Are Tribals of Manipur ready for a separate UT or State?

Prof. Solomon Vaiphei *

ILP : Public meeting at Churachandpur public ground and Sit-in Protest across Churachandpur :: September 4 2015.
ILP : Sit-in Protest across Churachandpur on September 4 2015. :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

Presently some parts of the world are witnessing unprecedented events. The Middle East, home to majority Muslims are at war; Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan are at war within themselves. In African continent too there are few countries engaging in ever lasting conflicts/wars. It seems that half of the world is at war thereby, subsequently, creating another artificial crisis of human migration to Europe and its neighbouring countries. In those countries, people are leaving everything behind and running for their lives with loved ones. The predictions from the Holy Bible seems to be started happening, may be itís the beginning of the WW-III.

In such larger political scenario and circumstances in the Middle East and Europe, what we see and face here in Manipur, a land having population less than that of a district in Uttra Pradesh, is nothing but a case of trust deficit and a quarrel within a family which can be sorted out through talks and exchanges of opinions, proper communications. Every one should know that such matters are internal state affairs which fall under the jurisdiction of the State Govt., not under the Central Govt., Central Govt. has nothing to do here. What we (tribals) gain from this chaos and public disturbances?

What they (Meiteis/meeteis) gain from such negative situations? Meiteis/meeteis do need to change, continuously, their mindset of chauvinism, untouchable and superiority. Changing mindset temporarily would not work longer in Manipurís interest. It should be continuous until all meiteis think and behave properly at pars which are acceptable to tribals. At the same time, we (tribals) need to acknowledge and accept that meeteis started admitting their mistakes in past. We (tribals) can not blame the present meitei generation for the things committed / happened in past. We also can not expect the changing of meetei mindset overnight, it would take time. Letís be realistic.

It is very critical situation and time in Manipur, every step / move by any community has to be very tactful and careful. Otherwise, more bloodshed and clashes could happen, more would die. Unfortunately, nine innocent lives in hill and one in valley lost their lives. Tribals fear that their lands, interests in the hills would be diluted or lost (whatever) due to the 3 bills passed by the Manipur Assembly. So they donít want the bills. Meeteiís apprehension is that their lands, interests in the valley are eroded, lost in the hands of the outsiders (migrants including mainland Indians). So they need some legal protection or mechanism. Thatís why the 3 bills were passed after 2-3 month long agitation of all forms. A perfect catch-22 situation, a deadlock for the Govt. Personally I would blame the incompetent Ibobi Govt. for the current destructive situation in Manipur. GOM should have done it wisely, carefully after consulting HAC and other stack holders of the hills.

The question is where and how do we move ahead from the present situation? Definitely, a middle path has to be found out soon. A middle path, a balanced path which is acceptable to both parties (hill & valley people). First step is to sit together and start talking each other on the issue. Until and unless we talk how do we know whatís there in otherís mind? Here, for the sake of discussion and exchanging ideas and opinions, I put two scenarios for an open discussion.

Scenario 1: Status quo of the present Manipur remain same with special lines for tribals inserted in the Bills.

First of all, why those tribal MLAs didnít study the bills thoroughly and oppose in Assembly. Are they real representatives of tribal people and their interests? How irresponsible and insensitive are they? Hopefully they have leaned a lesson by now. Itís true that the division between hill and valley became clear, after British left Manipur, under Indian constitution which provides laws for different castes ST/SC etc. Leave aside all these Indian legal stuffs for a while; what we do now is more important. What we want is: protection of our land and tribal interests including base year 1951. The new bills should not overwrite tribal rights. The bills are not completely anti-tribals, those bills are definitely not anti-Manipur. The fixation of year 1951 is not acceptable to us. What it lacks is some lines for the protection of tribal lands and their interests. We have raised our voice of concerns and protested spontaneously, the world knows our concerns now.

What is the next course of action? Govt. have invited us for an open discussion and debate. We should join and participate them to put our views and concerns. Until and unless we speak up on a right platform, who would know our concerns and interests. Itís time for us to put our concerns and interests into the bills or make new bills. Or do we really want break away from Manipur? Pros and cons of such divisive situation should be discussed and analysed thoroughly. I personally want to live peacefully, as before, in Manipur. Enough disturbances have had happened in such a small state.

After all, Kukis, Nagas, Meeteis, all look same to the mainland Indians in Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai. They all call us by some derogatory names. We all can live peacefully provided respective ethnic interests are protected and respected. Time to stop blaming each others. We all (Kukis, Nagas, Meeteis) can stop Manipur becoming another Tripura where indigenous people become minorities and live in deplorable living conditions. Itís better for us (Kukis, Nagas, Meeteis) to watch each otherís back and better to have win-win situation in Manipur. And we should not have any problems with any new meetei laws for their protection and interest, provided the new laws should not overwrite the tribals rights and interests.

Scenario 2: If Tribals are separated from Meeteis and given an UT.

