Addressing a gathering of more than 10,000 in Churachandpur town in south Manipur, leaders of various tribal groups, women and student organisations resolved on Thursday “to agitate peacefully without communalising” the issue of passage of Bills earlier this week.
They asked the six MLAs from Churachandpur to resign from the Assembly if the controversial Bills are not repealed. The earlier demand to grant “separate administrative status” to hill tribes was put forth, along with the demand to institute a judicial inquiry into the killings. A senior State government official in Imphal, however, told The Hindu that the agitators cannot escape responsibility as they “burnt alive” a person during the agitation.
A member of the Joint Action Committee, coordinating the anti-Bill protest, told The Hindu that they have decided to keep shops and business establishments open between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. from Friday. “Other essential services will also be available,” said Francis Songate, joint secretary of JAC.
“But what is surprising us is the attitude of the State government. They have made no efforts to talk to us. On the other hand, the Home Minister has said that if we want to resolve the issue we should come forward and seek a clarification, and this is totally unacceptable,” said Mr. Songate.
Curfew relaxed Curfew was relaxed for a few hours, according to officials. But the locals were “not aware of the timing” said Mary Beth, co-convenor of a women’s network.
Following the passage of one new Bill and two amendments in other Bills, various hill tribes hit the streets in districts of Manipur. In Churachandpur district bordering Mizoram, police opened fire on an irate mob. At least eight persons were killed till Thursday. The agitators, mostly representing various hill tribes, described the bill as “anti-tribal aimed at grabbing tribal land.”
While the administration expected a melee on Thursday and arranged for additional forces, the day passed off peacefully. Only towards the end of the public meeting a group of protestors set two government offices on fire in Churachandpur town. “One was the employment exchange and the other was the office of the Sub-Divisional Officer. But the women’s associations were active and quickly pacified the crowd,” said J.L. Swami, the spokeswoman of the JAC.
The group members also decided to stage a sit-in at the public ground, adjacent to the district hospital where the bodies of the local residents are kept, from Friday. Four women’s groups – the HMAR tribal women’s association, Zomi Mother Association, Kuki Women’s Association and Mizo Women Wing – will lead the demonstration. Answering the allegation that the agitators “burnt alive” a person, Ms. Swami said that it is not clear how the person got stuck in the house which was set on fire.
“The agitators ensured that that no one was in their houses. It was never the intention to kill anyone. But in retaliation, police killed half a dozen boys. They used rubber bullets to control the crowd in Imphal in July, but in Churachandpur they fired on the mob directly,” she added. She clarified that the hill people’s movement is “not directed against the Meiteis or any communities.”
Harmonious coexistence “We have been coexisting harmoniously together for ages. We are fighting against the discriminatory attitude of the State government in Imphal, not against any community,” she said.
Meanwhile, various other tribal groups in the Northeast expressed solidarity with the movement of Manipur’s tribes.