of the state stayed away from the movement. In fact, there was opposition to conduct rallies in the hill areas as it can lead to untoward incident. An incident turned ugly in Moreh when a rally was forcefully carried out in 18th of August in this borer town. The Moreh incident was an indication that the movement and the demand for ILP stand on volatile ground.

The demand for ILP culminated in the passing of the three bills in the Manipur state legislative assembly viz. The Protection of Manipur Peoples Bill, Manipur Land Revenue &Land Reforms Bill (seventh amendment) and Manipur Shop & Establishment (second amendment) bill in the emergency Assembly as money bills. Most analysis on the ILP missed the very fact that while the actual demand was for ILP which imply the extension of Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873, the question remains why the three bills were passed in place of the actual law. This is because the laws such as MLR&LR which has been amended from time to time were highly contentious in nature so were the newly introduced laws. For the Meitei, 31st August is a day of accomplishment of their two month long agitation.

On the same day of the passing of the bill, a violent protest soon erupted in Churachandpur District, one among the five hill districts of the state. While the passing of the three bills was behind the protest, what had added to the fury was the silence maintained by the tribal MLAs in the state assembly. The tribal MLAs have ignored the plea made by the tribal based bodies such as All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM), Zomi Council (ZC) to voice their opposition to the bills. The targets of the protestors therefore were the residence of the five MLAs along with Member of Parliament (MP) located in the district. Protesters stormed into their residences and torched them one after the other. On the same night, police and security forces were deployed to quell the angry protestors. The protest has cost 9 lives altogether which remain un-buried till today.

The Hill Strikes Back

Following the night of 31st August, tension soon gripped the hill districts over the passing of the bills. Churachandpur district, one among the five hill districts of Manipur, which was the epicenter of the protest remain the main loci of the movement. Numerous forms of agitation were carried out against the passing of the bills. Old and young flocked together and participate in rallies and other numerous processions. The passing of the bills in fact has united the tribals of the state.  The 31st August is now marked as ‘Tribal Unity Day’. This solidarity has extended beyond the hill districts of the state and found its expression in various metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

Against the backdrop of the protest, a 12 km stretch human chain was carried out in the Churachandpur district under the leadership of the women. Most of the placards in the chains and other events of protest carry the captions which read as ‘Kill the Bill, Heal the Hill,’ ‘Rubber Bullets for Valley, Live Bullets for Hills,’ ‘Long Live Tribal Unity,’ Tribal Blood Won’t Go in Vain,’ ‘We Need Separate Administration’ so on and so forth. These placards together depict the feeling of anguish, mistreatment and injustice meted out to the tribals by the state government. Even after three months of protest, the state government remains indifferent to the tribal cause. It has easily put ‘misconception’ behind the tribal unrest.

At this juncture, it is pertinent to look at the factor behind tribal unity. Not to make it look simplistic, it is the tribal identity that protects and safeguards interest of the hill communities. For instance, the MLR&LR restrict the purchase and transfer of land from tribal to non-tribal. In addition, the hill areas are outside the purview of the law. While repeated amendments have led to incorporation of foothills located within various hill districts (Churahandpur and Senapati districts for instance) within the law, a larger part of hill districts remain outside its ambit. It is being ‘tribal’ that protects the hill communities against land grabbing and alienation from the politically and economically dominant communities. The current tribal unity is therefore is a unity for a common cause.

The current political impasse also quite startlingly opens up the hill-valley divide and the longstanding tussle between the non-tribal Meitei and the tribal inhabitants of the state. The hill-valley divide is not merely an ethnic or territorial one but have social economic and political dimensions. For instance, the 10 per cent valley areas due to their large population made up 40 seats in the 60 Assembly seats with the remaining 20 is divided among the hill districts. This has led to unequal sharing of power among the tribals and the non-tribals. The political dominance of the valley over the hills is what made the tribals suspicious about the intention of the state government.

Marching for Justice

As a continuum of the protest in the hills, a coffin protest was organized at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi since 4th November, 2015 under the banner of Manipur Tribal Forum, Delhi (MTFD). The MTFD is the leading campaigner of the current tribal movement in the nation capital. The demand of the tribals now is two-fold- revoking the bills and separate administration of the hills and valley. The MTFD is relentlessly knocking the doors of the central government in voicing the tribal cause.

As the nine dead bodies remain un-buried, a march for justice was carried out in New Delhi from Jantar Mantar to Parliament on 9th December to earmark 100 days of protest. The purpose of the march as the MTFD puts it is ‘to seek justice and to let the nation hear the cry’. Similar rallies were conducted in Senapati and Churachandpur districts in Manipur. Candle lighting and mass prayers were performed as a mark of respect to the ‘tribal martyrs’ across the hill districts. The slogans in the rallies continue to echo the revoking of the three bills and separate administration. The chief issues of conflict in Manipur, even in this case, are land and territorial control. Any plan for solution needs to take both into account respectively.

The predicament of violence is looming large as the JCILPS are bidding for fresh agitation to implement the laws. On the other hand, the families including the tribal communities at large refused to bury the martyrs until their demands are met. Under such circumstances, there is every possibility for the occurrence of renewed violence. Despite of this, the state government shows no sign of urgency to chart out a meaningful solution. Looking at the new announcement of JCILPS, negotiation is unlikely and so reconciliation remaining distant. This development however should not discourage the governments (both central and state), central government in particular to resolve the issue. A timely intervention with a serious contemplation of claims of both sides can dissolve decades of conflict in the state.  This is what 31st August offers.

Roluahpuia is currently pursuing his doctoral degree at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), North East Regional Campus (NERC), Guwahati)

One thought on “31st August in Manipur – The day and after: Roluahpuia

  1. K SHESHU BABU

    The north-eastern states governments are notorious for implementing anti-tribal laws. Special powers to police and army make the States to supress any agitation. Irom Sharmila has been waging heroic struggle to repeal draconian laws but to no avail. Let us hope that the hundred day march brings awareness to a larger section of society in the country as a whole .

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