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The Truth Behind The Complications In Manipur

According to latest report from Agence France-Presse (AFP) UEFA will on Tuesday announce a first verdict against Russia for the football unrest caused by their fans at Euro 2016 while England questioned security for high-risk matches this week. Euro 2016 is being held under an umbrella of very high security since Europe has suffered from acts of terrorism since 2015. Already a French court has sentenced 10 men to a year. Six Britons, three French and one Austrian were found guilty of violence around the England-Russia match in Marseille on Saturday. 2015 and 2016 have been very traumatic year for France and there is fear of another terror strike during the month-long European Championship finals expected to draw two million visitors to France.

There has been serious allegation and accusations leveled against Russian fans and UEFA charged the Russian Football Union over the disturbances. During the match with England racist chanting and fireworks were thrown at the Marseille stadium which could have caused serious injuries to spectators and among them were women and children. Russia could possibly face a hefty fine, reprimanded or have points deducted from their qualifying campaign for the Euro 2020 tournament because of the acts of violence and racist chants uttered by their fans. Any repeat of disturbance has the possibility of Russia and England being disqualified from Euro 2016.

However England Football Federation (FA) took a strong exception to the charges which have been leveled and in a letter to UEFA, protested in a letter to UEFA that a distinction should be made between the actions of Russian football supporters who according to the FA were responsible for violence and only Russia have be charged over their conduct. During the match that was held in Stade Velodrome Marseille, Russian fans crossed a barrier to cause bodily harm to English supporters, including women and children. FA chairman Greg Dyke raised "serious concerns" about security when England and Russia will play their next matches. In a letter to UEFA Mr. Dyke said "We have serious concerns around the security arrangements for the city (Lille) in the next few days."

So long has it been that India came together as a union of different territories since 1949. Manipur is one such territory which joined India at that time. On literal translation it is “Land of Jewels” which was a former Asiatic Kingdom with a record of over 3000 years. Nestled in northeast region of country at the border with Myanmar, the state is home to 2.8 million people belonging to myriad ethnic groups and communities.

Unfortunately, in the recent times, it has also been one of the most conflicted of Indian states. In August 2015, the legislative assembly of Manipur passed three bills - (a) Protection of Manipur peoples Bill 2015, (b) Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill 2015, and (c) Manipur Shops and Establishment (Second amendment) Bill 2015, which has led to lots of riots, controversies and protests in the state, as well as recently, at the Capital city, in the first week of June outside Manipur Bhawan where a lot of students protesters where lathi-charged and 25 persons including policemen got serious injuries.

As per the news, the on-going protest is about these three Anti-tribal bills against the indigenous people of Manipur. But the question that is bothering the rest of India is, what is the real issue behind the protests, why are the tribal protesting and the bills termed Anti-Tribal if the bills are passed to save the indigenous rights of the Manipur people?

Before the merger of Manipur to India, the entry into Manipur was regulated by an imposition of a permit system. That permit system was abolished w.e.f. 18 November 1950 by a notification issued by the then Chief Minister of the State, Himmat Singh . Since then, there is no restriction in the entry to the state of Manipur by other citizens of India. 1951 saw a lot of influx of people into the state including other tribes that belong to Manipur, refugees from Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal, and other outsiders from other Indian states. According to the census of 2011 of Manipur, the stats showed a 17 lakh of people are indigenous people and 10 lakh are outsiders, out of which 20 lakh are of Manipuri origin and the rest 7 lakh of Non-Manipuri origin. 

Fears and Apprehensions

Since the increase of non- Manipuri people at such a drastic rate, as a report suggested, the influx of tourists has risen exponentially thus creating a demographic imbalance in the region. If this was not enough, illegal immigration from Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar has also contributed to the crisis. This has created fear among the locals over employment and availability of resources, at a time where there already exists stiff competition between the locals and outsiders over jobs. The Manipuri people are concerned with the saving of rights and land of the indigenous people thereby placing a demand to re-establish the Inner Line Permit system (ILP). A Joint Committee for Inner Line Permit system (JCILPS) has also been formed.

