While it may be indisputable that the classy game of Polo originated in Manipur, the identity of who makes up the people of Manipur is a far more contentious and heated issue and debate, especially in wake of three controversial bills passes recently - the Protection of Manipur People Bill, Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill and Manipur Shops and Establishments Bill.
Since the pre-colonial times there has been a wedge between the people living in the beautiful valley and the tribals inhabiting the lovely, green hills. A gap that became more gaping with a difference in community life and culture – Christian and tribal in the hills and pre-dominantly Hindu in the valley.
The British, and then the Indian governments, didn’t do enough to bridge this gap and all the people being clubbed together under the single state of Manipur has been a source of intense conflict since then.
The fact that more political representation too is from the valley people, leaves the Hill people bemoaning insufficient representation and hence woefully less focus on their interests and concerns.
In 1972, Article 371 – C amendment was made to the Constitution of India – by passing The Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order. This allowed for any laws made for Manipur to be passed by this Hill Areas Committee (HAC). The only subject for amendment that were omitted from the need to be whetted by the HAC related only money matters.
The Hill people allege that the three Bills that have been passed were scuttled through by erroneously putting them under the category of Money Bills, which they by no means are. In fact, it has been done so to undermine the identity of a substantial number of people living in the Hill Areas as well as making it easier for the local administration to sell off land more easily.
This issue took on a bloody turn when during a peaceful protest march on September 1 undertaken by the Hill communities, including Nagas and other local tribal communities, the police opened fire on the protesters. Ten people were killed, including teen-agers and an 11-year old boy. The angry protesters refused to bury the bodies until and unless the Bills were reviewed and revoked and their demands looked seriously into.
Believing that they would not get support or a fair hearing in Manipur, the protesters have submitted a memorandum to the PMO and also met MoS Kiren Rijiju to look into this matter for a more long-term solution.
In addition, the Naga Students’ Union, Delhi (NSUD) and the Manipur’s Tribal Forum, Delhi (MTFD)s organised a protest rally in Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on the 6th of November to draw attention to the innocent martyrs of Manipur. And this was not the first time such deaths at the hand of the police have occurred. Two Naga students were killed in 2010, and two last year, again while protesting peacefully.
Human rights and land ownership issues have been an on-going struggle in Manipur for a long time. Irom Sharmila, the best known face of Manipur, has been on a fast against the highly contentious AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), 1958, that gives inordinate powers and immunity to military and security forces, and has been alleged and proved to be used with impunity.
In addition, in November last year also Manipri students had protested at Jantar Mantar against the Governent nominating the village of Haolenphai in Moreh - a town on the Indo-Myanmar border, to develop as a smart city.