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The Hill-Valley Divide- The ongoing Impasse in Manipur
The hill-valley divide in the state of Manipur is a parallax issue that needs to be understood and acknowledged. The three controversial bills passed by the Manipur Assembly have pushed Manipur in flames with protests becoming a regular sight. But it needs to be realised why and how the troubled state that once witnessed the longest economic blockade in the country, is boiling.
According to folklore, the State of Manipur belonged to three brothers- namely the Meiteis, Kukis and the Nagas. However, quarrel ensued among the brothers regarding dispute over property left by their father and the brothers decided to part ways. Ultimately, the Meities resided in the valleys while the Kukis and the Nagas left for the hills. Till date, the valleys are dominated by the Meiteis while the hills are predominantly tribals of the State. While it is not known how much of fact the folklore speaks, it does, however, remain a fact that this story is much of the reason behind Manipur's state of affairs today.
The State of Manipur comprises mainly of the Meiteis, Nagas and the Kuki/Mizo ethnic groups. Therefore, defining a 'Manipuri' is much more complex than it actually seems. On August 31, the Manipur Assembly passed three bills in view of protecting the 'indigenous people' of the State. The bills were the Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill 2015, and The Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill 2015. Soon after the bills were passed, houses of five MLAs including Manipur Health Minister Phungzathang Tonsing's residence went up in flames. Interestingly, the mob who torched the minister's house were the people of the hills- people who were disappointed with their own tribal ministers they had elected and who felt let down by their own. Meanwhile, nine other people also lost their lives and their bodies are, till date, lying at Churachandpur Hospital morgue. One may ask what was so wrong with the bills that the people of the State braved bullets?
Demand for ILP
The need for Inner Line Permit (ILP) started as a result of the Meiteis trying to protect their lands from the growing influx of outsiders. Here, the concerns of the Meiteis need to be addressed. The Meiteis predominantly reside in the valleys of Manipur, that is, the plain areas of Manipur which geographically comprises just 10 per cent of the State. That means the rest 90 per cent is the hill areas. However, 60 per cent of the total population of Manipur reside in the valley region, according to the 2011 Census. It is worth mentioning that according to the 1960 Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, the people of the hills are permitted to buy land in the valleys. This, however, was not the case on the contrary. The Meiteis were forbidden to buy land in the hill areas. Moreover, the people of the hills who have acquired land in the valley are allowed to transfer/sell off land to another non-tribal only after acquiring permission from the District Commissioner. Hence, if he/she is to sell land to another tribal, permission from the DC was not necessary. Therefore, by law, the hill people had an upper hand constitutionally while being able to move freely while the Meiteis are confined to the valley. It was but natural for the Meiteis to become protective of their lands as the hill people and 'outsiders' started settling in the valleys in search of better opportunities and better life. But then again, who doesn't seek better life?