Manipur People’s Convention for a United Hills and Valley Peace
Manipur, literally translated “Land of Jewels” is a former Asiatic kingdom that joined the Union of India in 1949 and became a state of India in 1972. It is home to 2.2 million people belonging to a diverse community of over 39 ethnic groups and communities. 90% of the state of Manipur is hills and 10% is the valley; 40% of the state’s people reside in hills and 60% in the valley. According to many researchers Manipur has seen a 400% rise in its migrant population over past six decades. While the population influx has been a matter of great concern for decades, the situation has been particularly tense since 2015 when the demand for Inner Line Permit to the State of Manipur or to enact a suitable law intensified and three bills were passed.
As situation became vitiated, some concerned citizens of Manipur came together to start a dialogue and peace process to make the situation calmer for peace and reconciliation. Hence an almost historic meeting for a dialogue for Peace and Reconciliation was held on Saturday 11 June 2016, 9 am to 5 pm at Deputy Speaker's Hall, Constitution Club, New Delhi organised by concerned citizens from Manipur State.
In 2005, United Committee Manipur stated that migrants in Manipur are the second largest population group & in 2012, thirty two (32) civil society organisations came together and formed Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System in Manipur. On 13 July 2012, Manipur State Assembly passed a Resolution on extension and adoption of Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873.
Another resolution was passed by Assembly urging Government of India to extend the provision of the “Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873” for extension of Inner Line Permit to the State of Manipur or to enact a suitable law under clause (5) of Article 19 of Constitution of India. On 31 August 2015, Government of Manipur passed three bills namely (1) The Protection of Manipur People’s Bill 2015 (2) The Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reforms) 17th Amendment (3) Manipur Shops and Establishment (2nd Amendment) Bill 2015.
Just a few hours after the three bills were passed Manipur was struck by different forms of violent agitation on the issue where several houses were burnt in Churachandpur District and 11 people have died in valley (2) and hills (9) of Manipur. Protests continue unabated till today. Since then battle lines have been drawn and protests and counter protests have been reverberating in valley and hills of Manipur. Social media is rife with hate messages and divides along the lines of “Tribals Vs. Non-Tribals”, “Hills-Valley” have emerged. Protests have also reached Delhi, with one turning violent on 7 June 2016 where many protesters were severely beaten up by security forces.
The People’s Convention recently organised in Delhi sincerely aimed to bring peace. Many eminent personalities from the hills and valley were invited to witness this critical meeting and their expertise opinion sought and shared for reconciliation of the current crisis in Manipur.
Some eminent speakers who were a part of this important convention included: Mrs Rose Mangshi Haokip, President, Kuki Women’s Union, Mrs Sitara Begum, Muslim Woman Leader, Ms Binalakshmi Nepram, Founder Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network & Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace, Mr David Boyes, Founder-Convenor, Northeast India Forum Against Racism, Dr Alana Golmei, General Secretary, Northeast Support Centre & Helpline, Manipur, Mr Lakpachui Siro, Co-founder of FUNICH (Forum for Understanding the Naga-India Conflict and Human Rights), Mr Babloo Loitongbam, Director, Human Rights Alert, Mrs Lucy Jajo, Conflict Widow, Mr Harsh Mander, Director of the Centre for Equity Studies, Dr Anuradha Chenoy, Dean, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Mrs. Rose Mangshi Haokip, President of Kuki Women Union, Manipur said that Manipur State is completely paralysed and she lauded the creation of a new forum to talk about the problems in Manipur. She further said that she’s happy that such a forum is free from communalism and she hoped that the day’s convention would be fruitful to diffuse the situation in the state. Mrs Haokip also stated that the three bills are bills to protect the indigenous people of Manipur and should not be seen as being anti-or pro any community. All communities of Manipur, from the hills and valley, must sit down and look at the bills; she made an appeal on behalf of mothers of Manipur to ensure that a collective solution is found. She appealed to all that peace and reconciliation must return back to Manipur and appeal to all to join hands together
Mr David Boyes, who hails from Chandel District, Manipur and Founder-Convenor of Northeast India Forum on Racism (NEIFAR) chaired the inaugural & valedictory sessions, and reiterated that the objective of the People’s Convention was to promote peace. It is an attempt to heal communities by initiating a dialogue so that conflict can be ended in a positive and empowering method.