Assuming that hill and valley of Manipur is divided politically and tribals are given UT status. In such scenario, lots and lots of questions would arise within / among tribal communities and some would start opposing too. Meeteis would not remain silent. Here I would like to put some straight questions to ourselves, to all our tribal intellectuals, brothers and sisters.

1. First, are we united within ourselves (Kukis & Nagas)? Who is going be what (leadership) and for which tribe? There are 10-15 different tribes in Kuki fraternity and another 15-20 different tribes in Naga fraternity.

2. Are we ready to forgive and forget of Kuki-Naga conflict in which 900 innocent kukis lost their lives and lost many villages?

3. Which dialect would be official language or communication language? For sure, every tribe would like their dialect/language to be elevated and spoken by larger section of the society.

4. What is our population? It is important from the Indian legislation standpoint.

5. What guarantee that there wonít be problems among us afterwards?

6. Are we ready for a turbulent political transition? Who would be responsible for the unwanted things to be happened on our innocent tribal people? Should we blame meeteis for that or Govt., if Govt. to be blamed, which Govt. to be blamed; centre or state govt.?

7. How and till where our political boundaries would be demarcated? Will meeteis accept our proclaimed boundaries? Some tribal areas including Lamka, Saikul are still in valley region. For sure, Meeteis would not accept present district boundaries in the state.

8. Are we self reliant, self-sustainable for basic necessities like food, cloths, electricity, water etc.

9. Are we ready to collect huge taxes from our tribal community for our own developments?

10. Whatelse we would claim for that new UT? Will those claims would be acceptable to all including meeteis?

11. If the divide happens so, Meeteis would not remain silent. Meeteis of valley may start asking tribal people to leave valley region, leaving everything behind (job, land, properties etc.). We have to give up so many things to meeteis to get that UT status. Itís like give and take. Itís universal phenomenon.

12. Meeteis/meiteis may possibly react violently, angrily and with hatred. Because the idea of division and separate UT/state is against their slogan so called Ďterritorial integrityí. They would block all the communication means, connectivity means, life commodities and basic necessities, in fact everything from valley to hills. Very ugly situation could happen, an ugly and unwanted situation similar to that of India-Pakistan partition. Are we ready for this?

13. Tribals would counter the above by vice-versa means, by blockade on NHs connecting valley, as it happens frequently in past and present. In reality, itís the tribal people suffering first & most from such blockade and counter-blockade drama. Are we ready for this?

14. Meeteis would cut off electricity to hill, hill would start living in Dark Age overnight until electricity infrastructure is restored or built very soon. Or they will impose us heavy tax for the electricity, if provided. Building such huge electricity infrastructure would take years. How many of us are qualified engineers to build / work for the electricity, other infrastructure?

15. How many of us, qualified civil engineers are there to build better road connectivity to Mizoram or Nagaland? What other technologies do we have for better water resource management?

16. Petroleum products are in their hands. They have two big depots, one at chingmeirong, another larger one at Malom (airport). Then we need to learn bi-cycles, bullock carts etc.

17. Do we have the blue print for our own education system? Etc. etc

In fact we have nothing except some IPS, IAS officers, teachers, some doctors & nurses. To get and to be elevated to that of an UT or a State status / level, we need to work hard, and fill the gaps mentioned above, then only we would be ready to be separated and independent. Until then itís better to sit on negotiation table and figure out some acceptable solutions. We need to work on common interests like regulating further influx of migrants from outside. We need to understand and respect meeteisís feeling of insecurity from outsiders and requirement of a legal protection. Simply speaking and writing things like UT for tribals, separate administration for tribals etc. would not bring any peace or happiness to us.

During such volatile situation, letís not aggravate it by spitting venom of hatred on any particular community. Letís remember those good times and good relationships. Letís not forget that it was meeteis who took care of us, provided shelter to needy tribal people during the 1991 Naga-Kuki conflict. No one from outside Manipur came for us. Meetei should also remember and acknowledge that how we cooperated and fought many wars side by side since the time immemorial. From the holistic point, itís the Hinduism which created gaps after gaps between meeteis and tribals. There are many meetei villages which shares everything with neighbouring tribal villages and co-exist peacefully for so many years, to name few Andro, Sekmai, Thiyam Konjin, Kakching etc.

Now we have two scenarios and the question is where we stand now. It is we (tribals) to decide, to be ready for the implications and consequences. Whether we want to live with the first scenario or choose the second one. We need to think & discuss very carefully with a long vision and strategies if we are to go for scenario-2. Once decided, we should stop blaming others, should stop being paranoid and work hard to catch up the speed of this 21st century civilisation and compete with others. Whatever, tit-for-tat situation is not good for all. We should not let it happen. Rest in Godís hand. Amen.

Note: Any comments and opinions are welcome.

* Prof. Solomon Vaiphei wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at solovaiphei(aT)gmail(doT)com
This article was posted on September 19, 2015.

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