what need for "overkill " ?

ON 16 October I came across a report by a national daily on North-east women being “rescued’ in “mainland” India. Headlined “3 held from spas for prostitution”, it reported that 11 girls from Manipur and Assam, who were trainees there, were rescued and that the owner was still running the business despite being arrested earlier. If the report is to be taken seriously, one wonders how, in a metropolitan city like Chennai, a massage parlour can be run by girls from only the North-east. The police officer in question also seemed to be well informed as he reportedly said the girls had accepted such “jobs” after being offered extra money.

This year alone more than five stories relating to North-east women being caught, harassed, molested or rescued appeared in the national media. In September, the same newspaper reported that a minor from the North-east was rescued from Haryana. It said the girl was from Mizoram. In May, the paper also reported that two North-east women were harassed by “foreign” students in Bangalore. Earlier, in February, it was reported that two Yemeni nationals were caught with Manipuri girls after a dramatic chase in Bangalore and that they were later taken into custody.

There have been a number of telecasts, shows, talks/panel discussions and feature stories on the problems North-east women face or how they are being treated in Delhi or mainland India.

The story about the police chase involving Manipuri girls and foreigners (Yemeni nationals) in Bangalore appeared more like a “drama” than a “serious case” when one takes into account the detailed descriptions, timing of occurrence and who the two women were. Two days later it was reported that the two foreigners were booked under “attempt to murder”, a serious case, indeed. The headline ran, “2 foreign students harass NE women, create nuisance”. It said the two (from South Africa and Saudi Arabia) were reportedly drunk and had no resident permits and would be deported if they were found to be without valid permits. In highlighting the case, the report added extra “masala” by specifically mentioning North-east girls. This was, to say the least, most scandalous. The whole story became one of “NE women harassment”.

Mind you, it isn’t just the national media that reports such North-east women-related stories and their “vulnerability” and “victimisation” in “mainland” India. Even the local media frequently publishes such reports, including those that are not reported in the national media. The local-based websites are flooded with updates/uploads with links to such news items. Moreover, reports of rape and murder of North-east women spread like wildfire. Simple Googling provides access to numerous reports/stories of this nature. In fact, a representative of the North-east Helpline told me that “unless the media picks up the story, the police are not bothered”. Well said. Media “intervention” does pressure the police (security agencies) into action and catches the attention of the authorities concerned.

In the widely-covered story of the Hongray case (she was allegedly raped and murdered in Delhi on November 2009) the defence counsel pleaded for bail on the ground that the accused had confessed under media pressure!

In raising concern for the problems faced by North-east women and the need to alert the authorities or push the police into action, it becomes inevitable to produce a “news-worthy” item which results in the practice of sensationalism. One can also notice the changing trend in these reports. Earlier, victims were normally referred to as “North-east girls/women”. In recent times identification is more area specific – “a Manipuri girl, a Mizo girl, a Naga girl... molested…”

On 17 October, a case of “harassment” of North-east women in mainland India was reported in local dailies, websites and blogs. What this amounted to was repetition of a press release by an organisation that exclusively deals with such cases. The story (rather the press release) was titled, “Naga girl from Manipur sexually molested...”

There is no denying the fact that such despicable acts deserve the strongest punishment, but what need for media “overkill” in portraying women from this region as “helpless victims”, “vulnerable” or “na├»ve migrants”?

The Statesman
December 5, 2011

Women Live In Fear In Manipur's Epicentre of Conflict

" Women activists in Churachandpur district of conflicted state of Manipur are defying all threats to fight for the rape victims allegedly attacked by existing ‘underground outfits’ in the region."

Churachandpur: Conflict in Manipur has been an ever-present reality for decades. As in most conflict zones, it is the women here who bear the brunt of the disturbances. But they have learnt to come together against the violence, whether it is caused by security forces or by militant groups. Women’s groups like the Imphal-based Meira Paibis are well known, but there are many small local organisations in other parts of this conflict-scarred region, which are responding with courage and determination to atrocities on women.

Take the Hmar Women’s Association (HWA), a group formed by the Hmar community women in Lamka, the headquarters of Churachandpur district. When its members learnt from media reports in early 2006 that about 25 women – many of them still in their teens – were being tortured, molested and sexually harassed by so-called ‘underground outfits’ in villages like Parbung, Hmarkhawpui and Sipuikawn, they decided to fight back.

These villages are located in the Tipaimukh sub-division of Churachandpur. This sub-division, along with four others – Henglep, Thanlon, Saikot and Samulamlan – forms the epicentre of violence here. Claimed as ‘liberated zones’ by insurgents, safe hideouts for as many as 13 insurgent groups, each claiming to represent a community or a hill tribal group or sub-group, are located here. Even non-tribal outfits from the Manipur valley claim to have a base in this district. Security forces, like the Assam Rifles, have been deployed in the area, and many of the insurgent groups ostensibly come under the SoO (Suspension of Operation) agreement.

