On 31 August, 2015 the Manipur assembly in its special session passed three bills — the Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, the Land Revenue and Land Reforms (seventh amendment) Bill 2015 and the Manipur Shops and Establishment (second amendment) Bill 2015. These were called “anti-migrant Bills”. The next day, people, mostly tribals, in Churachandpur district hit the street and in clashes and police firing that followed nine persons were killed. Till today their bodies lie unclaimed in the Churachandpur district hospital morgue. Their families have refused to claim the bodies until the government justifies their deaths.
A joint action committee against the three bills, called the “anti-tribal bills”, led the protest. In recent months, a new organisation calling itself the Outer Manipur Tribals’ Forum has come up to bolster protests against the bills. It is a conglomeration of all the tribal apex bodies like the United Naga Council, Kuki Innpi, Hmar Innpui and Zomi Council.
As the protest is nearing 365 days, the JAC against anti-Tribal Bills and Outer Manipur Tribal Forum has re-asserted its stand for protection and preservation of tribal lands and resources. In its appeal issued on 3 August, the organisation had warned it would boycott the Independence Day celebrations and start a series of agitations if the Centre and the state government failed to address their grievances.
Significantly, 31 August is now been called “Tribal Unity Day”. During the protest last year, the crowd torched the houses of five legislators in Churachandpur for their failure to stop the passing of the three bills. Several government establishments were also razed. All tribal apex bodies and tribe-based organisations across Manipur hill districts have made it a common cause. Their key demand is “separate administration” for tribals..
The demand for implementation of the Inner Line Permit System, led by the Joint Committee on Inner line Permit System, in the valley districts of Manipur had forced the state government to succumb to pressure and passed the three Bills. These are now called “anti-migrant Bills”.
In June this year, the state government succumbed to another pressure from the JCILPS. Chief Minister Ibobi Singh and an all-party delegation went to New Delhi to hold discussions with Central leaders, their objective being to press for passing the bills.
As per media reports, on 7 June, after a high-level meeting at North Block, the Union home minister told the all-party delegation that President Pranab Mukherjee had withheld the Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015. The chief minister-led delegation was also told to consult constitutional and legal experts on the other two – the Land Revenue and Land Reform and Shops and Establishment Bills. The ministry is also understood to have studied the bills and made reservations following strong protests by the tribals.
Reportedly, a letter from the Union home ministry regarding the withholding of the bill by the President had reached the Manipur secretariat on 11 May. But this was known only aftef the chief minister and delegations had met the minister.
Surprisingly, even though Ibobi Singh claimed to have held several discussions on the three bills with all political parties in the state or even claimed to have led a delegation to New Delhi, the Naga People&’s Party, that has four MLAs in the assembly, has denied olf having joined any “all-party meeting” or any such delegation. Moreover, NPF legislators reportedly told the media in Manipur and New Delhi that they had resigned on moral ground in the aftermath of the passing of the bills and subsequent protests. They also met Central leaders and made known their opposition to the bills. Whether their resignations have been accepted or not is not known.
The Manipur assembly has 47 Congress members, five All India Trinamul Congress, four NPF, two BJP, two NCP and one Lok Jana Shakti Party legislators. So the chief minister is on firm ground. Unfortunately, there had been no proper debate on the bills before these were passed. Over the past 11 months Churachandpur district has witnessed a number of bandhs, strikes and protests and “public curfews” by civil societies and groups.
In Churachandpur, the district administration simply relies on “women&’s groups” or other civil societies to “control” the situation in case of any emergency or sudden uprising. In the Imphal valley, too, civil societies literally control the streets. Such is the situation that people arriving in Imphal or leaving are provided security cover from the airport to their destinations in the hill districts.
Tribal protesters, particularly those in the main town of Lamka, the district headquarters, are all set to start a fresh movement on 31 August to mark one year of the agitation against the bills. Delhi will also see protests under the aegis of the Manipur Tribals’ Forum, Delhi. And Manipur goes to the polls early next year.
The writer is freelance contributor based in Delhi.