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Manipur Tribal Protest: 9 Bodies in a Morgue, No Solution in Sight

The ‘coffin protest’ from Manipur has been going on for three months, with no compromise in sight.

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The situation got out of hand with protesters pelting stones and storming the police station. The police retaliated with indiscriminate firing.

Khaijamang Touthang ran towards them with his hands raised, indicating he posed no threat but one of the bullets struck him in the back, piercing his stomach. He succumbed to his injuries at the hospital. Touthang was only 11 years old. He is the youngest of the nine martyrs whose symbolic coffins have become symbolic props for the protest in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar by the Manipur Tribals’ Forum, Delhi.

The ‘coffin protest’ from Manipur has been going on for three months, with no compromise in sight.
The protest by tribal students from Manipur at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. (Photo Courtesy: Manipur Tribals’ Forum‘s Facebook page)

The indefinite relay coffin protest that started on November 4 is a constant reminder that the mortal remains of the victims still lie unclaimed at the Churachandpur district hospital morgue since trouble erupted on August 31, 2015.

The ongoing simultaneous protests in Churachandpur morgue and in Jantar Mantar are likely to continue, until the government of Manipur withdraws the three controversial bills – pending before the President of India – which the protestors termed as anti-tribal.

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Land Laws to Protect Tribals or Displace Them?

The Protection of Manipur People Bill 2015, Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (seventh amendment) Bill, 2015 and Manipur Shops and Establishments (second Amendment) Bill 2015 were passed by the Manipur Assembly on August 31, 2015 in response to the furious three-month protest that crippled the state, demanding the implementation of the Inner Line Permit system.

This demand was made predominantly by people in the valley who felt there was an urgent need to regulate the influx of migrant settlers into the tiny state, especially in the valley areas which constitute only 10 per cent of the total land mass but 70 per cent of the population.

The ‘coffin protest’ from Manipur has been going on for three months, with no compromise in sight.
Houses of MLAs set ablaze by protestors. (Photo: Sunzu Bachaspatimayum/The Quint)

In the angry demonstrations that followed, especially in Manipur’s Churachandpur district, protestors attacked and burnt the private home of local legislators and a local MP. Over the next three days, immediately after passage of these Bills, nine protestors were killed in the agitation.

None of the families of the protestors who died have claimed the bodies.

So far, MPs and officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs who have shown solidarity with the demonstration in Delhi have not been able to effect a compromise between the protestors.

The Manipur government insists that the three Bills are meant to protect the indigenous people of the state against migrant settlers and claimed that misinformation created the impasse leading to a fragmentation of the state along ethnic lines.

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No Compromise in Sight

On the other hand, the Joint Action Committee against the Anti-tribal Bills says the Bills have nothing to do with the protection of the indigenous population but are only ploys to encroach on tribal areas protected under Articles 371 C of the Indian Constitution.

The ‘coffin protest’ from Manipur has been going on for three months, with no compromise in sight.
The police station which was attacked by protesters. (Photo: Sunzu Bachaspatimayum/The Quint)
All the three Bills are unconstitutional and purposefully done to bypass the Hill Area Committee against the Constitutional provision of Article 371 C. To take an example, take the Protection of Manipur People Bill. According to the Bill, 80 per cent of the tribal will be classified as foreigner as it takes 1951 as the base year for identification of indigenous population.
Joint Action Committee, Chief Convener, H Mangchinhkhup

On the other hand, Manipur’s Deputy Chief Minister who is a tribal himself, feels that the government’s intentions are being misrepresented.

The Manipur Land Revenue & Reform Act is being enforced only in the valley areas and doesn’t extend to the Hill areas. The Hills areas are scheduled land, protected by the Article 371 C of the Indian Constitution. The state does not have any jurisdiction over it. So the new Bill is only a small amendment to regulate the sale of the limited land in the valley to non-Manipur persons. I feel some forces are at work spreading rumours saying the Act is to be extended in the Hill areas which is baseless and unfounded.
Gaikhangam Gangmei, Deputy CM, Manipur
The ‘coffin protest’ from Manipur has been going on for three months, with no compromise in sight.
Touthang is the youngest of those killed in police firing. (Photo: Sunzu Bachaspatimayum/The Quint)

The situation seems in a limbo with no resolution in sight. For the victims’ family, this may mean that they will have to keep mourning the deaths of their loved ones until the impasse is broken.

‘My only prayer is that after all this, I should be able to give my boy a befitting funeral that he deserves. Obviously this would come only after removal of the 3 Bills as per the wishes of the Committee and justice done to my son. I hope his sacrifice for the cause of tribals does not go in vain.’ said Nemneilhing, the widowed mother of the 11-year-old martyr.

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