FOR OVER 18 months, protesters in Manipur’s Churachandpur town refused to bury the bodies of eight of their fellow activists who died during an agitation against the previous Ibobi Singh-led Congress government over the implementation of an Inner Line Permit that restricts the entry of outsiders. They will now go ahead with the burial within May 25, following the signing of an agreement Wednesday with the BJP state government, which took charge in March.
In what is being seen as a huge victory for Chief Minister N Biren, officials said that a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between Manipur Chief Secretary O Nabakishore Singh and members of the Joint Action Committee Against the Anti-Tribal Bill (JACAATB), which has been leading the agitation.
According to the MoU, officials said, the government has agreed to compensate the families of those who died in the protests on August 31, 2015; set up a memorial in Churachandpur town; take in to account tribal opinion in all future action; and, investigate the deaths of the protesters. The Joint Action Committee, meanwhile, has agreed to bury the eight corpses that still lie in the district hospital morgue by May 25. The bodies are kept in a cold storage, which was acquired by the protesters, at the local morgue. There were nine bodies preserved originally but one was reported “stolen” earlier this year.
Violent protests over the ILP first broke out in Imphal valley to pressure the government to implement the system, on the lines of the one in Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. It led to a complete lockdown and the death of of a 17-year-old protester. The then government’s response was to table three Bills in the assembly, ostensibly to protect indigenous rights. But these Bills were opposed by tribals across the state, who called them anti-tribal.
Within two hours of the Bills being tabled, protests broke out in Churachandpur. In the violence that followed, protesters burnt houses belonging to their elected representatives, including that of veteran politician and Manipur’s Health Minister Phungzathan Tonsing. The counter-protests also worsened relations between tribals of the hill districts and the dominant Hindu Meitei population in the Imphal valley — a fissure that many analysts said could no longer be breached.
The tribal population, which is largely Christian, were particularly opposed to the Protection of Manipur People’s Bill by which the state government would set up a committee to determine who were Manipuri and who were not. The tribals described this as the “communal agenda” of the Meitei-dominated Congress government.
On May 11, 2016, the Union Home Ministry conveyed to the state government that the President had withheld the Protection of Manipur People’s Bill, 2015. The other two bills — The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th amendment ) Bill, 2015, and Manipur Shops and Establishments (2nd amendment) Bill, 2015 — were pending with the Centre.
Tuesday’s MoU signed by the two parties states: “The State Government honours the sentiments of the Tribal people of Manipur.” It states: “In future, any new Bill which effects the interest of the indigenous tribal people, the state government will follow due procedure as laid down by the constitution of India and relevant rules in consultation with all stakeholders.’’ The agreement states that the government “acknowledges the demands” of the protesters “regarding the administration of the indigenous tribal people of Manipur…”
It adds that the government “shall extend all possible help and cooperation in the tripartite talks with SOO groups (insurgent groups who have a suspension of operation agreement with the Centre) where various other issues and interests of indigenous tribal people of Manipur will be protected”.
The government further announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh and permanent employment to the next of kin of the deceased by May 25. It also promised to provide Rs 50,000 to all those injured during the riots (48) by or on that day. The government will provide Rs 2 lakh compensation to eight persons who have become disabled during the police retaliation. A memorial park at Churachandpur town and a memorial hall in Singngat will be set up, according to the agreement. The state government has also assured the initiation of a “proper investigation’’ into the “incident of police firing and subsequent death of civilians and take up action as per law”.