The remote location – it takes two days to reach the villages by jeep from Lamka – did not deter the HWA women activists. Recalls Pi J.L. Sawmi (“pi” is a prefix used locally as a mark of respect to an adult woman), the head of the association and currently president of Churachandpur Joint Women’s Union (CJWU), an umbrella body of various local women’s groups, “The roads were atrocious, but that didn’t stop us.”

The intra-ethnic violence as well as clashes between the state and non-state elements had reached such a point that the villagers were fleeing to neighbouring Mizoram in sheer terror. They had horrifying stories to relate. Reportedly these ‘militant’ outfits made demands at gunpoint. As Pi Sawmi puts it, “The villagers would have to pay dearly if a demand, or rather ‘command’ – which extended to sexual favours – was not obeyed.”

During the days of heightened protest against the Tipaimukh rapes, the activists moved from village to village. They came under all kinds of threats and their lives were in danger. As Pi Sawmi says, “We received several ‘unidentified calls’, but ignored them or moved about incognito.” The group had to also face smear campaigns. The local media were very critical of their actions and alleged that they were engineering these protests at the behest of vested interest. “But,” Pi Sawmi says, “we also issued press releases and statements to clarify.”

Within days, rallies and protests were held against the Tipaimukh attacks, both in Lamka and Delhi, which forced the Manipur government to set up the Rajkhowa Commission to look into the allegations. Ironically, although the nature of the crimes involved rape, the Commission did not include any health experts, let alone women investigators. The hearings and examination of the victims was conducted in Parbung – the headquarters of Tipaimukh – with cross examination being undertaken by Human Rights Alert, a human rights group, and the Manipur Forward Youth Front – both of which are valley-based and non-tribal bodies.

Apprehensive and demoralised by the turn of events, the Hmar Women Association leaders went knocking at the doors of the National Commission for Women (NCW) in Delhi in May 2006. “Fortunately they heard us out patiently. Chairperson Girija Vyas and other members took the matter seriously,” recalls Pi Sawmi. Later, a NCW member and Northeast-in-charge, Malini Bhattacharya, visited Tipaimukh and met the victims.

In her report, Bhattacharjee stated that the girls who had undergone sexual assault and rape still suffered from headaches, listlessness and inability to concentrate, apart from various menstrual and urinary problems. Some reported impairment of eyesight and hearing, and there were also complaints of pain in the back and abdomen. Not surprisingly, every woman complained of living in fear. Bhattacharya also noted the abysmal lack of health care in the area: “There was neither hospital nor doctor, only a defunct primary health centre.”

It was only on the recommendation of the NCW that a free medical and trauma counselling camp was held in Parbung in November 2006. This move helped. According to Pi Sawmi, many victims felt better psychologically, as there was a lot of sharing with the full participation of the HWA members. One woman beneficiary put it this way, “When we talk about problems that only women can relate to, like abdominal pain, we feel better.”

A major fear among the rape survivors was of having contracted HIV/AIDS since many of their attackers were known drug-pushers. There was also the stigma attached to being raped. Several survivors have today left their homes to begin life anew in Mizoram and Meghalaya. But it is difficult to erase the past completely. According to Pi Sawmi, these women – most working as domestic help - are still “living death”, their hopes of marrying and settling down to a normal life completely dashed.

The campaign also took a lot out the HWA women. There was limited financial and legal support. Pi Sawmi adds, “All our funds were spent on travel and most of the time it was from our pocket. While the NCW members were required to be ferried by helicopter, the HWA team would leave for Lamka two days ahead in order to be there on time.”

A major problem, they believe, is the lack of support structures for women who undergo traumatic experiences, given local ignorance and illiteracy. The HWA team had a tough time dealing with the parents of the rape victims, most of whom wanted to keep the issue under wraps. It was only with time that they realised the importance of speaking out. The lack of health care infrastructure was another major challenge, with the victims not knowing where to go or whom to approach for medical assistance.

But the biggest lesson learnt was the need for local women to organise and come together, especially in a district like Churachandpur where different communities and ethnic groups live cheek-by-jowl. That was why the CJWU was convened in 2005. It comprises several community-based women organisations, including the HWA, the Zomi Mothers’ Association, Kuki Women’s Association and Ima Leimaren Apunba Lup. The Union collectively resolved that any rape accused, no matter his ethnic background, should be awarded exemplary punishment, and a minimum sentence of five years along with a fine.