Introduction and passing of bills

There were three bills passed owing to the fears of threat on the Land rights of the Manipuri people by the Non- Manipuri’s. According to the bill, (a) Protection of Manipur peoples Bill 2015, it will list all the Non-Manipuri’s and enforce a restriction on the entry of the Indian Citizens in the state. (b) Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill 2015, won’t permit the outsiders to purchase or own lands that belong to the tribal people of the state. (c)Manipur Shops and Establishment (Second amendment) Bill 2015, every employer will register all employees under him/her and issue a renewable identity card to them.

Repercussions of the Bills

The immediate effect of the bills were seen last year when the tribal groups led an agitation against the bills which resulted in few unidentified people torching up an MP’s house along with other 6 MLA’s houses at Churachandpur, resulting in killing of 9 tribals and prompting an immediate imposition of curfew in the town. The main reasons of agitations were said to be : (i) The acknowledgment of “Manipur people” as an according to the “National Register of Citizens, 1951, Census Report 1951 and Village Directory of 1951 and their descendants who have contributed collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur”, (ii) No hill districts organization were consulted in the drafting of the bills, (iii) True motives behind ILP. The tribal people claimed that the bills impinge upon their rights and hence should be withdrawn.

The Real Issue

Although the bill was passed to save the rights of indigenous people, the fact that the tribal are still protesting is confusing. The news have surfaced that, the three bills passed were all by the Ministers who belong to Meitei tribe which is not included under the Scheduled Tribes of India. The Meitei community dominates the valley districts whereas the other tribes are residing on the hill districts. Hence, the Land Reforms Bill is perceived by many among the tribes Kuki and Naga communities, as attempts by the Meitei community to gain access to Scheduled hill districts. They argue that outsiders are never a real threat since they can neither own land in the valley areas, nor are they competitors for government jobs. Under Section 158 of the Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reform Act 1960, land belonging to a Scheduled Tribe in the valley areas cannot be sold to a non-Scheduled Tribe person without the prior consent of the Deputy Commissioner concerned. Therefore, if the bill is enacted into law, a person needs to have been enumerated in all three registers — the National Register of Citizens, 1951, the Census Report 1951 and the Village Directory of 1951 — to be considered as belonging to the State. Conversely, being registered in just one or two registers/directories means he or she has not met the criteria. Hence if the bill becomes a law and is implemented strictly, many people in the hill areas face the prospect of being excluded. In 1951, many of the remote hill areas were cut off, without proper communication and transportation systems which still is the case for some far flung areas. Since Manipur attained Statehood status only in 1972, there is a possibility that many of the local people may be listed as outsiders because of their inability to provide the required documents. If such a situation arises, who should be blamed — the people or the government?

Thereupon the protests were led by the Manipur Tribals Forum Delhi (MTFD) on June 8, 2016 pleading the Center to not enforce these bills into laws, since the State government isn’t responding to their pleas. At present, the bills still stand rejected by the Center. The student protests continues with a hope that the Center will help them from not being further deprecated.

For decades the state governments have in the eight states of North-East(NE) been ruled by Congress and other State parties. The turnout from this year’s i.e. 2016 state elections in Assam has undoubtedly stirred up things in the NE as the BJP won with high majority votes. It contested for the first time in the Bodoland Territorial Council Elections and even won a seat. BJP led in 69 assembly constituencies in the Lok Sabha elections 2016 by winning 7 Lok Sabha seats in Assam. BJP and its allies Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) won a combined 86 seats in the 126-member Assam assembly.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal came in legislature who won against Congress veteran Tarun Gogoi, who accepted his party’s defeat and affirms to play a constrictive opposition in the Assembly. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself showed his gratitude and happiness towards the people of Assam and even commented that this win of BJP was “historic by all standards”.

