The usually dormant tent situated at the northern gate of Jantar Mantar lit up once again on the evening of 18th February. It all happened when the members of the Autonomous District Councils of Manipur and other citizens of the state held a peaceful protest at their corner which has been housing nine empty coffins in memory of the nine people killed in police firing in Churchandpur district in Manipur. The casualties included even a child in this horrible incident. Their demands also included implementation of the sixth schedule in the hilly areas of Manipur, which provides for the local self-government to the tribal people in hilly areas.
The nine people were a part of a protest organised against the passage of three controversial bills in the assembly in August 2015. The Manipur Land Revenue Bill, the Manipur Shops and Establishments Bill, the Protection of Manipur People Bill.
According to Muan Vualnam, one of the protesters present on the latest protest demonstration, the bills are draconian and infringe on the land rights of the tribal people. He went on to critique the Meitei dominated state government, who do not care for the rights of the tribals living in the hills. The difference between the Meitei people residing in the valley and the tribals in the hills have become so grave that the tribal people are demanding their separation from the Manipur state.
The people taking part in the protest mainly belong to the Manipur Tribal Forum, Delhi. The coffins are placed to act as a sign of protest against police brutality in the state.
The demand for implementation of the 6th schedule in the hills of Manipur has been in the debate for almost 40 years. All the 19 MLAs of the tribal constituencies of Manipur got together to form the Hill Areas Committee which took the onus upon itself to fight for the implementation of the 6th schedule in the hills of Manipur in the year 1978. The HAC was formed just five years earlier, in 1973.
(Photographs by Piyush Nagpal, Shubham Koul and Debalin Roy. Text by Debalin Roy.)