Manipur has been simmering with constant protests and clashes for more than a month although the mainstream media has not explored it at length owing to the collective isolation of the Northeast that the rest of the country is guilty of. The bone of contention is the Inner Line Permit (ILP) which has fanned age-old divisions within the state.
ILP is an official travel document or a special permit issued by the Government of India which allows Indian citizens to travel to certain protected areas for a limited period of time.
An indefinite curfew now looms over the Northeastern state after the agitation reached its zenith on Monday when things took an ugly turn as violence erupted in Churachandpur district where three people were killed and 14 injured and mobs set fire to residences of senior cabinet minister Phungzathang Tonsing, as well as three other legislators.
The violent outburst was the aftermath of the passing of three Bills in the Assembly aimed at protecting the ‘indigenous people of the state’. The three bills, The Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh amendment) Bill, 2015, and The Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015, that were unanimously passed, seek to regulate the entry of outsiders in the state through the Inner Line Permit system and carry out land reforms.
The amendment bill Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reform Act (7th Amendment Bill 2015) passed is said to have stirred the protest even further. The legislators were reportedly targeted for not objecting to the bills and allowing them to be passed.
Three tribal students’ organisations namely: All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM), Kuki Students Organisation (KSO) and All Naga Students Association Manipur (ANSAM) who had called a 12-hour ‘bandh’ in the hill districts are suspected to be behind the violence.
“There is a systematic spread of misinformation in this state working for an ethic divide between various groups. The hill tribes were as it is protected by the Constitution but the valley people were not. Because of the long time distrust between the Kukis and Nagas there are elements present in both the tribes that is fanning the flames.” says Manipur rights activist Babloo Loitongbam.
Asserting that the current violence is due to widespread misinformation, Loitongbam says that the agitation was the result of the perception that the Bills were ‘anti tribal’. “Student bodies are divided on this agitation; the anger that has triggered this violence has absolutely no basis. In fact, the bills that have been passed have actually restricted outsiders and protected the interests of the indigenous population,” he added.
Though ILP was originally introduced by the British to safeguard their commercial interests, its use was continued to ‘protect tribal cultures in Northeast India’. It is currently used in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland and is being demanded in Manipur, Assam and Meghalaya. It was in 1980 when the first demand for the implementation of the ilp in Manipur was made.
Succumbing to the pressure, the Manipur government introduced the Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers Bill, 2015 in the Assembly in May which was opposed by Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS) stating that it did not provide the same protection. The JCILPS thus began organizing rallies throughout the state backed by the valley-dwelling Metei community in an effort to add the pressure on the legislators.
On 15 July, the earlier drafted Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers Bill was withdrawn from the House with Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh promising to introduce the ILP Bill within a period of three months. On 16 July, a 12-hour bandh was called in the state during which a 16-year-old boy died during a clash between the protestors and the police.
Now, the current set of legislations has brought tribal student groups to the street. Facing an indefinite curfew, Manipur has been witnessing violent agitations for years with prospects of normalcy returning to the streets looking scarce by the day.