Today, even as ethnic clashes continue to rage, the CJWU has successfully intervened in several incidents. They are also exploring ways of keeping the original issue alive and are thinking of filing an RTI petition on the action taken on the Rajkhowa Commission Report, which was submitted to the state government in 2007. So far, little seems to have come out of it.

Churachandpur’s brave and feisty women activists want justice and are prepared to fight hard for it.

women feature services November 15, 2011

Not a complicated issue

THE economic blockade of Manipur’s two national highways by the Sadar Hills Districthood Demand Committee that started on 1 August continues. It wants the existing Sadar Hills Autonomous District Council to be upgraded to a full-fledged entity.

Some of their leaders met the Prime Minister and Union home minister in Delhi to seek their intervention. Even chief minister Ibobi Singh held discussions with Central leaders. A committee has been formed to reorganise the police district boundary to streamline the administration. It is surprising, indeed, that even for a state subject the Manipuris have to shuttle between Imphal and New Delhi.

Manipur’s MP from the Outer Constituency told a Press conference in New Delhi on 18 August 2011 that the issue of creation of a district was a “state subject”. He repeated this at a Press conference in Imphal early this month. The United Naga Council, which opposes the demand, has also started a counter-blockade. Slowly the demand is turning into a Naga versus Kuki issue.

As of now, everyone, including the state government, seems to accept that the creation of a Sadar Hills district is far too complicated, complex and sensitive.

If one looks back at the Naga-Kuki conflict in the matter of creating a Sadar Hills district, it is worth recall that the Manipur government’s planning and development department in February 1972 issued a notification for the creation of six autonomous district councils and Sadar Hills is one of them. Five of the autonomous councils are said to have been upgraded to full-fledged districts. Later, in 1982, the Manipur Cabinet decided to create three districts, including Sadar Hills, with Kangpokpi as its headquarters. The others were Thoubal and Bishnupur.

Then Governor ON Srivastava told the assembly in 1997 that “my government’s decision for creation of a new district for Sadar Hills is also being implemented”. In January 2000, the Cabinet reaffirmed its decision on Sadar Hill district. The proceeding minutes noted: Inauguration may be done!

So one wonders why Sadar Hills continues to remain an autonomous council. Is it because of the early 1990s’ Naga-Kuki conflict? Or is some third party involved? If the SHDDC’s stand is to be taken into consideration, those inhabiting Sadar Hills have no qualms about demanding a district and that the problems actually arise from outside the Sadar Hills. In fact, the SHDDC comprises, apart from the majority Kuki community, elected representatives of different communities, including Nepalis, Marings and Zeliangrongs. In such a scenario, it is time that political leaders and elected representatives took an interest in solving the issue amicably. The “wait and watch game” has cost the state dearly.

In any case, whether or not a Sadar Hills district is created, it is not going to narrow the ethnic divide. If one goes back to the history of the administrative reorganisation of Manipur, since attaining statehood in 1971 the issue of Sadar Hills may not appear to be so complex or complicated as is being made out to be.

The Statesman October 31, 2011

100 days of employment

MANIPUR’s Churachandpur district bordering Myanmar and Mizoram is one of the ten-top recipients of the award for good performance (2009-201) in implementing the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Under the scheme jobs were provided to 51,934 villagers and 4.8 lakh households have benefited since its introduction in 2008.

They were engaged in activities like construction of inter-village roads, making canals, flood control and anti-drought measures, water conservation, harvesting, land development and renovation of traditional water body.
The emergence of a large number of “employees” has kept the district headquarters of Lamka busy. Today on a working day one can see long queues before the State Bank of India and United Bank of India ATMs.

Holding a bank account is mandatory for every job card holder. There are also Manipur State Co-operative Bank and Lamka co-operative Bank. However, none of the revenue sub-divisions or tribal development blocks of Churachandpur, Samulamlan, Singat, Thanlon, Tipaimukh and Henglep has such facility. Comparatively, Imphal West has as many as 53 public and private banks. Tamenglong and Ukhrul have one each.

Senapati district has three. Incidentally, Senapati tops the chart in providing employment (76,859 job cards). It was also among the list of 24 recipients of NREGA Excellence Award 2008 - 2009 No “employees” were said to have lodged complaints so far in respect of non- payment of minimum equal wage. Every job card holder, man and woman, gets more than Rs 60 per day. Most workers are women, from teenagers to 70 years old.

According to the statistical data record of the Union ministry of rural development, women constitute 47.97 per cent of employment provided in the state. It is as high as 99.97 per cent in Imphal East, as low as 10.31 per cent in Ukhrul, and above 50 per cent in districts like Bishenpur and Imphal West. Chandel, Tamenglong. Senapati and Thoubal recorded between 30-50 per cent.

