Manipur in Flames
Houses torched, legislators attacked as hill tribes protest against land rights bills
NEW DELHI: Manipur is up in flames with mobs targeting the state government, burning houses of Ministers leading to at least four dead, and over a dozen injured.
Curfew has been clamped in Churachandpur district, the centre of the violence that seemed to have caught the Manipur government off guard even though three major students organisations had called for a bandh in the hill districts in protest against three controversial bills passed by the state Assembly.
Despite protest by hill tribes the Manipur Assembly passed three bills Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh amendment) Bill, 2015, and The Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015. Kuki and Naga tribal organisations have said the bills are against the spirit of Article 371C and Manipur Hill People Administration Regulation Act of 1947 that safeguard the rights of tribal people over land and resources.
The Meities can now purchase land legally in the hill areas that has created tremendous insecurity amongst the Nagas and Kuki tribes. Dr M Amarjeet Singh, Associate Professor in the Centre for North East Studies told The Citizen said, “ for many years the Naga and Kuki people have been feeling increasingly insecure as the Meities are growing economically. The revised land reform bill is seen to favour the Meities adding to the hill tribes insecurities that are now visible in the violence on the streets.”
The Manipur government claims that these bills will regulate the influx of outsiders into the state. Editor of Lamka Times Th.Thangzalian explained, “there is an autonomous district council in Manipur. This does not allow the people from the plains to buy land in the hills. The latest land reform has the provision that will allow them to buy land in the hills. This is the reason behind the conflict. To my political understanding the ruling party is not going to do anything about the land reforms bill that has already been passed. The anger will not come to a halt so quickly”.
Lamka is one district which is dominated by the Zomis tribe and they are still out on the streets and protesting. “ The protests are fair because the government has been unfair to the hill tribe. Manipur is a valley surrounded by hills. The hills are the habitat of the Nagas, Kukis and Zomis. The bill is not in favour of the hill tribe. The hill tribe is feeling cheated and that is completely unfair” said Len Chongloi, a Kuki youth leader in Manipur.
Manipur is not under the ILP regime (which is in operation in Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh), there is a law that forbids non-tribal people from within as well as outside the state from buying and owning land in the tribal/hill areas in Manipur.
There is a special provision for Manipur under Article 371C of the Indian Constitution providing for the Hill Areas Committee. This committee – made up of the 19 members elected to the state legislative assembly from all the tribal areas – was envisaged to be the guardian of tribal interests. The law dictates that it must be consulted in all legislative matters affecting the Hill Areas of the state. Further, the state governor must send the president annual reports on the administration of Hill Areas, and the central government has the power to give directions to the state government regarding administration of these areas.