World Indigenous Peoples Day: A Commemoration with a Protest at Sendra

Mamta Lukram *

Villagers of Thanga Sendra Chingkhong condemn eviction drive on August 04 2016
Villagers of Thanga Sendra Chingkhong condemn eviction drive on August 04 2016 :: Pix - TSE

The commemoration of the World Indigenous People's Day on 9th August, is an advent of cognizance for the need to protect and support the marginalised indigenous communities from possible threats of oppression and extinction due to the expanding horizons of engulfing development. The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People (UNDRIP) resolved to commemorate this day on different themes every year, to initiate steps for promoting the rights of the indigenous people of the world.

This year 2016's theme for the commemoration is devoted to Indigenous Peoples' Right to Education, which calls for ensuring equal access to all levels of education, acknowledging there existed a critical education gap amongst the indigenous peoples. It reflects the everlasting endeavour for equality and respect of the rights of the indigenous peoples.

This day is an epitaph in the human history meant to privilege the rights and dignity of the indigenous people. It is observed across the world by different Human Rights based organisations. Redefining the significance of commemorating this day, The Sendra Youth's Club, United Club of Thanga and the Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur (CRAM), jointly organised the World Indigenous Peoples' Day at Ithing Sendra, at the refugee camp of the eviction victims where 11 houses are evicted, rendering 60 people homeless including 14 children.

The inherent notion of Indigenous People's Day is to outshine as a ray of hope for the indigenous people. However, this day peeped into the heavy hearts of the evicted victims of Sendra as a grimace. The deceptive empty promises and the coercive acts upon the helpless villagers overturned the day's meaning upside down with futility.

In the midst of the public, at the commemoration ceremony of the World Indigenous Peoples Day, out of distress, unable to express herself, with a heavy heart there stood a young lady; Laishram Sharmila Devi, 26 years, W/O L. Ojit Singh, Thanga Ithing, Sendra Part II, a mother of three (3), whose 10 months old youngest daughter got hurt in the eviction scuffle;

"when the confrontation intensifies during the eviction drive, police personals started firing several rounds of tear gas shells, we run for life....we look for safer places.... I was running along the Classic Hotel the higher place.... my little daughter, I wrap tightly around my back and run for our life....(unable to suppress the emotion, barely able to recover from the trauma..... starts breaking down...) even when we were helplessly running for life, they chased us firing the tear gas shells, in the scuffle....(breaking down in tears.... unable to speak....sobs...trying to utter bitterly in broken syllabi...) my daughter which is barely 10 months old got hurt....(breaking down in utter helplessness.... unable to stand and share..... sits down...still continue to sobs.... forgetting that it was a sharing) my traumatised daughter cried sleepless nights after the incident"

The heart wrenching episodes of life seems to have altered the feeble, ignorant selves into undominatable spirits. The prototypic bitter life experiences of being an eviction victim were explored with heavy hearts in a row. Bewildered children with hazy expressions from the prolonged exposure to the trauma were made to fancied cheerful daydreams, culled together and lying idle over a mat in the corner of the shabby makeshift.

The denial of access to any basic amenities of life like proper food, education, medical facilities, sanitation etc. transformed the lives of the children into living in an ordeal. The clement weather of frequent rain with humid atmospheric conditions compounded their pathetic plight of vulnerability to sporadic diseases. Most of the little children below 10 years of age are infected either with skin disease, flu or other. One young lady called Moirangthem Mona, quoted a remark of an empty promise made by deceptive leaders convincing them to leave the place;

" Pigani, noigi leifam pigani, yumfao saraga piba yabani (meaning [free style translation]- will provide, will provide you resettlement; would have provided constructed houses even, if possible). (.....continues.... in an aggressive tone...) then why chasing away people using tear gas shell? The forceful militarisation and brutality they have committed over the helpless ignorant villagers like us is intolerable. Even if we lost our lives in the struggle to protect our land and rights, we will never take a step back. Where should we go? Are we like birds or terrestrial being that can take off any moment? Watching our kids sitting idle when they saw their friends going to school infuriated us that we can sacrifice our lives for them... all their school books, school dresses and other necessary items have been destroyed in the inhuman destruction. This is our firm final stand that we will never take a single step back from reclaiming our lost land (......pause a while...breaking...) this is the land we inherit from our forefathers (...sobs....getting touched everyone sob....)"