Living in rural areas and willingness to do unskilled work (as per schedule II section 5 of the Act) is also a boon for women as they qualify to this pre-condition for entitlement to employment guaranteed in the Act. It, therefore, facilitates more women participation and their income generation.

As per the guidelines of the Act, employment is confined to informal manual work. While most “employees / labourers” want their wages in cash (this is easier, faster and definitely simpler), formalisation/institutionalisation of wage payments through banks is sometime “unrealistic” and “chaotic.” NREGA being a rural entity, half of the workers of this rural population are not only unskilled but are also illiterate.

Work and wages apart, many NREGA sites in Churachandpur serve as places for interactions and discussions. Incidentally, “community participation’ is the key factor in recognition for the NREGA award for districts as well. In its present approach and response, it can be said that NREGA has restored the lost paradise of this once peaceful district. In 1997 Churachandpur was torn apart by ethnic clashes between majority Zomis and minority Kukis in which several innocent lives were lost. Now that peace has returned, it must be sustained through even more upgraded NREGA schemes (of wage disbursement), not only in Manipur but in other North-east states as well.

Greening the 'blue hills'

For the first time, India hosted World Environment Day 2011 on 5 June and this year’s theme – “Forests: Nature at Your Service” – serves to link the quality of life with the health of forests and the ecosystem, along the lines of the United Nations’ International Year of Forests. Significantly, India has one of the fastest growing economies and is embracing the process of transition to a green economy. A United Nations’ Environment Programme release quoted undersecretary-general and executive director Achim Steiner as having said that India’s rapidly developing economy was a fitting reason for it to host this year’s World Environment Day.

Moreover, the UN release underlined India’s continuous pressure on forests, especially areas where people grazed their cattle and raised crops. It also acknowledge India’s initiative for alternative solutions, such as solar energy, wind turbines, a clean energy fund and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (paid work for water conservation or land management, etc).

The “going green” events that led up to 5 June naturally brought forests to the centre of attraction. The Unep puts the rate of forests destroyed every year at an alarming 13 million hectares. This destruction – which resulted in deforestation and degradation — accounts for nearly 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is reportedly estimated to be more than the emissions from the transportation and energy sector. The release said an investment of $30 billion a year to fight deforestation and degradation (by conserving forests and expanding them) was estimated to provide a return of $2.5 trillion in new products and services.

Forests cover 21 per cent of India’s total geographical area, of which 25 per cent lies in the North-eastern states. Also called the “blue hills”, these are home to over 32 million indigenous people, known as Schedule Tribes (1991 Census). An agrarian society, their traditional practice of shifting cultivation (also called jhum cultivation) has been identified as one of the “pressure points” on forests — as such, one of the main contributors to global warming, a major source of carbon emission. Pressure has been mounting on these states and practitioners of jhum cultivation to break with a tradition that is perceived as primitive and backward.

On the other hand, the level of CO2 (carbon dioxide) concentration in the atmosphere at the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century was 280 parts per million, which recently rose to 388.5 parts per million and is estimated to hit 525 parts per million by 2100. Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, coal and other natural gases (such as methane, nitrogen oxide) make up to 80 per cent of CO2 in the atmosphere. It may also be added that two billion cars are estimated to be on the road by 2057.

Shifting cultivation practitioners all over the world are tribals who constitute only six per cent of the global population. In India, the tribal population is approximately eight to nine per cent. Prominent tribal concentrations in India cover approximately 15 per cent of the country’s total geographical area. In Manipur, a mere three per cent of a total of 20,484 square kilometres is under jhum cultivation, though the hill-forest area is more than half the total geographical area of the state.

A study of shifting cultivation in North-east India by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development observed that the common stereotype of tribals engaged in wanton destruction of forests was a misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Study team member Dr Dhrupad Choudhury said, “If cultivators are made to give up their traditional shifting practices, they should be provided alternatives.”

Documenting the tribal jhumias’ innovations, the study found that shifting cultivators actually conserved the forest and its biodiversity, making it productive and a storehouse of species. It also noted the social security of the cultivators in the whole process. The study portrayed these jhum practitioners as forest planters and managers.“It is a regenerating cycle,” said Dr Choudhury.

Acknowledging the problems of shifting cultivation in the present context, and the situations and hindrance faced by jhumias, he said the issue was of land availability. Further, with several new policies such as land reforms and land-holding, shifting cultivation became problematic. Talking of innovative ways which farmers themselves had evolved and were engaging with, he said, “The jhum cycle should be for a longer period as a start.” He maintained that there were alternatives and better ways of “management and improvement” of jhuming in the hills of North-east India and mentioned that farmers were doing multiple cropping and planting trees that prevented soil erosion or retained water.

