Militarization in Manipur and Namching resistance

Jiten Yumnam *

Volunteers of Maha Kabui Namching Youth Club and Women's Society blocked Keithelmanbi-Maha Kabui stretch :: Oct 1 2012
Volunteers of Maha Kabui Namching Youth Club and Women's Society blocked Keithelmanbi-Maha Kabui stretch :: Oct 1 2012 :: Pix - TSE

Namching Mahakabui village in Senapati district in Manipur hits media headlines once more in October 2012. Again for the same reason as in the year 2004, of villagers steadfastly resolving against any transfer of their village land to the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary forces of India involved in counter insurgency in Manipur in India’s North East and which operates under the highly controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958. Way back in 2004, the villagers stiffly and successfully fended off the Manipur Government officials who came to demarcate land for transfer to Assam Rifles. The villagers still recounts how the Chief Minister of Manipur, Mr. Okram Ibobi in 2003 fled for his life as womenfolk, infuriated by the arbitrary land acquisition moves, chased him away from the village.

The villagers of Namching are worried again that the State Government would forcefully acquire 24.51 acres of land from their village to hand over to 9 Sector Assam Rifles to convert into a firing range. The villagers had legitimate reasons for their stern opposition to any further land confiscation and transfer. The villagers still laments how the Government of Manipur confiscated 209.98 acres of their land in 1991 without their consultation and consent and transferred forcefully to 28 Assam Rifles without any compensation and rehabilitation. The villagers deeply regret losing their rich tract of fertile land, which they used for Jhum farming and cultivation of spices, seasonal vegetables, fruits. These areas is also laden with rich forest and naturally is a source for their perennial waters.

Permanently losing this reliable and primary livelihood source of the villagers in all these years without receiving a single compensation from the Government will naturally haunts the villagers with big nightmarish experiences and these memories can never and simply be wished away. The villagers of Namching Mahakabui villages submitted series of memorandums to all concerned authorities of the Government, seeking the cancellation of eviction order for allotting lands to the Assam Rifles. Notwithstanding these submissions, the SDC of Kangchup, Mr. S Birojkumar issued an eviction order on 18 September 2012 for demarcation of 24.51 acres of land in Mahakabui Namching village.

With the lack of accountability from previous arbitrary land transfers in 1991 still looming large and as the villagers of Namching still insisting on their rightful compensation for their lost land, any further move to acquire land from their village would simply be an insensitivity and disrespect of their rights and survival dependence over their land and resources and also to their longstanding demands.

The fresh land imbroglio at Namching village is associated with Government efforts to convert the proposed land to a firing range for the Assam Rifles. As the area planned for acquisition is also water and agriculture sources for the villagers, any further loss of their land would only mean inviting more miseries and sufferings for the villagers. Creation of firing range near residential areas can also have other serious concerns, including causing civilian and domestic casualties.

One may recall that the village authorities of Khunkhu village, located near Leimakhong Army base in Manipur, complained that the Army authorities continuously used the area in the vicinity of the village as a field firing range since 1938 without compensation for damages caused to the village, constituting a direct violation of the Maneuvers, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act, 1938 and UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007. The Khunkhu villagers also contended that intensified field firing and artillery practice in the area, including use of bombs and stray bullets have killed and injured villagers and their domestic animals. Indeed, the villagers filed a petition to the Guwahati High Court in 1997 and there are complaints that the Court’s direction in September 1998 to shift the firing practice from time to time and to award compensation for any casualties has not been adhered to et al.

The controversy of land transfer to military at Namching village once again brought into fore the issues of militarization and related multifaceted impacts on daily lives of all indigenous peoples of Manipur. Manipur is already one of the most militarized areas on Earth after India’s military response to the self determination movement in Manipur with full application of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, which permits full deployment of Indian Armed Forces in Manipur to subdue ongoing self determination movement. However, militarization process also led to conflict with the communities over land and other human rights violations. Community resentment against military land takeover is widespread in Manipur. The villagers of Waithou in Thoubal District put up strong opposition against land allotment of the Tangjeng and Waithou Hills to Assam Rifles2. People of Heingang and Khabam Lamkhai, Matai, Lamlongei, Luwangsangbam etc in Imphal East strongly resisted Government effort to acquire land for military in 2005. More than 500 acres of land has already been occupied by several paramilitary units of Indian Army from Sangakpham till Koirengei in Imphal East District of Manipur3.

