Imphal: Fresh violence erupted in Churachandpur district on Wednesday afternoon after a spell of calm over the preceding days. As the day progressed, tensions spread to other areas as tribal groups in the Hill districts came together in a solidarity rally for what they describe as an effort to secure their rights and constitutional safeguards.
While a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the seven Hill districts Wednesday by the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM), separate demonstrations were held in few Valley areas against the ATSUM rallies.
Incidents of arson and stone-pelting were subsequently reported from parts of Churachandpur, a Hill district, and the neighbouring Valley district of Bishnupur. Several houses were reportedly burnt down, a few people sustained injuries in the clashes.
The solidarity march was called by the ATSUM to “protect the interest of the tribals” against the demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status by a section of non-tribals or the Meiteis in the Valley areas.
During the rally in Churachandpur, unidentified miscreants resorted to arson at several localities like Bungmual, Singnat, Muallum and Mata Mualtam. A few forest beat offices were set on fire in these areas.
Eyewitnesses described stone-pelting between groups of local residents in the Kangvai Torbung area of Churachandpur after reports of an arson attack at the Anglo-Kuki War Memorial in Bishnupur’s Moirang, around 10 km away.
Police in the two districts resorted to firing teargas shells to break up the clashes.
According to our Churachandpur correspondent, taking advantage of the Tribals’ Solidarity March in Churachandpur, unknown miscreants torched Anglo-Kuki War Centenary Gate at Leisang Village, about 3 Km from Churchandpur Police Station, leading to a conflict situation between the two communities.
Several houses have been burnt down and the conflict spread like wild fire in the whole state of Manipur.
Atleast 17 persons were injured and one was left in critical condition in Churchandpur District Hospital.
Tribals under the aegis of the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM) had called for Tribals Solidarity March against the inclusion of Meitei/Meetei in the Scheduled Tribe category across the hill areas of the State and the Peaceful Rally went successfully without any untoward incident.
However, after the Rally in Churachandpur, unknown miscreants fired Anglo-Kuki War Centenary Gate at Leisang Village, from which conflict started. Ironically, at the Gate of Anglo-Kuki War Centenary the valley based media persons were present but did not know who set fire the gate.
After the Rally, Memorandum was submitted to the President of India through the Deputy Commisioner of Churachandpur.
The Memorandum stated that various tribal people organisations had unequivocally expressed its stated position on the contested demand of the majority community as it posed serious threat to the land and existence of tribal people with the empirical reasoning that the Meitei/Meetei communities were an advanced community marked by 2000 years of civilization, unbroken lineage of kingship, superlative cultural advancement with its exquisite classical dances purportedly shown as the finest form of arts, Meitei (Manipuri) Language recognised under the Eight schedule of the Indian constitution, urban civilization for eons, participation and signing of international treaties with the British in 1762 AD and 1826 AD, academic advancement with high literacy rate.
The land of the tribal peoples in the hills of Manipur is protected by the constitutional provisions under Section 158 of MLR and LR Act 1960 (Parliamentary Act) under Art. 371C of Indian Constitution which stated that Tribal land cannot be transferred to Non-Tribal Individuals including Meiteis/Meeteis.
This Constitutional and legal protection given to the marginalized Tribal people of Manipur would become null and void if the advanced communities like Meitei/Meetei inhabiting the plain area of the state, constituting above 60% of the total population of the state were given ST Status in the state, it stated.
The memo also alleged that the demand for ST Status by the Meitei/Meetei, now 70 years after the Constitution of India made provision for Scheduled Tribes, was only a nefarious policy to exploit constitutional measures to grasp and dispossess the tribal people in the hills from their land.
On the other hand, Kuki Students’ Organisation (KSO), Tengnoupal, Kuki Chiefs’ Association (KCA) Tengnoupal and Kuki Women Human Rights (KWHR), Tengnoupal carried out a protest rally under the initiative of All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) at Tengnoupal District headquarter on Wednesday.
A memorandum was also submitted to the state government through Deputy Commissioner of the district.
The protest carried out under the banner “Come now let us Joint together” was kicked off from Tengnoupal village community hall.
During the rally protest many placards were held prescribing as Meitei ST demand is purely selfishness ‘no protection for our land if Meiteis’ became ST, Meitei’s are not Tribal, they are SC, OBC and Brahmin, respect tribal rights, our land our right, stop discrimination, government of Manipur stop evicting from our land, There is no government land in tribal areas, Meiteis are not recognised indigenous community under permanent forum on indigenous issues etc.
Slogans that read as, we strong opposed order of Manipur High Court, we want justice, long live ATSUM slogans were also shouted during the rally protest.
Speaking at the sideline of the protest, KCA, Tengnoupal President Sheikhojang Baite said that we strongly opposed the ruling of the Manipur High Court over ST demand. He questioned that did meetei community could be SC, OBC, ST and general, he said, adding the meetei community living in valley would never be an ST.