Governance and Human Relationships in Multi-Ethnic States

Dr. Michael Lunminthang *

Abstract: The Colonial divisions of the region into: (a) Frontier Tracts, (b) Excluded Areas (c) Partially excluded Areas, are still the main criteria of division in the Northeast region even after 70 years of Independence. The trajectories of the Colonial terms when politicalized have a deep impact on the ethnic relationships in states like Manipur. The paper asserts that Human and Ethnic relationships play a vital role in the dissemination of governance in the state. When relationships fail and reciprocations are ignored, we proved to ourselves that Governance fail.

Historical Analysis:

To summarize briefly the political development, Manipur was a full-fledged sovereign, independent kingdom till the Burmese war of 1824-26. Her independence was restored after the British forces drove the Burmese out of Manipur. A political agent was posted and even though he was supposed not to interfere in the internal affairs of the State, the Political Agent did not always remain strictly aloof.1

Misunderstandings began to grow and swell between the political agent and the palace and finally in 1891, the Chief Commissioner of Assam (Mr. Quinton) who went to Manipur to solve the Palace-intrigues was killed. She became a princely native state in 1891 with the liability to pay an annual tribute of Rs. 50,000/- to the British Government.2

She merged with India on September 21, 1949 after two years of autonomous constitutionalmonarchy. In 1963 Manipur became a Union Territory under the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963. On 21st January 1972 it became a full-fledged part –C state as a result of the passing of the North Eastern Areas Re-organisation Act 1971.3 Manipur covers an area of 22,327 square km between Latitudes 23.32’ N and 25.41’N and Longitude 93.2’ E and 94.47’E.

There are nine districts of out of which five are in the hills and four are situated in the valley. Manipur is basically a home of three ethnic groups viz Meiteis, Kukis and Nagas.4 Within the Kuki and Naga tribes there are thirty-three recognized tribes and some still asserting for recognition. They settled mostly in the hill regions which comprises of 90 percent of the total land area and no clear cut boundary line can be drawn between them. They are specified under Scheduled Tribes of India and constitute the Tribal population of Manipur.

(a)Colonial period: When Manipur became a princely state of the British Empire in 1891 the hill areas were administered by the British Officers. From 1891 to 1907, the Political Agent ruled these areas as regent during the minority of the Maharaja; but even after 1907 when the Maharaja took over the administration of the State the hill areas remained the special responsibility of the British I.C.S. officer who was the President of the Maharaja’s Darbar.

After the suppression of Kuki Rebellion, in 1919 the administration of the hill areas was re-organised. Four sub-divisions were formed; of which three were administered by officers of the Assam Provincial Civil Service appointed on deputation terms and the fourth was directly under the President of the Dabar (the British ICS officer).5 Under the new scheme, three new sub-divisions were formed: Churachandpur, Tamenglong and Ukhrul.6

Further the President was responsible for administration of the entire hill-areas of Manipur assisted by some officers of the State on behalf of the Maharaja.7 The new administration was abolished later on as it was difficult to find European or Anglo- Indian officers to fill the posts. Later on the three sub-divisions were amalgamated into two with headquarters at Ukhrul and Tamenglong, leaving the rest of the hills surrounding the valley which were easily accessible to Imphal to be administered by Manipuri Officers. The government of India Act 1935 did not make any significant change in the hill administration of Manipur.

There was a long correspondence and discussion about the implementation of the act between the Maharaja and A.C. Lothian, a special representative of the viceroy between 1936 and 1939 and one of the principal controversies was the issue of ‘hill administration’. Ultimately, the hill areas were put under the ‘Excluded Areas’.8

Dena asserts that throughout the Colonial period, the hill administration did not form an integral part of the general administration of Manipur state.

He writes:
As the demand for responsible government gained momentum in Manipur during the 1940s, the Maharaja wanted to introduce some political reforms in the state. Even when the exit of British colonial rule was only a matter of time, Pearson, President of the state durbar, insisted that until and unless separate hill administration regulation was sanctioned, no new constitution would come into effect.

Thus, throughout the Colonial period, the hill administration did not form an integral part of the general administration of Manipur state. The Maharaja and his Durbar had little or no link with the hill administration. The president who was already overburdened with the Durbar works and general administration of Manipur could not give due attention to the problems and needs of the hill people. On many vital and important issues, the president did things in secret connivance with the political agent.9

(b) Post Colonial: In 1947, the Hill Peoples Administration Regulation was enacted by the Maharaja, which divided the whole hill territory into circles. Each village of 20 tax-paying households or above, there was a village authority consisting of chiefs and elders. Above the village authority, there was a circle authority comprising one circle officer appointed by the government and a council of 5 members elected by the village authorities falling within the circle.

The Manipur (Village Authority in Hill Areas) Act was passed in 1956 and for the first time election of members of village authority on the basis of adult franchise was introduced. When Manipur attained statehood in 1972, the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act 1972 was passed by the state government. But unlike their counterparts in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram, no provision under sixth scheduled was extended to the so-called autonomous district councils in Manipur. They had no judicial and legislative powers.

The district councils were dissolved in 1988. The 7th Manipur Legislative Assembly passed the Manipur Hill Areas Autonomous District Council (Amendment) Bill on July 25, 2000.10 In July 2010 district council elections were held after more than 20 years under the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (3rd Amendment) Act 2008, which have no provisions for Tribal autonomy nor judicial and legislative provisions.

