ITLF denies allegations of Supreme Court-appointed committee on Manipur violence
Row of coffins lined up on the side of the road

New Delhi (Agency): The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) on December 7 refuted all allegations levelled against it by the Supreme Court-appointed committee in a letter addressed to the Chairperson, Justice Gita Mittal (retd.), insisting that it has neither been pressuring families to refuse compensation nor has it asked any family to refuse accepting the bodies of their loved ones.

The Justice Mittal-headed Committee, in its 13th and 14th report submitted to the Supreme Court last week, said tribal CSOs, including but not limited to the ITLF and the Joint Philanthropic Organisations, were preventing families from accepting the compensation and also pressuring them to not accept the dead bodies of their loved ones despite attempts from the State government.

The committee had also alleged that tribal CSOs were insisting on burying their dead at a site on the border of Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts, which would “serve as a source of constant mounting tensions” and “prevent restoration of normalcy”.

However, in the response dated on December 6, the ITLF said a cursory reading of these two reports showed that “the propaganda done by the State and the dominant community was relied upon”. The Committee on Tribal Unity in Kangpokpi district had issued a similar letter to Justice Mittal on December 5.

The ITLF denied the assertion that tribal bodies were insisting on burying the dead at the site along the buffer zone, further alleging that the committee members were not made aware of its meetings with the Ministry of Home Affairs on this issue.

The tribal body said it had already agreed to move the burial site from the controversial site and that it was promised nine sites where they could bury the dead. However, it claimed that despite family members receiving notification about this, there was no information on where these sites would be till as late as December 4.

On families refusing to accept the compensation owed to them by the State, the tribal body said it had no role in this and neither has it ever prevented any tribal family from accepting the compensation.

“However, the view among the tribals is that it would be an insult to the dead to accept money at this stage from the very State that engineered the ethnic cleansing. Hence the overall feeling is that after the dead bodies are buried with dignity according to the tribal customs then a decision can and will be taken as quickly as possible regarding compensation,” it said.

According to data submitted by the committee to the court, it found 38 families had refused it. But this also included the family of a Meitei victim killed in the conflict.

The ITLF also said that its spokesperson and general secretary and the convener and co-convener of JPO were not contacted by the committee. It added that the committee also did not contact the tribal outfits’ legal teams, which are available in Manipur and Delhi. It said these leaders would have more than willingly engaged with the committee.

It also said that there was an issue with the State government being responsible for arranging the travel schedules of the committee members. “Being taken on a tour by the State authorities, who, according to the tribals, have assisted the assailants, has its own problems,” the letter to J. Mittal said, further promising full cooperation if the committee reaches out to them to meet with victims and their families.

In addition, the ITLF also took issue with the committee’s criticism of the protest in Churachandpur, where Kuki-Zo people have placed 100 empty coffins to remember their loved ones. “The committee ought to understand the trauma and agony of the tribal families. To criticise such a peaceful protest in the manner done was not called for,” it said.

It also said it was shocked to find that the committee had told the Supreme Court that the State government was cooperating in rehabilitation efforts. The ITLF said this submission was incomprehensible because no work had started to rebuild and rehabilitate the over 7,700 tribal homes destroyed in 197 hill villages. It added that neither had any work begun on rebuilding the over 350 churches destroyed in the conflict. (Courtesy: The Hindu)