Politics

In Manipur, the Long Wait to Bury Tribal ‘Martyrs’ Enters Second Year

Faces painted as mark of protest by tribals, Churachandpur, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Faces painted as mark of protest by tribals, Churachandpur, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Churachandpur (Manipur): Hundreds of protestors – dressed in black and with the words ‘Tribal Unity’ painted across their faces – from the five hill districts of Manipur – Nagas, Paites, Zomis, Hmar, Thadous – joined together in Churachandpur on August 31, to mark a year since the killing of nine young people, including an 11-year-old boy, in police firing, after protests against the Manipur legislative assembly’s passing of three bills, turned violent.

On August 31, 2015, three bills –  the Protection of Manipur People’s Bill 2015, the Manipur Land Reforms and Land Revenue (7th Amendment) Bill, and the Manipur Shops and Establishment (2nd Amendment) Bill, 2015 – were passed.

As soon as the news of the passage of the bills reached the five hill districts of the state, people, including many youth, came out to the streets in protest.

The protesters, comprising all the tribes residing in the hills, alleged that the draft laws were ‘anti tribal’ and were an attempt by the Okram Ibobi Singh-run Congress government to take away their land, the sole right over which is guaranteed them under Article 371C of the constitution.

The argument given by the state government that the bills have nothing to do with the hill areas and were brought in to address the growing concern of the people in the valley districts at losing their land to ‘outsiders’, was not accepted by the hill districts. People here, instead, looked at the government’s action as an attempt by the majority Meitei community to ‘grab’ their land.

Though traditionally the Naga and Kuki tribes have been at loggerheads, the protest saw people from both the tribes coming together to protest the bills.

On the evening of August 31 last year, the protest took a violent turn in Churachandpur town with many local youth setting on fire the houses of one minister and two MLAs representing the region – for not opposing the government’s move in the assembly, which then led to the killing of the nine people in police firing.

In response, the angry protesters said they would refuse to bury the dead unless the bills were withdrawn.

With no morgue in Churachandpur hospital, the coffins had to be laid on slabs of ice in a hospital room hurriedly fitted with an air-conditioner. Melons, brought in from neighbouring districts, were cut open to keep away the stench. As the bodies began to decompose, the hospital authorities requested the government for funds to set up a morgue, which was granted. The bodies were thereafter shifted to the new morgue – where they continue to lie, 12 months on.

In June this year, President Pranab Mukherjee rejected the Manipur People’s Bill while sending the other two for further examination by legal and constitutional experts.

Over the intervening months, however, the protest here has taken the form of a full fledged ‘movement’ for a ‘separate administration’ for the hill region. The protesters now refuse to bury their nine dead ‘martyrs’ till they are granted either a ‘separate administration’ or are brought under the protective ambit of sixth schedule of the constitution – a status enjoyed by most tribes in the northeastern region.

On August 31 this year most of the tribes of the hill districts came together to mark the completion of 365 days since the death of the nine young people as ‘tribal unity day’. They pledged their resolve in a public meeting at Churachandpur College grounds to not bury the dead till their demand for a ‘separate administration’ is met by the Central government.

However, unlike the last year, the protest was not joined by the Kuki community.

Women gather before the start of the rally on August 30. August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Women gather before the start of the rally on August 30. August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

People from other hill areas travelled long distances to participate in the Tribal Unity Day in Churachandpur. Credit: Akhil Kumar

People from other hill areas travelled long distances to participate in the Tribal Unity Day in Churachandpur. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

Preparation for rally demanding justice for tribal people in Manipur. August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Preparation for rally demanding justice for tribal people in Manipur. August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

Many young men painted "tribal unity" on their faces. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Many young men painted “tribal unity” on their faces. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

People mourning the dead on Tribal Unity Day, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

People mourning the dead on Tribal Unity Day, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

A lot of senior citizens joined the Churachandpur protest by tribals, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

A lot of senior citizens joined the Churachandpur protest by tribals, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

Faces painted as mark of protest by tribals, Churachandpur, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Faces painted as mark of protest by tribals, Churachandpur, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

Women pay respect to the deceased, Churachandpur, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Women pay respect to the deceased, Churachandpur, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

First Tribal Unity Day event, leaders from various tribes addressed the gathering August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

First Tribal Unity Day event, leaders from various tribes addressed the gathering August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

Symbolic coffins right next to the morgue where the bodies have been placed in cold storage. Churachandpur, August 31, 2015. Credit: Akhil Mukar

Symbolic coffins right next to the morgue where the bodies have been placed in cold storage. Churachandpur, August 31, 2015. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

The newly built morgue at Churachandpur The morgue where the nine bodies have been placed in cold storage. The bodies have been here for more than a year now. Credit: Akhil Kumar

The newly built morgue at Churachandpur The morgue where the nine bodies have been placed in cold storage. The bodies have been here for more than a year now. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

Father of one of the young men killed last year, next to the cold storage in the mortuary where the body has been kept for a year now. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Father of one of the young men killed last year, next to the cold storage in the mortuary where the body has been kept for a year now. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

Women wipe tears at the protest, Churachandpur, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Women wipe tears at the protest, Churachandpur, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

Women and children pay respect to the dead with flower tribute on the symbolic coffins. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Women and children pay respect to the dead with flower tribute on the symbolic coffins. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

Women perform to tribal funeral song in front of symbolic coffins. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Women perform to tribal funeral song in front of symbolic coffins. Credit: Akhil Kumar

 

Many sky lanterns were released at the end of the meeting to pay respect to the deceased. August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Many sky lanterns were released at the end of the meeting to pay respect to the deceased. August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar