NEW DELHI: In August last year, three contentious bills were passed by the Manipur State Assembly which was followed by strong opposition from tribal student bodies who claimed that the bills targeted discrimination against the tribals of the region.

Tribal students groups have repeatedly demanded intervention of the Prime Minister into the turmoil in the hill areas of Manipur following the passing of three bills. The students have previously also urged to expedite a “separate administration” for the tribal hill areas.

A year later, the agitation continues and unrest persists among the people. The Manipur Tribals Forum Delhi organized a protest rally outside Manipur Bhawan in Chanakyapuri on Tuesday night to summon the government’s immediate attention to the issue. The demonstration, however, turned violent and resulted in a scuffle between the protesters and the police, leaving around 25 people injured including five policemen. Protesters claimed that they were “beaten up” by policemen as well as jawans of Manipur Rifles. Thankgkanlal Ngaihte, an independent researcher based in Delhi who was also at Tuesday’s protest said, “They detained around 60 of us at the Chanakyapuri station for one day.”

Police said that they had to resort to lathi-charge after the protesters tried to break police barricades set up around Manipur Bhawan. When they failed to bring the situation under control, water cannons were used to disperse the crowd. It has been learnt that the protest has reached 290 days on Tuesday.

The Manipur Tribals Forum Delhi is a collective of Manipuri tribal student organizations in Delhi. It was formed last year in an attempt to safeguard the interests of tribals and to challenge the “continual cycle of systematic injustice and discrimination that the Manipur government perpetuates against the tribal population.” The new bills would dilute their existing set of separate protections and endanger their land rights, hill tribals feel.

The protesters demanded a hearing from Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, visiting the capital this week. Earlier that day, Singh had met Union Minister Rajnath Singh, emphasizing upon him the need for presidential assent for the bills in question. This fresh nudge to get the bills enacted comes barely a week after protests broke out in the Imphal Valley, led by the Meiteis. Student groups in the valley were demanding that the bills be turned into law.

Tribal agitators strongly believe that the Ibobi Singh government has ears only for the Meitei protesters in the Valley. In their opinion, the polarization between the hills and the plains mostly ends up drawing more attention towards the issues of the valley while their concerns often get overlooked.

Meanwhile, the Centre, acknowledging the strong reaction of these groups, reportedly sent the three bills back to the state for reexamination on Wednesday.

The hill-based tribal students’ organizations encompassing the federating units of the three students’ apex bodies, that is, the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) along with the sister organisations—Kuki Students’ Organization (KSO) and All Naga Students’ Association Manipur (ANSAM), “laud the Manipur Tribal Forum Delhi (MTFD) leaders and protesters for their sacrifices and unflinching support in the effort to achieve the desired goal of the tribals,” said the union in a released statement.