The study concluded that shifting cultivation, if properly done, was “a good practice”; a system that was productive in the hills and mountainous regions, while also conserving nature and it resources. It felt that shifting cultivation not only benefited tribal farmers but was also beneficial for the country and the region as a whole. From a practical point of view, farmers spent more years growing trees and crops rather than destroying or burning them. The change in the label of jhuming as “slash and burn” to “rotational agro forestry” would be a major step forward.

For tribal jhum cultivators, forests are not merely a livelihood, an economy, but a way of life ~ part of culture, tradition and heritage. Greening these “blue hills” of North-east India calls for an in-depth understanding of “traditions” such as shifting cultivation, and capitalising on the knowledge handed down rather than forcefully pushing for change that would probably put tribal farmers and biodiversity on the brink of existence.

The Statesman June 6, 2011

Manipur's cinematic journey

MORE than 40 feature and non-feature films packaged the first-of-a-kind Manipuri Film Festival entitled “Nongpokthong – The Eastern Gate” held in Delhi last month. Screened at various colleges like Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia, the presence of Manipuri filmmakers, directors, including the renowned Aribam Syam Sharma, writers and actors added sparkle to the occasion.

The show kicked off with a feature film rightly titled Matamgi Manipur, meaning Present Day Manipur, which was made in 1972, the year Manipur attained statehood. Directed by Debkumar Bose, the script was written by Arambam Somorendra. A family drama depicting the transition of a society faced with contemporary realities, it reveals the conflict of self and identity in the onslaught of the modern state. Somorendra was a student leader of several social movements back then.

Then came the internationally acclaimed Imagi Ningthem (My Son, My Precious) which was made in 1981, directed by Aribam Syam Sharma and written by Binodini Devi, who died recently and was the first woman recipient of the Padma Shri in literature and arts in 1976. A “women-centric” film, Imagi Ningthem was based on the life of a rural woman, an educated working woman and a housewife, each with a “common, similar sense of feeling and understanding”. All three women go through different levels and forms of struggle in their everyday life. Imagi Ningthem won the Grand Prix at the Nante Festival in 1982 – the first Indian film to have won such an award.

Films and filmmaking were not uncommon even before 1947. The last of the Manipuri princes, Maharajkumar Priyobrata, who later became the first chief minister, made about 50 films with his own camera during the 1930s. Most of these were “recordings” of social and cultural events. According to noted film critic, RK Bidur, these camera recordings by Priyobrata were “films of actuality”.

Along with the “digital revolution” came several contemporary Manipuri feature and documentary films. From the 1990s, Manipuri films were oriented towards romance and entertainment and were highly commercial and melodramatic. While documentary films did quite well — AFSPA 1958 by Haobam Paban won an international and a national award — other documentaries also made it to national recognition, such as Mr India and Sanakeithel.

Unlike films in the 1970s, digitised works of the 1990s did not make much of an impact. Not only did these move away from “contemporary realities”, they were at times in stark contradiction. One found a woman in “Western costume” in a rural setting, or running around trees in a high-class family drama. Most of these films depicted violence, though not of the state vs non-state conflict or communal conflicts that Manipur continually faces. The only progress made can be said to be of “colour”.

The recent release, Mami Sami, meaning Blur, is a bold contemporary film that depicts Manipuri society as well the state’s cinematic journey. Directed and written by Lancha Ningthouja, a promising young filmmaker is an out-of-the-blue relief from the cinema Manipuris watch in these current times. It is yet another heartrending “women-centric” story of ordinary people sandwiched by “conflicts” of varying kinds and layers. The film depicts how Manipuris, either rural or urban, are intertwined and caught in a web of conflict. It contextualises and brings into perspective Manipur’s contemporary situation.

From the black-and-white Matamgi Manipur to the contemporary digital Mami Sami, Manipuri films have come a long way. Films of the 1970s, like Matamgi Manipur and later Imagi Ningthem recognised the role of women and their contribution in the family and society at large, but they either did not portray any antagonism, or did not focus on individual characters. In the last century, Manipuri films saw an “antagonistic” evolution with the focus on individual characters. Many of the films in the 1990s films had “state-centric” themes woven around stories of police officers, bureaucrats and businessmen, yet these characters did not deal with an “armed militant group or insurgencies”.

Strangely, a story based on the infamous Nupi Lan (the women’s war in 1938 against the British) has not hit the silver screen. Imakeithel, an exception, has been reproduced as Sanakeithel. A closer view reveals that 1970s Manipuri feature films actually made strong statements: about how women are still confine to the role of “mother” or “hold the family together”, how she “sacrifices and suffers”. The evolution towards a more Westernised outlook of them playing second fiddle to the “male hero” is portrayed in the films of the 1990s.

