Manipur tribal body issues ultimatum to Centre: Will form self-government
The ultimatum from the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum has come six months after Union government dilly-dallying on their demand for a separate administration
Giving an ultimatum to the Union government, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), a frontal organisation of Kuki-Zo tribes in Manipur, on Wednesday (November 15) threatened they will form “self-government irrespective of whether the Centre recognises it or not” in areas where the tribals have a majority.
The forum said even after more than six months of ethnic strife in the northeastern state, the central government is yet to accept their demand for a separate administration. “More than six months have passed since the ethnic strife started in Manipur but nothing has been done regarding our demand for a separate administration. If our demand is not heard within a couple of weeks, we will set up our self-government irrespective of whether the Centre recognises it or not,” ITLF general secretary Muan Tombing said.
His remark comes on a day the forum organised protests in Churachandpur, demanding a CBI or NIA probe into the killing of tribals.
“Many Kuki-Zo tribals have been killed during the ethnic strife but none of the central probe agencies has taken it up for investigation. This rally is to protest against the atrocities committed against Kuki–Zo people,” ITLF spokesperson Ginza Vualzong said.
State failure condemned
During the rally, protesters shouted slogans demanding justice for tribals and condemned the "failure" of the state government and other investigating agencies to initiate a prompt probe into the killing of tribals, a member of the forum, said.
In the state capital Imphal, locals, mostly women and children, held demonstrations to protest against the alleged inability of the Manipur government to restore normalcy in the state.
They also protested against the sporadic incidents of attacks by gunmen in villages, which has prevented thousands of people from returning to their homes.
People in relief camps hold sit-ins
Hundreds of people, many of them living in relief camps, in Wangkhei Angom Leikai and Khurai in Imphal East district, wore black clothes and held sit-ins to protest against the "atrocities" by militants.
Sanjita Huidrom, an inmate of a relief camp, told reporters, “It is heartbreaking for us today as we are not able to participate in our biggest festival of Ningol Chakouba. Usually, we would have attired in our nicest ethnic dresses and gone to our parental homes for a feast. However, this year we are here at the relief camp and not being able to live in our homes.” Protests were also held at Keisampat, Uripok and Singjamei areas in Imphal West district.
Resentment against refugee influx from Myanmar
Demonstrators shouted slogans to check the massive influx of illegal immigrants from Myanmar and demanded their deportation from the state.
"Our protest is against the influx of illegal immigrants over the last decade, which is behind the unrest in the state. Thousands of them are living like bona fide citizens in Churachandpur district and Moreh town in Tengnoupal. We want the central government to deport them and restore normalcy in the state," said Ibemcha Thiyam, an agitator at Khurai.
During the day, major markets and commercial establishments remained shut across the five districts of Imphal valley on the occasion of the Ningol Chakouba festival.
Locals in many parts of Bishnupur district also staged sit-ins demanding that they be allowed to return to their original homes.
The flashpoint for the ethnic strife
Manipur has remained gripped by recurring bouts of violence since ethnic clashes first erupted in May. More than 180 people have been killed since then.
The clashes have occurred over a number of grievances that both sides have against the other, however, the flashpoint of the crisis has been a move to give Meiteis Scheduled Tribe status, which has since been rolled back and an attempt to turf out tribals living in protected forest areas.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal valley, while tribals, which include Nagas and Kukis, constitute 40 per cent and reside mainly in the hill districts.
(With agency inputs)