Do we too have a reason to celebrate R-Day?

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'Do we too have a reason to celebrate R-Day?'
By Fatima Khan, The Hindu

Asks Manipur Tribals' Forum, which has been protesting since November 4 against State 'atrocities & rights violations'

On the eve of Republic Day, the Manipur Tribals' Forum of Delhi (MTFD) reminded the Centre about their human rights by staging a protest at Jantar Mantar and asked it if they too had a reason to celebrate January 26.

It has now been over 140 days since nine Manipuri tribals were shot dead on August 31, allegedly by the local police, during protests held in the State against the three "anti-tribal" Bills passed by the Manipur Assembly last year.

The MTFD, which has been holding an indefinite sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar since November 4, stated on Monday that their human rights were being violated "brutally and repeatedly" in Manipur. The three legislations in question are The Protection of Manipur People Bill; The Manipur Land Reform and Land Revenue Act; and the Manipur Shops and Establishment Bill.

MTFD convener T. Romeo told The Hindu that the three controversial Bills passed by the Manipur Assembly on August 31 were "just the tip of the iceberg" when it came to "longstanding severity of the plight of Manipuri tribals".

"The Republic Day holds a special significance in the lives of all citizens, as it was on this day they gifted themselves a Constitution. It is Article 371-C of this very Constitution that guarantees protection to the rights of the Manipuri tribals. How can we then be expected to be in a position to observe or celebrate January 26 when our rights aren't being guarded by the government?" he said.

Right under a big banner titled "Awaiting Justice: nine bodies unburied, 147 days and counting," the protest sought to express the "human cost" of the "State atrocities" by displaying nine coffins on the stage. "We, the tribals of Manipur, have suffered long enough. We have had our rights trampled upon for so long. But today, we pledge to stand up to defend our rights and fight for our just demands," said Thangkhanlal Ngaihte, one of the protestors.

TThe bodies of nine tribal youths lie unburied in a makeshift mortuary in Churachandpur, Manipur.

(The author is an intern with The Hindu )