60 Minutes | Society

Indigenous people will become strangers in their own lands: Aribam Syam Sharma

Aribam Syam Sharma   | Photo Credit: Borun

Aribam Syam Sharma, the 83-year-old lyricist, actor, singer, music composer, theatre personality, film director and college lecturer, is busy directing a new Manipuri film, Nongphadok Lakpada.

Sharma has made 14 feature films, of which Saaphabee, Olangthagi Wangmadasoo, Imagi Ningthem, Ishanou, Sanabi and Leipaklei bagged national film awards. He has also made 30 documentaries on cultural and social issues. In 2015, a retrospective of Sharma’s cinema was organised for the International Film Festival of India at Goa.

Sharma hit national headlines recently when he announced that he would be returning the Padma Shri to protest the Citizenship Bill. It was awarded to him in 2006 in recognition of his contribution to Manipuri cinema. “A day will come soon when indigenous people will become strangers in their own home States,” says Sharma in this interview. Excerpts:

What made you decide to return the Padma Shri, one of the highest honours accorded to a civilian?

Frankly, it is one of the most precious awards in my life. I would treasure it till my last moment. But I had to take the most painful decision since it is for the cause of the people of Manipur and other northeastern States.

With the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in the Parliament, the final nail will be driven into the coffin. I am glad that the activists opposed to the contentious Bill have appreciated this step. Some of the activists personally came to me to convey their appreciation.

However, I am very doubtful that the Bill will be withdrawn despite the orchestrated demand by the people and their representatives in the Northeast. The President, Prime Minister and others have made it crystal clear that the Bill will be passed.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said that the Centre will protect the interests of the people of Manipur while enforcing the new Act, and Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh has said that a clause will be added to protect the interests of the people in the Northeast.

People have spurned these assurances, How will the Centre protect our interests? Besides, people are not convinced about the ‘clause’ as the Lok Sabha had already passed the Bill in its present form. If some changes are to be made then the Bill should be withdrawn first.

There are just two MPs from Manipur in the Lok Sabha. The hopelessly microscopic representation cannot make any change, as they cannot have their voices heard.

The all-out agitations in Manipur have failed to create ripples at the national level.

How do you foresee the swamping of the indigenous peoples once the floodgates are opened?

The indigenous people in the region are very small in number. There are hardly 29 lakh people in Manipur, which has a territorial area much smaller than other big States and even any district of Uttar Pradesh. Tripura is an example of how the indigenous people can be reduced to a hopeless minority. The Tripuris are fighting a losing battle for preserving their distinctive identity.

As things stand now, the increasing population of non-locals in Manipur may lead to a demographic imbalance. Once the Bill is enacted, people from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan can just enter India and settle anywhere. The situation will be more scary once Manipur is connected with Assam through rail lines.

The Centre could provide them suitable land for settlement. In the absence of such an arrangement, those migrantswill simply rush to the northeastern States for many reasons, easy means of livelihood in particular. A day will come soon when the indigenous people will become strangers in their own lands.

The people of Manipur have been demanding the introduction of the Inner Line Permit system. The ILP system that is in force in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland regulates the entry of outsiders. The Centre, which is not listening to the demand, is instead going ahead with the Bill. This is highly objectionable. The chief ministers of some Northeast States have already made their stand clear on the issue. The Manipur government is yet to make a similar clarification.

How should the campaign go on?

A chief minister cannot do much in this regard. All sections of people including young and old should join hands. Because next week may be too late. There is nothing we can do about those who will become bona fide Indian citizens after the Bill becomes an Act. A resolution could be taken in the Assembly, and a strong message conveyed to Parliament. This will go a long way in preserving the identity and culture of the people of the region.

But going by the stand taken by the President, the Prime Minister and the BJP chief regarding the Bill, there may be virtually nothing the people can do. I am afraid this Bill will spread hatred among the people since it is a question of losing a distinctive identity.

Kongbam, Advisor of Film Forum, Manipur, and President of Film Society of Manipur, was awarded Best Film Critic in 2015.

This article has been re-edited post publication.
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Printable version | Nov 24, 2020 1:43:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/indigenous-people-will-become-strangers-in-their-own-lands-aribam-syam-sharma/article26215177.ece

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