Of late, it seems difficult to draw a line between reel and real life of Manipuri women. As depicted in the story of Tayal in Mami Sami, contemporary Manipuri women’s lives and their stories clearly appear to blur.

The Stateman
April 11, 2011

Delhi says no tribals

ninglun hanghal

ON 8 March, more than 1,000 tribal students demonstrated at the Capital’s Jantar Mantar, claiming that Scheduled Tribe reservation in services/post and educational institutions that has been in practice all over India since 1955, was their “right” and should be continued undisturbed in the National Capital Territory of Delhi. The demonstration came in the wake of the Supreme Court’s judgment in Civil Appeal No. 5092 of 2009 (Subhash Chandra & Others Vs Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board & Others) declaring that the dicta in Pushpa (Case Appeal Civil No. 6-7 of 1998, S Pushpa & Others Vs Siva Chanmugavelu & Others) was an arbiter and did not lay down any binding ratio.

Though there was no legal notice or official intimation to “stop” Scheduled Tribe reservation, for the past two or three years several instances and experiences of tribal/Adivasi youths residing in the NCT of Delhi indicated that such move by the Delhi government was inevitable. A student demonstrator and leader of the Zomi Sangnaupang Pawlpi, Khaibiaklian, had reportedly said that candidates (from North-east India) for the post of “nurse” in the medical department under the Delhi government were told that there was no such ST reservation. That some of them were even asked to pay bribes.

Another student from Manipur, Lunching, who applied for a librarian’s post in the Delhi Service Selection Board and was among the successful ST candidate in the preliminary examination, 2009, said that the result of the final main examination did not include a ST list. Surprisingly, the result list showed that in the unreserved category there were only 23 successful candidates, whereas the advertisement in 2007 called for a total of 48 for UR and 40 ST. These are but a few of the cases wherein hundreds of tribals/Adivasis have been provoked to demand that the Centre directs the Delhi administration to follow the reservation policy as per the office memorandum issued by the Union home affairs ministry in 1955. Students also urged the Centre to issue a constitutional order under Article 342 (I) that all Schedule Tribes, as notified in the Constitution, be deemed to belong to the “schedule tribe” in relation to the NCT of Delhi as well.

According to the demonstrating tribal students, their “right to reservation” was enshrined in the Constitution. Also, the Union home affairs ministry’s office memorandum dated 14 October 1955 had prescribed that Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe reservation in Class III and IV services/post would be based on the proportion of the population on a roster of 40, which was seven per cent. It also prescribed that irrespective of the proportion, SC/ST candidates should be given a minimum reservation of five per cent. In paragraph 1, it said that in Delhi the percentage of reservation would follow the all-India basis (as in Union Public Service Commission).

A large number of tribal students from North-east India and Adivasis (as they called themselves) from other parts of the country study in different educational institutions in Delhi and seek employment in the private and public sectors after their education. Every year, more than 500 students apply for admission to Delhi University from Manipur alone. A study by the Delhi-based North-east Helpline reveals that there are approximately 300,000 North-east people seeking jobs in Delhi.

One of the major issues that India face today is unemployment, which obviously is a reason for unrest among the youth of today. According to a 1999-2000 estimate by the Director General of Employment, as many as 9.05 million people were unemployed in India at a time when the country’s population stood at one billion.
The Schedule Tribe population comprises only eight per cent in India and this small percentage are inhabitants of India’s geographical periphery where development is still conspicuous by its absence even after 60 years of independence. This small population, categorised as “culturally and politically” different from the mainstream, is further isolated because they are placed behind more advanced society and subsequently identified or rather notified as “scheduled tribes”. Unemployment has impinged on their progress and upward mobility.

Reservation is, basically, an attempt by the government to correct some of its historical wrongs — the caste system that is old as India itself. And the ills it has spawned have long overflowed the pages of history.

Indeed, the reservation debate was at a high after the “upper caste” students of top educational institutions such as the AIIMS, IIT and IIMS in 2006 held several protests across Indian metros, some of which even turned violent – like the protest by AIIMS students in Delhi in the aftermath of the Mandal Commission proposal to increase OBC seats to 27 per cent.

Anti-reservation slogans question the “creamy layer, merit and equality”. Like a student from Arunachal Pradesh said during the demonstration at Jantar Mantar on 8 March, “We are called uncivilised, uncultured and termed ‘tribals’, but when we talk of job reservations we are called civilised, modern and equal with them.” As a matter of fact , the impact of the reservation policy saw several tribal youths venture out of their “place of origin” to avail of the “benefit” elsewhere in the country, one major destination being Delhi, the national capital. Many tribal/Adivasi youths have also made it to “collar” jobs through the ST quota. But now Delhi has indirectly told these same people that the national capital, whose “historical” population does not comprise “tribals”, neither welcomes them nor their move for ST reservation. So whose “capital” is it, anyway?

