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