According to one of Moirangthem Maipakpi, most of the victims of that eviction are the doubly victimised groups which have already been evicted from Sendra in 2002 and were made to resettle there after arriving at an understanding with the authorities to settle there for good. However the government served a notice to leave the area on July 23rd 2016. On August 3 the concerned officials came up with a large number of police official personnel and started evicting.

Scuffle broke out between the villagers and the military personals in the villagers' mere attempt to defend their houses and belongings from being dismantled. Curfew was instantly imposed in that area and during the act of brutalities at least 21 people were injured, some during the eviction, some during the lathi charged by Manipur Police, while others by rubber bullets and tear gas shell. She shared condemning views as;

"The day 3rd August 2016, a nightmarish incident took place in front of one would be as much helpless as a person deduced to mere spectator, who can't stop the merciless dismantling his/her own destroying our houses, they not just simply turn down the concrete walls but ripping apart our intrinsic entirety....."

The forbidden pages of eviction episodes beckoned the World Indigenous Peoples' Day at Sendra to unfold the life's reality of how people are striving for existence only; leaving behind the equal assessment to educational facilities as a far echo.

Militarisation, Eviction and conflict

Gender dimension negates the fact that women are weaker than the men. Nevertheless the social virtue apprehends women to be more emotionally weaker than the man. Emotionally breaking down is a matter interpreted very much as a 'women phenomena'. A social trend of imposition is upon men not to break down in public places to glorify the strength of masculinity.

Whenever a man breaks down in public, the traditional connotation conveys an indepth meaning. A man whose family has suffered the scar of eviction twice shared out one of the haunting life experiences in the eviction;

"my second son stayed at Imphal for his higher studies, when the incident came to light from media report, he returned home the second day of post- eviction......(...pauses a while....continue.....) seeing the dismantled house, in vagueness he enquired, 'Baba kadaidano changgadourisibo' (meaning; father where is the entrance/ where should I get in?) (...breaks down...summoning courage...pause a while....continues...) The stories of the forceful eviction makes him so restless and an avenging spirit seems to guide him the whole day long.....I am much concern about it......this act of eviction is a metamorphosis of exhuming us from the cuddle of if we are birds and animals. Such development policies will merely retaliate to more conflicts in the future; it will dump the society in perennial conflict situations....the society will never progress with this type of policies"

Plundering peoples' lives in the name of development will accentuate chaos in the society. The Development politics primarily focus on the infrastructural development upholding the material culture. Its progress check parameter doesn't accommodate the destruction it causes on the non-material culture. Lives, culture, the intrinsic entirety of the innocent villagers is never a part in the infrastructural development policies.

Forceful displacement seems to be the most commonest method deployed in acquiring land for the various projects. Hues and cries from the victimised people cursed every development projects in the state. Development projects thus become the essence of unrest and conflict in the society. Conflict and displacement threats engrossed in the development projects could have minimise through proper consideration of land management patterns of the indigenous communities.

It is a critical concern for the development policy framers and stakeholders that traditional cultures and ancestral domains persisted; therefore consultation, resettlement arrangements must be top priority in taking up projects.

The need to enquire into the real implementation part of the projects have been ringing aloud since the decades back so one can engineered a way out where development projects took up successfully with the wishes showered from the innocent, ignorant hearts of the marginalised people.

As a symbolic support to safeguard and defend the indigenous people's land and resources, without which no children can ever dream of accessing education; the World Indigenous People's Day commemoration at Sendra, Manipur concluded with a Protest slogan of "Uphold Indigenous People's Rights over their Land and Resources in Manipur."

* Mamta Lukram wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was posted on August 18, 2016.

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