WHY I NO LONGER BELIEVE IN THE IDEA OF MANIPUR
by Thangkhanlal Ngaihte
Today, I will not talk about the historical origins of Manipur. Manipur has a long history, only if we take it to mean only the valley inhabited by the Meiteis. Manipur as it existed today, including the tribal hills and plains, is an artificial creation. Many of the present crises afflicting this state can be traced to this original mistake, of clubbing the Meiteis and Hill tribals together into an incongrous entity called Manipur.
But, I will concentrate today on our recent experiences. When I was born, Manipur was already there. I was socialized to accept that I am a Manipuri. I once believed in the idea of all of us living together, sharing our fortunes and misfortunes together, in Manipur. But now, I have come to the difficult conclusion that it is pointless to try to be a good Manipur. Even if we were willing, we are not accepted. We are discriminated and alienated in every conceivable way. In the circumstance, we are given no choice, but to make our own political destiny.
Despite our history which tells us that we and the Meiteis are different and never together, our Manipuri-ness comes to us as a fait accompli. We try to be a part of it. Our social and civil society organizations repeatedly appeal the government to integrate the hills by locating strategic institutions and offices in the hills. They repeatedly ask the government to give us a stake so that we can be a part of it. They were repeatedly rebuffed.
One emotional moment was when the National Games was hosted by Manipur in 1999. There were numerous appeals to the government to host at least some of the 27 or so events in the hill districts.
Churachandpur, for example, is only 60 kms away and connected to Imphal by a good road. Most other host states conducted the events in multiple towns. But, all the appeals were rebuffed. I remember one of my teachers, who considers himself a Manipuri insider, emotionally recall how the Marathon race, which started at Imphal came till Moirang and took u-turn from there.
Much misgivings were expressed over the biased treatment of the state boxers, Dingko Singh and Mary Kom. That was before Mary became an olympic champ.
The same clamour was witnessed when the Central Agriculture University (CAU) was to be set up in the state. But to no avail. The same happened when the National Institute of Technology (NIT) was to be set up, around 2007. Bandhs and strikes were even organized in some tribal districts demanding that the Institute be located in the Hills. But, to no avail. Now, it seems the tribal people have given up hope. I didn’t hear any such clamour when it was announced early this year that a Sports University is to be set up in Manipur. Now, the chief minister has announced that the same would be set up in Thoubal District.
The irony is this: all this time, the plain Meiteis have been claiming that the plains are overcrowded and there is no more plot for settlement, etc. If that’s the case, these institutions should have been spread out over the entire state. That will help decongest the plains and give a sense of ownership to the hill tribes. But, the plains want to have the proverbial apple and eat it too.
Since the plains are indeed congested and yet the Meiteis are unwilling to share the crucial institutions and the economic windfall they brought along with the hill tribals, they resorted to a sly game: surreptitiously encroach on tribal lands. This they attempted to do by numerous attempts to amend the MLR & LR Act, 1960, which has a proviso stating that it will not apply to the Hill Areas. The 7th amendment bill, passed in the Assembly on 31 August, 2015 is only the latest attempt to undermine tribal land rights.
As per the Constitution, the expression, “Hill Areas” means such areas as the President may, by order, declare to be Hill Areas. But, the Manipur government has illegally violated this provision by arrogating to itself the right to alter the extent of “Hill Areas”. The State Government has also a longstanding record of misrepresenting, and consciously mis-spelling certain laws made by the Union with the aim to dilute the provisions.
The state government has repeatedly undermine the authority of the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) which the constitution had designed to protect tribal interest in legislative matters. The passing of three inter-related laws in the Assembly without even routine consultation with the HAC is testimony to this.
When we were ready to make maximum compromises on our political aspirations by saying that we should at least be placed under 6th schedule of the Constitution which will give a measure of autonomy without affecting Manipur’s integrity, we were rebuffed. The Meitei civil society opposed even that, and the Manipur government will not even care to tell us its mind on the matter. It will not care to answer repeated queries on the matter from the Central Government.