Dr Alana Golmei, General Secretary of Northeast Support Centre and Helpline stated that “Manipur is on verge of [a] hill-valley divide and we will need to build trust between the various communities of Manipur”. She also added that social media through increased miscommunication compounds the problem and this must be seriously combated.
Mrs. Sitara Begum a Muslim woman leader from Manipur spoke about the role of mothers of Manipur and all efforts done to bring together various communities. She lamented the fact that in over 6 decades of India’s independence , hardly any table talks have been done to bring solutions. Continuous bandhs, blockades, burning, killings are no solution. She argued that Manipur sees no development, as there is a lack of industries in the state. The resources are not being fully utilised. She suggested that the lack of this development is one of the major causes of tension between the communities. She lastly suggested that people needed to be educated about the idea of Inner Line Permit.
Professor Anuradha Chenoy, Dean JNU chaired the second session and suggested that the anxieties of the communities have to be addressed by building a dialogue amongst all and that three bills passed by Manipur Assembly need to be demystified. She lamented the poison in social media regarding the same. She also suggested that process of peace and reconciliation could be established by institutionalising processes; that there is an urgent need to build on the commonalities of the communities. Dr Chenoy also argued that one should not get limited by “identity” and that theformation of identities should be a continuous process. Lastly she argued that the common history project should be continued so that other sections of civil society can come together to uplift the situation of Manipur.
Mr Babloo Loitongbam, Director, Human Rights Alert, focused on the demographic onslaught of Manipur and India’s Northeast through Look East and other policies. He shared important historical origins of the start of the movement for Inner Line Permit and how the All Manipur Students Union (AMSU) signed a Memorandum of Understandig with after the death of two students with then Manipur Chief Minister, Dorendra Singh, on 22 July 1980 wherein the government agreed to undertake identification of illegal migrants. Later when government of Manipur did not fulfil this promise in 1994 during President’s Rule, under the then Governor Lt General VK Nayar, an agreement was signed on 9 November 1994 to settle the issue of aggrieved people of Manipur on issue of illegal immigrants.
He also added that a Permit System was in Manipur till 1940s until an official of Government of India, Mr Himmat Singh in 1950, removed it unilaterally. A protest from the first Chief Minister of Independent Manipur, Maharajkumar Priyobarta in 1947 stated that abolition of the Permit System will work to the prejudice of the state’s interest and it will afford room for people of Manipur being exploited by outsiders before Manipur can establish itself. Mr Loitongbam stated that the rate with which outside population is inundating Manipur will be such that in 70 years there will be 40 crore outsiders in Manipur and called for a way to regulate free flow of transferring a population. Only 0.4 % India’s indigenous people are in Manipur. The way Look East and other policies are being implemented, in a few years there will be no indigenous population in Manipur and in Northeast Region. He also spoke about the “Corporatisation” of indigenous lands and resources. Hence hills and valley of Manipur must unite to ensure we safeguard and protect each other.
Mr. Lakpachui Siro, Co-founder of Forum of Understanding the Naga-India Conflict and Human Rights (FUNICH) stated that the problem in Manipur goes beyond the three bills. He argued that communities should accept the historical oppression of the hill people. He suggested that the demographic politics are a real threat in the Northeast Region. He suggested that the three bills can be passed by the support of other communities including the Nagas. He spoke about the real and dire need to respond to structural problems in Manipur’s governance system and the need to streamline representation in Manipur State Assembly to ensure that misunderstandings are addressed and dealt with. He also mentioned that all bills that affect the hills must be referred to the “Hills Area Committee” as per Article 371 of Constitution. There are serious reservations that must be addressed. He lamented the manner in which the three bills were passed on 31 August 2015 at 11.30 am, 11.43 am and at 11.44 am, quickly and without any debate. He appealed to all ethnic communities to join hands and be in solidarity with the Naga movement to ensure that we will effectively fight together. He mentioned that hill areas of Manipur are protected against demographic influx but not the valley and that ILP movement can succeed only when hill peoples support it.
Pastor Kadimma Gangmei, who spoke at the Convention, stated that tension is high, that one cannot go against the flow but it is important that a beginning be made for better understanding between the Hills and Valley people of Manipur. Everyone longs for peace and unity and instead of focusing on who is wrong, we must focus on what is wrong. The focus on trust deficit between hills and valley of Manipur must be addressed and he stated that regarding the three bills, one can look at the objections and a solution can be worked out.
