Within hours of the Manipur Assembly passing three bills at a special session in response to the violent protests demanding the implementation of the Inner Line Permit in Manipur for the past two months, violence erupted in the tribal hill district of Churachandpur yesterday evening. Four persons were killed and another eight injured in protests by Kuki and Zomi tribals regarding the passing of the bills as the Manipur police tried controlling the mob.
The houses of state Health Minister Phungzathang Tonsing and five other MLAs were set on fire by the protestors as well as the vehicle of the deputy commissioner of Churachandpur. An indefinite curfew has been imposed in the area apart from CrPC 144 which prohibits the gathering of five or more persons at any one place. While the state health minister and the MLAs and their families were unhurt, sources said that their houses were attacked because they failed in preventing the bills from being passed.
The House unanimously passed three bills yesterday – Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015; Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th amendment) Bill, 2015 and Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015. The Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015 is a prototype of Inner Line Permit System.
The tribal student organizations claim that the three bills overlap Article 371 C of the Indian Constitution and Manipur Hill People Administration Regulation Act, 1947. The main objection, according to groups leading the protest, is to an amendment bill passed called Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reform Act (7th Amendment Bill 2015).
“Our land is protected by the 6th schedule. We believe that the Manipur government has slyly introduced the Land Reforms Bill under the garb of ILP. In any case the tribals have not been supporting the ILP movement – it is primarily a Meitei demand. We feel that by introducing the land Bill the Manipur government and the Meiteis will try and grab our land. The land in tribal hill areas is governered by customary laws and is held by the Chieftan on behalf of the villagers. With this Bill the land will fall under the deputy commissioners and the Manipur government, and they will try and take our land from us,” said a member of the Kuki Students Organisation.
For the first time in years, traditional rivals Nagas and Kukis have come together to agitate against the bill in the face of “a common enemy’’.
“The battlelines have been drawn,’’added the KSO member. One of the clauses in the bills passed yesterday is to set 1951 as the base year to identify non-indigenous people, who are regarded as outsiders. “But tribal society has not kept records of settlers. Besides the first elections were held in 1971. How are we to establish who is a late settler and who is not. This is just a ploy to get rid of us and reduce our numbers,”said the KSO member.
The State government has meanwhile hastily declared that the MLR & LR amendment Bill will not harm the interest of those residing in the hills. State education minister M Okendro in a statement said the amendment of the MLR & LR Act is to only lengthen the process for land buying by non-Manipuri people/ non-permanent residents and that in order to buy land non-Manipuris must now submit an application to the respective deputy commissioners. He further said that the law will extend only to the four valley districts and not the tribal hill districts of Manipur.
But tribal students bodies maintain that the government didn’t consult the tribal hills Council or any of the tribal bodies even once before passing the three Bills. “If they had nothing to hide then they would’ve consulted the tribals,”said a KSO member.