The writer is a freelance contributor
The Statesman , March 14, 2011

Khuga Dam : boon or bane

ninglun hanghal

THE groundwork for the Khuga multipurpose project was initiated way back in the early 1980s, Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi presided over its inauguration in a 10-minute ceremony in November 2010 and completion took all of 29 years, an unenviable record of sorts. Located near Mata village some 10 km from the district headquarters town of Lamka in Churachandpur, Manipur, it is popularly called Khuga Dam and locals refer to it as “Mata dam”. Four months after the inauguration, breached canals and breaks were reported during trail runs that destroyed residential and cultivable land.

When it all started, Churachandpur’s populace was either unaware or indifferent, though some “informed” people whose land came under purview of the dam were already knocking on the doors of the authorities concerned for compensation. Came the 1990s and construction became apparent because of the huge infrastructure. The site became a “hot spot”, acquiring recreational value as a picnic spot and a favourite for lovebirds. Till then, there were no security forces guarding the dam.

Since 2000, Khuga Dam provided one of the most beautiful background scenes for the camera. Such was the enthusiasm to see the dam being constructed that the Churachandpur District Students’ Union reportedly urged Sonia Gandhi to include the site as one of the state’s tourist spots in anticipation of the lifting of the Protected Area Permit system.

Simultaneously, it began to be heavily guarded by Border Security Force personnel.
The other side of the dam also saw several repercussions. Supposed to have been completed in 1987-88, construction was halted for several years when the district came to a standstill in 1997 because of an outbreak of violence between the Zomis and Kukis and it went through an almost defunct and forgotten stage. Till the inauguration, many villagers were still to be compensated, not to forget local contractors’ pending bills amounting to Rs 31 crore. There were violent protests in demand for compensation in December 2005 and three persons were killed and several injured in firing by security forces.

According to the audit report of the Manipur Irrigation and Flood Control Department, the original estimated cost of construction was Rs 17.18 crore. Till March 2008, expenditure was Rs 300.77 crore. As the project continued to be delayed costs too escalated to Rs 335.11 crore and the revised date of completion was extended to 2009. The audit report stated that the cost of the project was revised several times and stood at 14 times the original estimate by the end of March 2008. Meanwhile apart from the initial component, irrigation and drinking water supply and electricity generation were added along the way. The project potential estimate was to irrigate 15,000 hectares, provide 10 million gallons of drinking water and generate 7.50 MW.

Comparatively smaller than other proposed mega structures in Manipur and elsewhere, Khuga Dam was visualised as an alternative solution to the problems faced by the people of Churachandpur in particular and Manipur in general. With agriculture being the mainstay of the region, the priority on irrigation, drinking water and electricity was justified. With more than Rs 300 crore invested, the proposed “output” of Khuga Dam is unlikely to be experienced by the people of Churachandpur.

It may also be mentioned that the audit report of March 1999, on the performance review of the dam, says, “Since 1984, the IFCD, Manipur, carried out construction work on 25.37 km of canal over an area of 40.27 hectares of forest land in Dampi reserve forest without obtaining the required clearance for diversion of forest land". Barring the unaccounted environmental destruction (that still continues) the overall concept of the multipurpose Khuga Dam project in itself was unpractical and paradoxical.

As far as irrigation is concerned, Churachandpur is a hill district where jhum cultivation is practised. Few of the plains areas in the adjoining districts have permanent cultivation that requires improved irrigation. While the idea of irrigation for jhum cultivation in the hilly region is yet to be conceptualised and is, thus, unrealistic to many, people felt, and not without resentment, that the actual benefit would go elsewhere and not to the hill people of this district. As feared, people are faced with a drinking water scarcity and yet is doubtful whether the water reserved in Khuga Dam would qualify as “clean” for drinking. Several villagers living in the vicinity of the dam, as also visitors, have reported that the “stagnant water” actually “smells”. Power supply was always a luxury for the people of Churachandpur, and of late the situation is at its worst.

Though the locals were either ignorant or unaware during the implementation of the project, it became the talking point in the later stages. People waited, hoped and imagined. Now, with the much-hyped project standing tall and ready to function, villagers and supposed beneficiaries feel otherwise. Those in Churachandpur and, specifically, Lamka live in fear of the dam, for they believe Khuga Dam will fall one day and Lamka will be doomed.

The writer is a freelance

The Statesman , March 7, 2011

Of numbers and boundaries

ninglun hanghal

IN preparing for the 2011 Census, the survey operation in Manipur underwent a series of “not so smooth” rides in the hill areas. Earlier this year, enumerator Maisnam Jadumani — deputed for Nambasi Hortai village in Ukhrul hill district — reportedly lodged a complaint at the nearest police station in Yairipok (interestingly, Yairipok comes under Thoubal valley district). The reason” He was forced to return from the village and was not allowed to carry out his duty. Similar cases of opposition were also reported by enumerators deputed in other hill district villages.

