Manipur’s tribal people demand constitutional protection of rights

New Delhi, April 23 (IANS) Tribal leaders from Manipur’s hills insisted on Saturday that they would not bury the bodies of nine protesters killed in clashes with the police after the state assembly passed three controversial bills last year till a constiitutional provision protecting the rights of indegenous peoples was extended to the northeastern state.

“Today is the 236th day since the bodies have been lying in a morgue in Churachandpur,” Romeo Hmar, convener of Manipur Tribals Forum Delhi (MTFD), said at a press conference here that was also attended by representatives of the All Manipur Tribal Women’s Union (AMTWU).

“Till today, no FIR has been lodged against anybody responsible for the deaths of the nine people,” Hmar said, adding that the tribal people would not rest till the provisions of the constitution’s sixth schedule were extended to Manipur.

The sixth schedule ensures that the rights of tribal people who are minorities within a state or geographical area populated by a dominant non-tribal people are not subsumed within the rights framework of the latter.

In the case of Manipur, the Meiteis of the state’s valley area form the dominant non-tribal population.

Ostensibly to safeguard the rights of the indigenous people, the Manipur government, bowing to pressure from agitators from the Valley, convened a special session of the assembly last August 31 and passed three controversial bills — the Protection of Manipur People Bill, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill (Seventh Amendment) and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill.

The very day the bills were passed, protestors, mainly comprising tribal organisations, torched five houses belonging to Congress legislators. Among them were the dwellings of Health and Family Welfare Minister Phungzathang Tonsing and Lok Sabha member from Outer Manipur Thangso Baite in Churachandpur district.

The violence and resultant police action left nine people dead on September 1.

The nine bodies are still lying in a Churachandpur hospital morgue with the families refusing to bury them till the hill peoples’ demands are met.

The state government had passed the bills after a three-month-long agitation spearheaded by the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS) demanding the enforcement of an inner line permit system similar to those in force in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland to check the influx of non-Manipuris into the state.

The JCILPS says that according to the 2011 census, Manipur’s population is 2.7 million. Of this, only 1.7 million are indigenous people while the rest are people who have their roots outside the state.

However, according to the tribes inhabiting the hills of Manipur, the three bills would directly undermine the existing safeguards for the tribal hill areas regarding land ownership and population influx, as the primary threat for the tribal people came not from outside the state but from the Meitei people of the valley itself.

Hmar on Saturday said that if the sixth schedule was extended to Manipur, then the rights of the tribal people would be protected if the three bills came into force.

“Manipur’s tribal people are the only tribal people of the northeastern states who are not covered under the sixth schedule,” Hmar said.

“We are not making a demand for it, we are claiming what is legitimately due to us. Give us equal treatment like other tribal people in the rest of India.”

The MTFD convener said that prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, while addressing the parliament in 1994 after the sixth schedule was extended to Tripura, had said that it would be extended to Manipur as well.

“Till today, nothing has happened. We will bury the bodies of the nine protesters as soon as the Sixth Schedule is extended to Manipur,” Hmar said.

Nianglian, convener of AMTWU, said that the tribal people were demanding to know why they have not been given justice.

“Why has the government of India not let us know about the status of the bills?” she asked.

“We are not asking for something impossible but something that is possible,” she said.

The three controversial bills are now reportedly lying with the union home ministry.

–IANS

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