Updated: September 3, 2015 12:40:04 am
The tension simmering in Manipur ever since the state started to debate the inner line permit system (ILPS) boiled over on Tuesday. Eight people were killed and houses of legislators, including the state health minister, were set on fire in the tribal district of Churachandpur. The current bout of violence in Manipur’s hill districts was triggered by the passage of three bills in the legislative assembly that sought to meet the demand for ILPS: The Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th Amendment) Bill, 2015, and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (2nd Amendment) Bill, 2015, were passed unanimously on Monday. The three bills together replaced the controversial Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers’ Bill 2015, which was withdrawn after widespread protests. The laws that sought to address the grievance of the residents of Imphal Valley, where 60 per cent of Manipur resides, were seen as inimical to the interests of the various tribes that live in the hill districts.
The ILPS debate has widened a faultline in a state of fragile ethnicities. The interests of the non-tribal and politically influential Meitei community residing in the Imphal Valley and the numerous tribes in the hill districts do not converge. There has been little or no conversation between the two sections on the issue. The muted reaction in the hill districts to the valley’s push for the ILPS was read by the administration as acceptance, which wasn’t the case. At the core of the ILPS demand was the fear that inward migration was turning Manipuris into a minority in Imphal Valley. The new bills set 1951 as the base year to identify non-Manipuris on the basis of land records and so on. The residents of the hill districts, where clear land records are relatively recent, saw the declaration of 1951 as the base year as a ploy to declare them as non-indigenous and expel them from their homeland. The administration’s belated explanation that the laws were only meant to prevent the purchase of land by non-Manipuris could not find any resonance in the hill districts. Clearly, the fear of land alienation works differently in different parts of the state.
The lesson for the administration is that it needs to be sensitive to the social diversity of the state and engage all sections while making policy. Land continues to dominate the political imagination of the state. Protests centred on the fear of land alienation produce a siege mentality, which prevents the diversification of the economy. The administration must break this dismal cycle to expand the state’s economy and generate employment.
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