Moreover, the Churachandpur District Students’ Union and the Zomi Human Rights Federation resolved to oppose the survey operations in Henglep and Tipaimukh subdivisions as well as Saikul subdivision in Senapati district. And the Committee on Protection of Tribal Areas Manipur also alleged that the state government had instructed the deputy commissioners of all the hill districts to fix a 17 per cent population increase. It also demanded a roll back of the proposed redrawing of Jiribam subdivision (which allegedly will affect the hill districts of Churachandpur and Tamenglong).

Several agitations and protest were witnessed this year over the alleged overlapping of hill jurisdictions vis-a-vis the valley and manipulation of tribal population data as the survey for the 2011 Census is being completed. Some of the key grievances arise from the hill districts over the alleged overlapping of administrative and revenue district boundaries, specifically in villages in Churachandpur, Chandel, Tamenglong and Sadar Hills located close to the valley districts of Bishnupur, Imphal East and Jiribam. Conflicting and contradictory statistical data was found to be allegedly compiled in the survey operation.

Twenty-six villages in Churachandpur district, for instance, were included under the revenue district of Bishnupur. Though these tribal-inhabited villages under the jurisdiction of the hill administration pay their hill house taxes to Churachandpur district, so also do villagers submit payments to neighbouring Bishnupur district (of valley jurisdiction). In the ongoing survey, it was reportedly found that the percentage of district-wise tribal population in Manipur came down to 20 in Tamenglong and Churachandpur, 16.8 in Ukhrul and 17 in Chandel and Senapati districts. This allegedly came with the ceiling of a 17 per cent population increase in hill districts.

According to the records of the Registrar General of India, the Scheduled Tribes population in Manipur in the 2001 Census was 741,141 and constituted 34.2 per cent of the total population of 2,166,788. It also stated that the decadal growth of Manipur’s Scheduled Tribes population in 1991-2001 was 17.2 per cent. It recorded 29 notified Scheduled Tribes of the state. The Office of the Registrar General also recorded 18.1 per cent tribal population in Ukhrul, 14.3 per cent in Tamenglong, 28.7 per cent in Churachandpur, 14.7 per cent in Chandel, 16.6 per cent in Senapati, 3.2 and 2.8 per cent in Imphal East and West, and 0.8 and six per cent in Bishnupur and Thoubal districts. Recent “problems” seem to have evolved because of changes in administration. As far as land and landholding systems are concerned, since colonial times the hill areas of Manipur were administered, or rather governed, under traditional laws and customs of the various tribes. This continued for years, though there were some modifications even after India gained independence. Notably, the Maharajah of Manipur in 1939 agreed “to federate on terms which covered the exclusion of the hills from his direct control”. Subsequently, in the ’70s the Autonomous District Council was introduced.

One of the key “complications and conflict” arose when the Manipur Land Reforms and Land Revenue Act of 1960 (supposedly to be implemented in valley areas only) was extended to cover as many as 1,167 villages in four hill districts. For example, 13 of the 15 plots allotted to a villager by the village chief of Saikot in Churachandpur district were treated as unauthorised encroachments on government land.

Apart from the loopholes in its legal entity, the 1960 Act attracted opposition from several tribal bodies, taking into account the characteristics and complexities of the landholding system in Manipur. It may also be noted that several systems introduced in relation to tribal administration were never actually implemented. Chieftainship still continues in the hills even after the Hill Areas Acquisition of Chiefs’ Rights Act (1967). Even the District Councils remained non-functional for more than 20 years since their introduction in 1971.
Considering the present context in Manipur, its continued socio- and political violence, issues of this nature cannot be sidelined as mere “tribal unrest” or another “law and order problem”. As much as land is central to tribal life and livelihood, control and management of land and its resources cannot, therefore, be separated from a tribal’s right over ancestral land. The economic and legal aspects alone cannot be a satisfactory solution to the conflict.

Besides the agitations, several memorandums and demands have been submitted to the authorities both in Manipur and New Delhi. A positive note was struck with tribal leaders when Union home minister P Chidambaram visited the state in the first week of December and called on several groups (including non-state ones) in Churachandpur district. The Committee on Protection of Tribal Areas Manipur called off the proposed 60-hour statewide bandh and Chidambaram accepted its memorandum. It now remains to be seen what the “defender of the tribals” will deliver on his promise to “intervene” once he gets back to work in the Capital.

The writer is a freelance contributor

The Statesman December 26,2010