Till date, the rightful demand for the extension of the Sixth Scheduled in the hill areas of Manipur had been sabotaged with the pretext of adding ‘local adjustment and amendments’ in the Sixth Scheduled.11 On the other hand, the valley districts enjoyed the extension of Panchayati Raj under the 11th Scheduled and implementation of Municipality Acts under the 12th Scheduled.

Issues and Challenges

After Independence, special provisions were made by the Government of India in the Fifth and the Sixth Schedules of the Constitution to safeguard the interests and well-being of its tribal population. The Fifth Scheduled outlined the structure and governance of Scheduled Areas in tribal interests and the Sixth Scheduled was conceived as an instrument of tribal self-rule.

Tribal areas in eight states of mainland India were included under the Fifth Scheduled and the Sixth Scheduled covers the four north eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. The hill districts of Manipur however are not included in either Fifth or Sixth Schedules.13

According to 2001 Census, the Census Commission of India approved the total population of Manipur at 23 lakhs. Accordingly adjustment of constituencies or delimitations was to be made for the 60 house member of Manipur of Legislative Assembly. The number of 40 MLAs which represented the four valley district at an average of 55 Sq. Km per MLA had to be sliced down to 35 MLAs and the hill areas which cover more than 20,000 Sq. Km and represented by only 20 MLAs at an average of 1000 plus Sq. Km per MLA were to gain 5 Assembly constituencies.

This development had been stall by the Census Commission of India and the Delimitation Commission of India. 14 Manipur Legislative Assembly consists of 60 members, out of which 20 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes and 1 reserved for Scheduled Caste. With a multi party system in India and a total of just 20 seats/berths the elected members of the Tribal community find themselves in contradictory situations in the state assembly when it comes to safeguarding Tribal rights.

Another Act which is very much contentious is the Manipur Land Reform and Land Revenue Act (MLR & LRA) 1960, which was introduced in many tribal areas in-spite of stiff opposition by tribal groups. Lal Dena critical about the Act says, “In the name of development MLR & LRA has been introduced as piece meal in some plain areas of hill districts like Chandel and Churachandpur.”15

Some of the rules in the act provide that when a land is to be transferred from a tribal to a non-tribal the permission of the deputy commissioner of the concerned district is necessary. There has been consistent demand for the extension of the act over the hill areas from the valley based organisations. At the same time, there is also a simultaneous demand for the introduction of a separate land law for the hill areas of Manipur. The Advisory Committee on Social Policy (1995-1997) had already made a conceptual draft land law (for the hill areas) but nothing tangible has been done in this regard till today.16

Land issue and Chiefship goes hand in hand among the Kukis. According to Thangkholim Haokip, the issue of land reforms and abolition of chiefship are likely to dominate Manipur political scene in the near future. It may even result into plain versus the hills conflict. Unlike some Kuki chiefs, the Kukis in general are not against land reforms as such; what they demand is that before the extension of MLR & LRA Act, the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution should be extended in the hill areas.17 The MLR & LRA Act is now extended to:

1. 89 villages of Churachandpur district, vide notification no. 142/12/60 dated 22-2-1962 of the Government of Manipur
2. 14 villages in Sadar Hills of Senapati District, vide notification no. 138/4/64, dated 25-2-1965 of the Government of Manipur.
3. 14 villages in Khoupum Valley of Tamenglong district, vide notification no. 3/12/83, dated 14-11-1987 of the Government of Manipur.

One serious problem is that under section 14 of the said Act, a person in a tribal village can be treated as trespasser or encroacher if he does not apply for allotment of the land which he has possessed or occupied for generations without any hitch. During the budget session in Manipur Assembly, on 30th July, 2010 a private member bill was introduced in the Manipur Assembly seeking the rights of the Meiteis to settle in the hills by extending MLR & LRA Act in the ‘public interest’.

The bill was withdrawn at the instance of a Tribal Minister who stated that such a bill would complicate things when the state was already going through an acute social divide between the tribals and the valley people.18

Other major factors which led to the rise of secessionist ideology of Kukis also come from the neighboring tribes; the Nagas and Meiteis mainly. According to a Kuki sympathizer, more than 900 Kukis got killed 350 villages uprooted and over 50,000 Kukis are displaced because of Kuki-Naga conflict.19 While recuperating from the ethnic clash with the Nagas, another headache hit the Kuki society. The long drawn fight between the Indian security forces and the Manipur valley based militants in Manipur’s Chandel district led to a heavy toll on the innocent Kukis.

The neglected areas around Samtal village of the Dingpi ridge have become a haven for the secessionist valley based militants belonging to the banned outfit UNLF (United National Liberation Front). They indiscriminately planted landmines allegedly supplied by Chinese agencies, on many locations and villages of Kuki inhabited areas.

In Churachandpur district too a reign of terror was let loose by UNLF and KCP (Kangleipak Communist Party) both valley based militants, thereby resulting in the rape of 2720 women from the villagers of Parbung and Lungthulen villages.21 Due to landmines, cultivation and livelihood in their own lands has become difficult and impossible. They settle in temporary refugee camps. The Kukis are once again refugees in their own lands.

* Dr. Michael Lunminthang wrote this article which was published at Imphal Times
The writer is Assistant Professor at Ambedkar University, Delhi
This article was webcasted on January 09, 2019.

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