This victory is indeed “historic”. An important accomplishment to be noticed, is that, out of eight states in NE- BJP has strong hold in Assam and Arunanchal Pradesh of, as well as forming alliances with Nagaland People’s Front(NPF) in Nagaland and Sikkim Democratic Front(SDF) in Sikkim, which puts the larger BJP family -the NDA- holding the reins in four of the eight states of the region at present.

So does that mean that NE-doors have been opened up for NDA?

Here’s what we know:

Reasons for BJP’s victorious win-win in Assam

  • Brilliant Strategy placed by the BJP as it let the party choose it leaders from other alliance parties without quibbling about ideologies. The CM himself has been once anointed as “jatiyo nayak” (National hero) after his PIL forced the quashing of the Illegal Migrants( Determination By Tribunals) Act of 1983. The party also welcomed with open arms Himanta Biswa Sarma, one­time Gogoi lieutenant who quit the Congress in frustration over the rise of Gogoi’s son in the party.
  • The BJP repackaged its core Hindutva agenda in the Assamese context till it became an unbending stance on illegal immigration from Bangladesh.
  • Fast-pace development plans- such as, Initiation for all round development with 24×7 power & water supply, ensuring 100 percent irrigation coverage of arable lands, offering employment to 25 lakh youths and withdrawal of oral interviews for 3rd & 4th category government jobs in the State, etc.

Here’s what we need to know:

Perceptions

Out of the eight states of NE, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Nagaland are Christian majority states. Assam, though a Hindu-majority state, has a large presence of Muslims, mostly of Bangladeshi origin, and Tripura is dominated by Bengali Hindus who migrated to that state during the 1947 partition. Buddhists, practitioners of an animistic faith called Donyi- Polo and Hindus make for the majority of the population of Arunachal Pradesh while the majority of Manipur’s population is made of Meiteis who are mostly Vaishnavites with Christian tribals and a small section of Pangals (who are Muslims) making up the rest. The overwhelming majority of the people of Sikkim are Hindus and Buddhists. The NE, thus, is an eclectic mix of various tribes and peoples practising different religions.

Now that BJP is in alliance with NPF and SDF it busts the myth that BJP’s appeal is limited to only Hindus, and that too the caste Hindus. If that were the case, Nagaland’s Christians would not have brooked their ruling party aligning itself with BJP. With BJP training its guns for Manipur elections as well one expects since Meities are staunch Hindus therefore will now be inclined towards the BJP, the surprise is that the BJP is also working among the Christians who are mostly Nagas, in the state. Strangely enough the cow slaughter ban, the move against conversions by the Church, which is championed by the RSS and the extended Sangh Parivar does not seem to have touched Nagas here. It is also trying to get a hold in Meghalaya, another Christian state, and getting a good response. Meghalaya elections are in 2018, and the BJP has time to expand its network. The thriving Marwari community, who control most of the business across the NE are staunch BJP supporters. But the problem isn’t religion across these areas, it is the land. People are very protective of their lands hence there are laws in some states for non-tribals from preventing them to purchase tribal lands. In fact there are taxes imposed on immigrants for their stay in the state.

The development that the BJP party is trying to bring about in the NE region is greatly being supported, as people want change in their region, economically as well as politically. Also because these attempts may actually connect the “mainland” (as many call it) India to the North-East India, which may result in the end of various disputes in the region. This region has always felt neglected and now there is an opportunity where these people might get normal recognition as Indians as the rest of India. The central governments hardly ever paid attention to these regions or the did anything to resolve insurgencies in states like, Manipur, Nagaland, etc. Then most of these states are the border to many countries which results to infiltration of migrants which hampers the economy the surrounding the aura of NE.

Although the scenery is now changing, the issues are still delicate in the NE. They want development but without any encroachment on their 'tribalism'. They are territorial people given to the fact that they have lived on their own sustaining themselves from the environment, food, vegetation, etc., that is available here. The people here are highly tourist friendly, also the beauty of landscape and exotic vegetation makes it a highly desired adventure destination, which could be used as an asset in increasing national economy at large.