Understanding the root of hill-valley divide in Manipur

Published on September 13, 2015

By Hejang Misao

Take away respect and humanity lose its very sanity. No one wants to live sans respect and none wants to die without honour.  The present fallout in Manipur is the direct result of disrespect to the tribals’ rights that resulted in high decibel act of protests and agitation.

Nine people have sacrificed their lives for an ideal cause – they died so that thousands may live in peace. The fact is that it does not come as a surprise. It has long been anticipated. It is in fact the eruption of the long accumulated unhappiness of the tribal communities towards the one-sided and biased government of Manipur.

Here are some of the facts that eventually led to the unfolding of the present situation:

  1. Manipur with its 22, 327 square kilometres can be better understood as hills and valley. 90 percent is hills and 10 percent is valley. 90 percent of the land is occupied by the tribals (Kuki and Naga) whereas 10 percent of the land is occupied by the general people (Meitei).
  2. The major community (i.e. Meitei), feeling insecure, made several attempts to grab the tribal lands through various means and policies – biological invasion, use of force, constitutional amendments, judiciary etc. A living example is the inclusion of many tribal villages and lands under the police jurisdiction of valley districts on the pretext of better and convenient administration against the wish of the tribal people, the use of landmine in tribal areas, repeated amendments on Manipur land revenue & reform act, and unauthorised settlement in tribal areas.
  3. Most of the development programs and infrastructures are valley centric, and as a result, the tribal communities are at the receiving end.
  4. The state legislative assembly composition itself is a symbol of injustice. Out of 60 members in the house, 40 are from the 10 percent of the land but the tribal who occupy 90 percent of the land has only 20 members which means any bill introduce in the house is always at their mercy.
  5. Some within the majority community played communal card with an attempt to divide and rule the tribal communities by terming the Kukis as foreigners which is a purposeful act of denying the fact/history that the Kukis who valiantly fought the British and saved the valley (Meitei Kingdom) from various invasions are the tribal people. This sinister design of the majority community badly hurt the sentiment of the tribals.
  6. The delimitation commission from the central government recommended equal sharing of seats in the state legislative assembly which means 30-30 but it is never implemented for fear of equal sharing of power. This act of betrayal will never be forgiven by the tribal communities.
  7. The Sixth Schedule is never implemented in the hills for reason best known to them when other tribal people reap the benefit of it in other North East states.
  8. Amidst opposition from the tribal communities, the government of Manipur ignored and neglected the tribal leaders, tribal civil society organisations and student bodies by passing the three bills (Inner Line Permit, Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reform (Amendment) Act and Shop and Establishment Act) under money bill, making the hill area committee a mockery. This can be construed as a blatant act of disrespect to the tribal communities of Manipur.

What triggered the present movement?

The Protection of Manipur People’s Bill, 2015 is in the reductive definition of the ‘Manipur People’ with the base year 1951. In fact in 1951 there was only a single deputy commissioner located in Imphal. Most of the government institutions were operational from Imphal untill 1965. Even he district headquarters in the hills were not linked with motorable roads and the remote villages of the hill districts were ignorant of the procedures of registration in those times.

There was no house to house census nor was it possible due to the remoteness of villages in those times. The district authorities had never insisted on mandatory village directory before the introduction of the hill house tax in 1966 under the Manipur hill areas (house tax) act. The bill is in contravention to article 5 of the Indian constitution where definition of Indian citizenship is clearly defined. Hence this is an unconstitutional bill which has the potential of reducing bonafide citizens to ‘non-Manipuri’ status.

On the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform (7th Amendment) Bill, 2015, if the state government has good intention and commitment towards protection of tribal rights, it could have clearly stated in the bill that it will not be applicable in the hill areas/five hill districts of the state. The government instead of making a law to enforce article 45 of the Indian constitution has been trying to extend the MLR & LR Act in the hill areas comprising 20,089 square kilometres. The original text of the MLR & LR Act section 1(2) is extended to the whole of Manipur except the hill areas.

However in 1989 without the consent of the hill area committee, the government of Manipur introduced a bill to remove “except the hill areas” in order to enable the act to apply in the hill areas as well on the pretext of money bill. The then governor had refused giving his assent to the modification by exercising his authority under Article 371 (2) of the Indian constitution and consequently the bill was withdrawn in 1990. Despite these safeguards, the government of Manipur has misused section 1(2) and 1(3) of the MLR & LR Act 1960 and its rules to illegally extend the same to the hill areas.

As a result, Moreh despite being a hill area under Chandel district is now mostly owned by the non-tribals. Taking into account such history of shadowy extension of MLR & LR Act, the present amendment which says that state government after obtaining prior approval of the ‘state cabinet’ can approve transfer of land to non-local will automatically apply to the hill areas too. This poses a threat to the tribal rights for which they cannot remain silent spectators.

The Joint Action Committee’s demand for ‘separate administration for the hill areas’ openly exposes the division between the hills and the valley people. The ongoing problem in Manipur is political in nature and a solution should be brought about politically by the central government.

The writer is a social activist working with DKA-Austrian project (the development cooperation agency of Katholische Jungschar – the Catholic Children’s Movement of Austria), coordinating Northeast India. He is also the founder of an organization called InSIDE-northeast. He can be reached at hejangmisao@rediffmail.com.

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