Guwahati: Ethnic tensions are rising in militancy-hit Manipur as some groups claim that a movement to expel “illegal migrants from Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh” is gaining momentum here. Leaders of student organizations representing the state’s ethnic Meitei communities protested outside Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh’s house on Monday, alleging that the immigrants were marginalizing the “people of Manipur”.
The crisis has been exacerbated by long-standing tensions between the ethnic Meitei or non-tribals in the Imphal Valley and the Kuki tribal communities living in the hills, as well as a growing number of refugees fleeing counter-insurgency operations by the junta in Myanmar . Many of these refugees belong to the same ethnic group, the Kuki-Chin-Zomi-Mizo tribes, who live in the hills of Manipur.
Six student organizations protesting on Monday demanded updating and implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state and formation of a population commission.
In a statement released on Sunday, these bodies alleged that the hills were witnessing an unnatural increase in population, new villages were springing up in reserve forest lands, and opium plantations had spread to new areas.
“The outsiders coming from the other side of the Indian borders, especially Myanmar, whose faces are similar to those of Manipur, are taking full advantage of having the same skin color and one language as they are building and developing their villages. are encroaching on the land which is state land on the hills,” the statement claimed, posing a “never-ending threat to the people living in Manipur”.
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Illegal immigrants are upsetting the demographic balance in Manipur, a decade-long increase of 39.54 per cent among tribal communities in the hills in the 2011 census, Leishangthem Lamyamba, president of the Democratic Students’ Alliance of Manipur (DESAM), told ThePrint It is being seen, whereas if we talk about better development of the valley, then it should increase by 15.72 percent.
Leishangthem alleged, “There are a large number of illegal migrants who have recently entered Manipur through the porous border with Myanmar. New villages are coming up in hilly areas with the encroachment of forest land. ,
Last week, protesters from the Kuki student body representing hill tribes and the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) clashed with security forces in Kangpokpi district after the government moved to remove alleged encroachments on reserve forest land.
Kangpokpi, Churachandpur, Tamenglong, Chandel, Ukhrul and Senapati districts in Manipur have been notified as “hill districts”. According to the 2011 census, the ethnic Kuki population in Manipur is about 30 percent of the 28.5 million population.
Leaders of Pahari communities have alleged that the eviction drive is targeting people living legally in the state. Kuki National Organization (KNO) spokesperson Dr. Selen Haokip said that “a village by the name of Ke Songzang in Churachandpur district was evicted on 20 February. This village has old records dating back to the 1800s. There is no illegal settlement in reserved forests or wildlife sanctuaries.
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announced withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement
Following the clashes, the state government announced its withdrawal from a more than decade-old Suspension of Operations (SOO) agreement with two Kuki insurgent groups, the Kuki National Army (KNA) and the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA). The government argued that these insurgent groups are being led by people from outside the state.
In a press release on Saturday, the KNA said the decision to withdraw from the accord at a cabinet meeting on March 10 contradicts the “essence” of the SOO, which “has ushered in huge peace dividends in the hills of Manipur.”
Meanwhile, CM Biren Singh in a tweet Said that the KNA and ZRA were “allegedly influencing the movement” in the hills.
Chaired a meeting with the Council of Ministers along with senior Police officials & deliberated on various issues concerning the protection of reserved forest, which are guarded and announced under the jurisdiction of the Central Government. pic.twitter.com/RPMlcn3Smx
— N. Biren Singh (@NBirenSingh) Mar 10, 2023
A state government press release also suggested that the eviction drive was aimed at ending the growing opium cultivation in the area.
The Kuki insurgent group, which is seeking greater self-determination within Manipur under the Sixth Schedule, signed a suspension of operations agreement with the central and state governments in August 2008.
Cadres of 25 Kuki groups under the Kuki National Organization (KNO) and the United People’s Front (UPF) have since been housed in 13 designated camps, with the government periodically extending tripartite SAO agreements with both the KNO and the UPF. This agreement was extended for one year last month. Currently, there are 17 groups in the KNO and eight in the UPF.
KNO spokesman Haokip denied the allegations that its leadership was from outside the state.
He said, “KNO President P.S. Haokip was born in Akhan village in Phek district of Nagaland.”
Haokip said, “Whereas ZRA President Thangalianpou Guite was born in Mualmuam village in Churachandpur district of Manipur. He escaped the military junta to return to Churchandpur.”
KNO said Thanglianpou was formerly a parliamentarian from the National League of Democracy, Myanmar, but has now acquired Indian citizenship.
Haokip said, “This government thinks that the KNO and the UPF are involved in poppy cultivation and drug issues, which is not true.”
He said, “KNO started eradicating those plantations from 2016 till the end of last year – all the photographic evidence and videos were sent to the government. Despite this, there may be some groups which are not part of the agreement and are engaged in farming.”
According to Haokip, the state government has focused its operations in Kuki areas, but there are opium plantations in other parts as well.
Haokip reportedly said, referring to the demographic residence, “When it comes to land issues, the Kuki are the first in line to bear the brunt, as the Meitei are located in the heart of the Imphal Valley, which is the seat of power, Whereas the Nagas live in remote hills.”
The Kuki insurgency began in 1991, when local communities armed themselves in the wake of a massacre by the Ethnic-Naga National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Ishaq Muvia (NSCN-IM). In 1993, 115 Kuki men, women and children are believed to have been killed by the NSCN-IM in Tengnoupal. The killings brought a large number of Kuki refugees from Nagaland to the hilly areas of Manipur.
Amidst the controversy, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) has submitted a memorandum to the chief minister and governor stating that the Manipur government “secretly, without proper notification, declared the Churachandpur-Khaupum Scheduled Hill Area as a protected forest”. affecting thousands of tribals living in about a hundred villages in the region.”
Article 371C of the Indian Constitution – a special provision with respect to Manipur – provides for the constitution and functions of a committee consisting of members elected from the hill areas in the state legislative assembly.
ITLF president Pugin Haokip told ThePrint, “The state government has always been against tribal autonomy.
He added, “The disagreement with a possible solution within 371C has resulted in the demand for a separate Southern Manipur Autonomous Territorial Council (SMATC), and it would not be surprising if radical groups demand a separate state or UT in the future. “
The Kukis also believe that they do not have adequate representation in the Meitei-dominated Legislative Assembly. In the 60-member House, 40 seats are reserved for the Meitei-dominated areas of the Imphal Valley, while only 20 seats are reserved for the hills dominated by the Kukis and Nagas, who account for 45 percent of the total population in Manipur.
Dr. Selen Haokip said, “Whatever mechanism you have, the Sixth Schedule or 371C – in their present form, they will not be effective until the imbalance in representation in the state assembly is removed.”
He said, “The Sixth Schedule was made for the tribal people, be it hills or plains. That status has been given to the Bodos or plains tribes in Assam. But in our case, any kind of constitutional safeguards for our land, forest etc. have been largely defended by the majoritarian rule in the state.
Kuki leaders also say that the state government’s discourse around “illegal migration” from Myanmar is an issue of ethnicity.
S Haokip said, “If the people who came to Manipur from Myanmar were from different ethnic groups, I do not think they would be treated equally. They are here because of the humanitarian crisis currently prevailing in Myanmar.”
The memorandum submitted by ITLF also states that pre-independence tribals living in the hilly areas of Manipur are being called “foreigners or Myanmarese” in their own land, which is completely “discriminatory, derogatory and inexcusable”. ” Is.
The memorandum states, “It is also unconstitutional to label Adivasis as foreigners or Myanmarese as these tribes were recognized and included in the schedule list of Adivasis in the Constitution of India.”
(Editing: Asha Shah)
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