Since the evening of August 31, 2015, the town of Churachandpur in Manipur has witnessed mass protests. At least 8 people have died in police firing on protestors. These protests came in the wake of the passing by the Manipur Assembly of three Bills — the Protection of Manipur People Bill 2015, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill 2015 and the Manipur Shops & Establishment (Second Amendment) Bill -2015. The protestors targeted their so-called representatives in the State Assembly and parliament, for not blocking these bills.
Earlier, since the beginning of June, Imphal Valley has been witnessing mass protests by student organizations demanding that laws be passed that would protect the people of Manipur from being swamped by migrants from other parts of India and from neighboring countries. They have demanded an Inner Line Permit System (see Box 1) for the whole of the state of Manipur. One school student was killed in the course of this agitation, which finally resulted in the passing of the three bills by the Manipur Assembly on August 31, 2015. During the course of this agitation, protestors targeted the Ministers of the Manipur Government and the MLA’s for dragging their feet on passing these bills.
What is the problem and who is the trouble maker?
There is genuine cause for concern amongst all sections of the people of Manipur — the valley people, the hill people, as well as those from outside Manipur who have made the state their home — about their conditions.
The only source of secure employment in the state is government jobs, which are very few. The number of educated unemployed is growing rapidly. There is extreme shortage of higher education facilities in the state, and the youth are forced to migrate to distant parts of India for education and jobs, where they face humiliation, discrimination and racist attacks by the Indian state. Within Manipur, they fear that their lands would be taken over by “outsiders”, if no steps are taken to prevent it. This fear has been accentuated by the Look East Policy of the Indian state which envisages a rail and road corridor through Manipur to connect India with South East Asia.
The people of Manipur are a sovereign people, whose sovereignty was first violated by the British colonialists, and later on by the Indian Union which annexed the state in 1949. The people have never accepted this violation of sovereignty, and have waged a heroic and continuing struggle in defense of it. The entire people of Manipur — both the valley people and the hill people — have waged this struggle. This has been reflected in the united struggle of all sections of the people against the hated Army rule and for the withdrawal of AFSPA.
The economic and social problems agitating the people of Manipur are similar to those agitating people in other parts of the North East, and in the rest of India. They have their source in the capitalist system, and in the colonial and imperialist rule of New Delhi. The Indian state looks at Manipur and its people with the colonial and imperialist outlook of domination and plunder. It does not care for the people or their human, democratic or national rights.
Ever since Manipur was annexed and became a part of the Indian Union, successive governments at the Center have pursued the policy of dividing the people of Manipur and setting them against each other. Each section of the people is encouraged to beg separately for favors from the Central government. The Central government pursues the policy of appearing to now favor the one, and now the other, in order to deepen existing divisions, and smash the unity of the people. Through such a course, the Central Government has tried to ensure that the people of Manipur do not come together on one platform to chart a common course for the resolution of their problems.
The Constitution of India does not recognize the existence of nations, leave alone their sovereignty. The Constitution allows the Central government to change the boundaries of states of the Union. Article 371C limits the power of Manipur legislature vis-à-vis the Hill Areas of Manipur. The Central government has retained powers to give directions to the state government regarding administration of these areas. This a way to keep the peoples of the hills areas alienated from the peoples of the Imphal valley.
The Protection of Manipur People Bill 2015, passed by the Manipur Assembly will not protect the people of Manipur from the colonial and imperialist rule of Delhi, which is the source of their problems in the first place. It has been passed by an Assembly which has no real powers, as seen from the fact that it cannot even ensure the withdrawal of the AFSPA from Manipur which is the common demand of the entire people of Manipur. Furthermore, under the Constitution the bill will need approval of the central government and the President before it becomes an act. Historical experience should act as a warning that the center will use the period to inflame passions amongst different sections of the people of Manipur, through their open and hidden agencies. This is already happening, with various groups organizing bandhs and calling for a repeal of the bill.
The Present Indian Union is based on the denial of the existence of constituent nations and peoples, and their rights. It would be a grave mistake to expect that this state will ensure the rights of any section of the people of Manipur. The challenge facing the people of Manipur is to unite around a common vision of Manipur against their common enemy, which is the present Indian Union. No solution in favour of any section of our people is going to be found within the framework of this Union. The common task facing all the peoples of India, including the people of Manipur, is to unite around the aim of replacing the present Indian Union with a voluntary union of consenting nations and peoples, based on a new constitution that would guarantee, with enforcing mechanisms, the human, democratic and national rights of all.
Inner Line Permit (ILP) is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period. It is obligatory for Indian citizens from outside those areas to obtain permit for entering into the protected area. The document is an effort by the government to regulate movement to certain areas located near the international border of India. This is an offshoot of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873. The colonialists set up the ILP system after the annexation of Assam, in order to isolate and crush the struggles of the tribal peoples against colonial rule. Following independence, the Indian State retained the ILP system. With the reorganization of Assam and the creation of the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Nagaland, the ILP was extended to areas of these states.