In the last few weeks, the national debate has swung from state election storms to Tanmay Bhat to ‘Udta Punjab’. If these are the subjects of the ‘national debate’ (or prime time debate) in the eyes of the media, particularly the news channels, one should question the very meaning of nation.
While you were busy with the silliness of things on TV, children were braving water cannons in the easternmost corner of the country, which to our opinion-makers and profound debaters is another universe.
Where are National Media hiding now? Come to Manipur to see what’s happening in India. Don’t worry about TRP only. pic.twitter.com/HKBrIesDWW
— Mohen Naorem (@laimacha) May 30, 2016
Manipur has been burning for many months now over the Inner Line Permit (ILP), but things have gone from bad to worse in the last few weeks.
The protestors in Manipur have been calling for the President’s nod to three bills passed in the Manipur Assembly in 2015, which the state government says is quite like the Inner Line Permit (ILP).
And just a couple of days ago, on the night of June 7, members of Delhi-based Manipur Tribal Forum clashed with cops in Delhi’s Chanakyapuri protesting against the state government’s push for the Presidential nod to the bills. Some were injured in the incident.
Today, trucks carrying essential goods to the state find themselves stranded on the highway due to a roadblock by those opposed to the three bills.
But the Inner Line Permit (ILP) demand stays as is.
Which brings up the question: What is the ILP and what’s the issue?
The ILP is a system put in place in three northeastern states of Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. The ILP is a time-bound, Government of India document which allows the holder to enter a protected area.
Introduced first by the British in the areas under their control in the northeast, the ILP is aimed at protecting indigenous people of the areas where it is in force from outsiders.
Every Indian citizen in any of the states is required to obtain the ILP. Basically, the ILP is like a visa; its holder cannot buy or own property in the states where ILP is in force.
Manipur has been demanding the ILP for a long time now. Students and others in the state, under the umbrella of Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS), have been continuously holding protests asking the government to protect their rights.
They argue that the continuous influx of immigrants, especially illegal ones like the Bangladeshis, is threatening the indigenous population, its culture and economic prospects.
Sapamcha Jadumani, chief of the Federation of Regional Indigenous Societies, had told Indian Express in 2015 that “there is a serious danger of the indigenous Manipuri population being wiped out along with their culture, history and languages” due to outsiders.
The current situation
The Congress government in the state led by Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh hurriedly passed these three bills in August 2015 under pressure from a section of Manipur’s populace:
- Protection of Manipur People Bill,
- Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, and
- Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill
All three bills are aimed at protecting the people in the valley area of Manipur. The bills did not receive the President’s acceptance ever since they were passed.
This is why many students in Manipur, including girls braved water cannons, demanding expedition of the bills conversion into law.
CM Okram Ibobi arrived in New Delhi with 18 of his ministers and met Home Minister Rajnath Singh to discuss this very matter on June 7.
Members of Delhi-based Manipur Tribal Forum, formed last year following the passage of the bills, who clashed with the police in the capital were opposing the bills.
On that very day, the Centre rejected all three bills, and now legal and constitutional experts will review the bills taking into consideration all aspects of the hill and valley people of Manipur.
This brings another question: Why is there a division in Manipur over the bills?
Manipur’s demography can be divided into two geographic areas – Valley and Hills.
The valley is populated by the Meitei or non-tribal. The hills belong to many tribal groups of which the major ones are Nagas and Kukis.
Since the three bills passed by the Manipur government is skewed towards the Meitei, the tribal groups fear that the bills put them in a disadvantageous position.
Their contention is that the Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reform Act (7th Amendment Bill 2015) will allow non-tribals (Meitei) to own land in hill regions. They claim that since the bills set 1951 as the base year to identify non-indigenous people, the tribals risk being forced out of their lands because most of them don’t have records of when they settled in these parts.
This is why the tribals are still protesting in Manipur, with the epicenter in Churachandpur in the south of the state.
Immediately after the bills were passed in 2015, the tribals held violent protests in the town in which houses of state health minister Phungzathang Tonsing and five other lawmakers were set on fire.
They were angry because not one member in the 60-member Manipur Assembly protested against the passing of the bills. It should be noted here that the Manipur Assembly is dominated by Meitei; they have 40 seats as against 20 belonging the tribal.
In the 2015 agitation following the passing of the bills, nine tribals lost their lives but their families have not buried the bodies till date.
With nine empty coffins as symbols, those against the bills continued their protest in Jantar Mantar at Delhi.
Apparently, the long-drawn agitation to keep outsiders from entering and marginalizing ethnic Manipuris has divided the society of Manipur itself. Do note that the state heads to polls in 2017.