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Manipur’s tribal unions demand constitutional protection of rights Union refuses to bury bodies of protesters killed in September 1 clash

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By our special correspondent

Shillong: The North Eastern State of Manipur is in for more trouble even as tribal leaders from the hill districts of Manipur have said they will not bury the nine dead bodies lying in the morgue in Churachandpur since September last year ( after three controversial bills were passed by the State Assembly), until the Sixth Schedule is implemented in the tribal areas. Romeo Hmar, convenor of Manipur Tribals Forum Delhi (MTFD), informed this at a press conference on Saturday April 23 which was also attended by representatives of the All Manipur Tribal Women’s Union (AMTWU).

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

It may be mentioned that following pressure from the from agitators from the Valley to implement the Inner Line Permit the Manipur Government convened a special session of the assembly on August 31, 2015 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 hill tribes comprising the Nagas and those of Kuki-Chin origin (Paite, Kuki, Chin, Hmar etc)have been demanding  the  Sixth Schedule to ensure that the rights of tribal people who are minorities within a state or geographical area populated by a dominant non-tribal people are not protected. In the case of Manipur, the Meiteis of the state’s valley area form the dominant non-tribal population. While those who demand the Inner Line Permit had formed an umbrella organisation (JCILP) comprising only of the Meitei people from the Manipur valley state, the hill tribes kept out of the agitation. The JCILP point out 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, hence the need for the three Bills.

The hill tribes however are sure that 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 maintained that if the Sixth Schedule was extended to Manipur, then the rights of the tribal people would be protected even if the three bills came into force.

The MTFD convener reminded 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 but till date this has not happened. “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.

Meanwhile another body called the All Manipur Tribal Women’s Union ( 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,” she said. The three controversial bills are now reportedly lying with the union home ministry which has in turn asked the Tribal Affairs Ministry to take a look at them. The Tribal Affairs Ministry has in turn sent the Bills to the Social Welfare Ministry for vetting.

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