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.
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