In addition to civil rights violations, extra judicial execution, arbitrary arrest and torture etc due to military deployment in Manipur under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 19584, one of the most serious impacts of militarization is also on women and children. The people of Luwangsangbam Matai village, which now borders the IG Assam Rifles South HQs, are witness as to how a housewife from their village was raped by personnel of the 25th Assam Rifles, Mantripukhri on 11 October 2001. There are countless victims of rapes and sexual harassment committed by security forces. Ahanjaobi, Mercy Kabui, Rose, Thangjam Manorama etc, the list is simply endless. Militarization can also led to impact on peoples economic means as several times, villagers residing in and around the Loktak Lake complained of military restrictions on their normal daily fishing activities at Loktak Lake and also the destruction of their fishing gears during military operations and due to military deployment all around Loktak Lake.

Besides confiscation of ancestral land, the militarization process also targets educational complexes and historical sites. There has been a longstanding demand from the students of Manipur University to shift the Assam Rifles currently occupying the Langthabal Hills, an important historical and cultural heritage site, located within the university premises. The Chinga Hills and the Langjing Hills etc where the Meitei people worship their ancestral deities and considered sacred, has been occupied by Assam Rifles and Central Reserve Police Force, representing a desecration of our cultural sites.

Militarization is also associated with introduction of unsustainable development projects, as evident by the militarization of Mapithel Dam site, Loktak Project site, Khuga Dam etc5. Usually, any call for sustainable, participatory and human rights based development would immediately lead to militarization of those specific project sites. Indeed the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples Rights, Mr. James Anaya expressed strong condemnation with the Mapithel dam construction and the militarization process and application of emergency legislations in 20086.

The militarization process already hastened the fast worsening food sovereignty of Manipur as scores of acres of prime agricultural land, which community depend for growing food, is increasingly converted into non productive assets, including setting up military camps and firing ranges. Namching is one prime case where its agriculture land is usurped for military purposes. Peoples’ legitimate call for protection of productive agricultural land and to ensure their participation in development decision making are also met with brute use of force7.

Militarization and impacts on civilians has for long been overlooked in Manipur. Its increasing evident that militarization process has disturbed the profound relationships of Indigenous peoples in Manipur with their lands and territories. Confiscation of prime agricultural land and resources without the consent of the communities has led to considerable social and cultural impacts, and also posing a threat to the physical integrity and survival as peoples. Militarization in residential areas has far wider and serious implications with the local economy and livelihood and survival issues. The presence of army camps right in residential communities also interferes with the social and cultural life and fabric of communities and led to militarization of civilian spaces, restriction of peoples’ free movement and interfering in people’s daily lives. It also creates fear psychosis and insecurity among the peoples, making people vulnerable to suspicion and humiliations. Time’s rife enough to fully assess the multifaceted and holistic impacts of militarization, such as physical and psychological impacts.

The Government of Manipur should recognize that efforts to acquire more land from Namching Village for Assam Rifles will only undermine the survival and livelihood of the villagers of Namching and render the villagers more insecure and uncertain about their lives and future. There should be no land acquisition without the free, prior and informed consent of the villagers of Namching. Article 11 of the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples stipulates that no military activities shall take place in the lands of indigenous peoples, unless freely agreed upon by the indigenous peoples concerned.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Housing Rights, Ms. Raquel Rolnik, in its communication to the Government of India on the forceful evictions at Lamphel Yaipha Leikai in July 2011 stated that there should be no forceful eviction as it constitutes a serious infringement of human rights8.The villagers of Namching should rather be provided adequate compensation for their land confiscated arbitrarily for the Indian Army in 1991. Its time to end unjust confiscation of peoples land, destruction of people’s livelihood sources, civil rights violations, annihilation of peoples futures, more so in the name of peace, development and national security. Its long proven militarization is no solution to political conflicts but rather a lumpen process for any civilized society.

* Jiten Yumnam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on October 20, 2012.

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