The two objections mostly are on 2 issues: (1) 1951 as cut off year and (2) Land Revenue Act section. Pastor Gangmei mentioned that he has read the bills and he stated that it does not affect the hill districts as the land revenue act is only for valley of Manipur and does not touch the hills. Hence he said there are many misunderstandings that need to be cleared, and for this we need better coordination and the trust deficit must be addressed. We all have problems and we must together bring the solution also.
Dr Harsh Mander, former IAS and currently Director, Centre for Equity Studies, said in his valedictory speech at the People’s Convention that the current stalemate over the bill is a vicious trap to look at the other community with suspicion instead of looking at the real issues. He appealed as a person born in the Northeast that it is India’s privilege to have diverse cultures such as Northeast to be part of our land. However, we must not allow violence and other situations to run the states of Northeast. He argued that political leaders are not going to take a stand. He appealed to the various students and youth of Manipur to fight the real battle against inequality and human rights violation and not take into consideration the created battles that manufacture these divisions.
Ms Binalakshmi Nepram, one of main organisers of the People’s Convention called upon all communities in Manipur to start the process of understanding one another, bridge the gap of years of historical wrongs and forgive one another to ensure that we all forge together a common destiny. She reiterated that 90% of India’s Northeast region is made up of indigenous people and that it is important as we seek solutions to look into the landmark 2007 UN Convention on Rights of Indigenous People to ensure that we find solutions together.
She also appealed to all to ensure that we live in a land of diverse people and that we all have to learn to respect and live with one another. In Manipur where we have ethnic groups as small as 300 or 500 in number, those too have the right to exist and it is important that we work together to ensure our common future and survival. She reiterated that the convention is the start of a historic process and this will be continued.She appealed to women leaders all across Manipur and Northeast India to lead process in bringing peace and solution.
Other important people who spoke include Major (retd.) Yambem Angamba, Former ADC to J & K Governor, Miraj Shah, President Manipur Students Association Delhi, Mr K.D Singh, IPS & Mr H Nageshwar Singh, Secretary, Manipuri Disapora Association, Mr Debeshwar Singh, Social Worker, Mr W. Anand Singh, CREDO, Mr Shambhu, Jenil of Social Warriors Manipur, Mr Amit Luwang, Political Leader, Mr Ghanashyam Moirangcha, IT Professional & also Mr Rajen Chettri from Manipur Gorkha Community amongst many others. The meeting was well-attended by many from various communities of Manipur.
The meeting was arranged by concerned citizens, humanitarians and the aim is for all communities from Manipur who are living, working in Delhi/ NCR to come together and find common solutions for peace with regard to current concerns back home. Many prominent personalities keen to find positive solutions attended the people’s convention. The meet successfully resulted in positive strategies and recommendations.
A Manipur People’s Resolution was also successfully adopted at the Convention wherein it was reiterated that Manipur is a land of multi-ethnic communities consisting of Meiteis, Nagas, Kukis, Zomis, Gorkhas, Punjabis, Tamil, Marwaries etc and that we the concerned communities would like to ensure that we all live with peace, harmony and dignity.
The Convention also resolved that historical struggle for the ILP or its equivalent protection that started in 1980s and continues till now spearheaded by JCILPS. The Convention also recognises the concerns of hill people of Manipur, their reservations and fears towards the three bills and resolve to work to ensure that a solution is bring brought about. An important historic beginning to ensure that all communities sit down together, discuss our grievances and ensure we work for solutions symbolising the spirit of the People’s Convention which was well attended. The Convention also strongly appealed to organisers of on going protests to ensure that no students below age of 18 is used in protests as it is a violation of Child Rights Convention and that recurring blockades that block medical and other emergency must not be hampered.
A proper protest that respects human rights and IHL must be adhered to. The Convention also adopted strongly that Manipur and Northeast India have all been connected to New Delhi and not with each other and hence efforts be made – socially, culturally, politically, economically— for people of Manipur and NE region to build bridges of understanding. The Convention also called for lifting of all forms of military laws such as AFSPA in the region.
The organisers thank each and every one who participated at the Convention, shared free and frank opinions and ensure that we work for solutions and not blame game. The mothers of Manipur will be ensuring their support to ensure that this spirit of peace and reconciliation is carried on and the meeting resolved to have another such follow up convention in Manipur in June 2016.
This is an edited version of a report that was first published on e-pao.net
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