“Centre’s intervention constitutional, legitimate and mandatory” - Manipur Tribals in Delhi
Beginning from November 4, every afternoon, tribal youths from Manipur who are residing in the national capital, Delhi gathered at Jantar Mantar. The youths, numbering around a hundred are holding a peaceful demonstration along with a symbolic coffin of the nine “martyrs”.
The said nine dead bodies are still lying in the hospital morgue in Churachandpur, Manipur. The nine people, including an eleven-year-old school boy, succumb to injuries when security forces fired upon the public, as protest erupted after the passing of the three controversial bills in the State Assembly on August 31. The violent protest that ensued for about 3 days saw the residence of 6 tribal legislators including a parliamentarian burnt by the protesters, beside destruction of vehicles and other government buildings.
Protest demand for withdrawal of the said three bills has entered more than 60 days. The bills include; The Protection of Manipur People’s Bill 2015; The Manipur Shops and Establishment (2nd Amendment)Bill 2015; and The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th Amendment ) Bill 2015.
While continuous public protests, rallies, sit-in demonstration against the said bills are held in Lamka, the headquarter town of Churachandpur district, support and solidarity came from all the other tribal districts in Manipur; Chandel, Senapati, Tamenlong, Ukhrul. Public protests too were held in New Delhi.
The tribal hill areas in Manipur have been, for long, witness to several unrest, from violent militant movements to statehood demands, more autonomy for tribal areas and other developmental grievances including students’ demand for better education system and tribal scholarships.
Ironically, the tribals in Manipur never took out rally or other forms of protest in the state capital, Imphal. Most of the protest, if not all, was either in the form of bandhs in the hill areas and national highways or economic blockade. This time too in the current protest against the three bills, dharnas and rallies concentrated in the epicenter in Lamka, Churachandpur district, with solidarity and support in other four tribal districts. But no forms of protest were seen in the capital Imphal that has witnessed numerous public protests by valley based organizations. Much as it is an issue that concern tribals and tribal areas, the protest too was directed on the tribal legislators alone. There are 20 tribal MLAs out of the total 60.
Hesitantly, Sam Ngaihte, one of the demonstrators at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi said that holding a protest against the three Bills in Imphal “may create communal tension”. Ngaihte agrees that the grievance is against the state Government, “but there is possibility of the protest taking a different turn,” he said cautiously.
A member of the Manipur Tribal Forum Delhi, Lapakchui Siro, candidly said that one of the reasons for the tribals not holding rally or protest in the state capital is the fear of police retaliation, which he said is obvious. “There is no guarantee for the security of tribal protesters in the state capital,” he said. Recalling several instances, Siro further mentioned that any matter concerning the tribal hill areas none of the valley based CSOs or Human Rights organization have spoken out. Even as protest against the three bills continues in Churachandpur and other tribal areas, Siro says, “Valley-based CSOs in collusion with the State government have the audacity to request the President to give his assent to the three bills”. He asked, “In such a situation, how can you expect the tribals to hold a rally or a protest in Imphal?”
In the present demand for withdrawal of the three bills, the Delhi-based Manipur Tribal Forum have been spearheading the protest in the capital. Citing article 371 (C), Romeo Hmar, Convener of the forum, reasoned that the President must and should intervene, as far as the tribal areas in Manipur is concerned. He said that as per the stated article under the Indian Constitution, through the Governor, the President should take the final call in matters concerning the administration of tribal areas in Manipur. This, he said, is the reason why Tribals called upon the President and the Union Government, which he said is legitimate, constitutional and mandatory. As such, the Tribals has been coming out in the capital to pressure the center.
The Tribal Forum is a conglomeration of various individuals and student based organization. The forum presently has a support of over 24 Delhi-based, Manipur tribal student organizations. The Forum is demanding for political solution, a separate administration for the Tribals in the hills of Manipur.
Each day, Tribe based student organizations took turns to mobilize demonstrators. The event would saw the youths with songs, deliberations, interactions and would end with a prayer and candle light for the dead persons. The key student bodies includes, The Naga Student Union, Hmar Student Association, The Zomi Student Federation, Siamsinpawlpi , Zillai, Gangte Student Association and others. Tribe based welfare associations and philanthropic organizations also took part in the demonstration.
Memorandums after memorandums have been submitted to the centre government and concern ministries. Until now, there is no concrete step or move to take up the matter by the center, but the youth demonstrators were unlikely to give up. Convener of the Tribal Forum, Romeo Hmar, asserted, “Until the Center listens we are not calling off the protest demonstration.” The Forum convener though is open for dialogue. In fact, he stated that the Tribal Forum had been suggesting that a dialogue be initiated with the Tribal leaders, the Center Government and the State Government, a ‘Tripartite talk’ which he said the Manipur Government had refused.
As it stands, the youths are adamant, and are asserting their stand for a “separate administration” for the tribal hill areas. The patience though seems to thin out as Hmar puts it “we can’t say how long this peaceful demonstration will continue”. Speaking of how the tribal hill areas have been neglected, undeveloped for years and that demand and voices are not being heard, he said “As of now, we are taking out democratic forms of protest, but we are ready for any other forms, if required,” said Hmar indicating that the youths may resort to take other means. This is not unlikely, if the impasse continues.