LET ME NOW come to the attempts to subdue the hill tribals with brute force. Let me go back to 15 years. We all know about the landmines that the valley-based militants planted in tribal lands, which claim upwards of 60 casualties. These victims, some of whose limbs and hands were cut off clean by the bomb, or have their intestines spilled over, never even got a proper compensation, to the best of my knowledge (There was a 5-part exhaustive report on this issue in The Northeast Sun, 2005-6). The valley militants never felt remorse,, and the valley intelligentsia, and the Media, were in denial.
There was the case of mass rape of civilian women in Tipaimukh area of Churachandpur by Meitei militants.
Then, there were those repeated attacks on the security forces in tribal civilian areas. For their own reason, the tribal militants in Churachandpur make it a policy not to attack security forces in public places. On the contrary, the Meitei militants make it a policy to attack them, and in tribal civilian areas. On 19 January 2004, the Meitei RPF militants attack BSF men in the heart of Churachandpur, and termed it a “New Year gift" to the people of Churachandpur. From 19 January to 12 July 2004, there were at least four such attacks in civilian areas by the Meitei militants in Churachandpur.
The aim of the attacks seem to be, among others, to terrorise the tribal people. The militant will release a burst of gunfire and ran away, and the neighbouring civilians were left to face the security forces’ wrath. A friend of mine, who was a nursing student at that time, was not beaten up, but was so terrorized and shocked that her heart was damaged, permanently.
We all know how the notorious Manipur Commandos selectively targeted tribal people. The valley people have also suffered in this, but these commandos seem especially motivated when it comes to the tribals. We watched the videos. We have a record of protests against them, in Moreh (2007), Mao Gate (2010), Ukhrul (2014) and of course, Churachandpur on numerous occasions.
We are also aware of how discriminated and deprived we are in terms of reservation benefits in state employment. A stark example is Manipur University itself. Articles have been written on this and ATSUM have provided details of the injustice done to the tribals at the relevant time, and I will not repeat them here.
We also witnessed the systematic targeting of tribal officers. For example, T. Thangthuam, IPS was assasinated in broad daylight. Till today, we don’t know the circumstances nor the perpetrators. He was just, taken out.
Even in routine matters like payment of ex-gratia to victims of violence, there is a record of partiality showing that in the eyes of the Manipur government, Meitei lives are more precious than tribal lives.
The demand for ILP and the passing of the three bills are the last straw. Throughout the two-month long process, the tribal people were never consulted even as they know we have misgivings. Despite this, in the Memorandum they ‘Joint Committee’ submitted to the chief minister, they claim to speak on behalf of the people of Manipur. The ‘Joint Committee’ dragged the state government by its ears and force it (or, is there a secret understanding?) to accept all its demands in toto.
During this time, many Meiteis, and members of the ‘Joint Committee’ itself, mocked at the tribals and call us ‘internal migrants’ from Burma. When the Moreh clashes happened, many Meiteis said the Moreh people protested because they are from Myanmar.
The Meiteis, I am convinced, generally never accepted us as ‘true’ Manipuris. They don’t want us. They just want our land.
Therefore, if we want to get out of an entity of Manipur today, they are equally, if not more, to blame. We begged all this time to be included, to be given a share in the state, and to be accepted. We were repeatedly rebuffed.
There are nine martyrs lying in Churachandpur. For us. For our future. On 7 September, Ibobi Singh issued a Statement. He did not acknowledge the sacrifices of these martyrs. He did not express sadness over their death. He and his cabinet members did not feel the need to come, visit and comfort the victims. From Imphal, they keep telling us we were ignorant, we were ‘misled, misinformed’ and that the Bills are good for us. After all this, they want us to go to them so that they can enlighten us about the wonderfulness of these bills.
They still do not get it!!
As a TRIBAL people, we cannot accept this humiliation anymore. We want out. We have no other choice.
There is nothing to be defensive about this. This is natural. And there is nothing anyone can do about it.
(This was read out during the Consultative meeting held at JNU, New Delhi on 8.9.2015)