Manipur: Violence Breaks Out in Churachandpur as Protests Against BJP Survey Continue

Security forces in Churachandpur used batons, tear gas and rubber bullets against those who were protesting the land survey Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest area.

Manipur violence
Image Source: https://indianexpress.com/article/north-east-india/manipur-mob-torches-cm-programme-venue-8580237/

Violence erupted on Friday night as security forces in Churachandpur district of Manipur used batons, tear gas and rubber bullets against those who were protesting the BJP government’s land survey. This took place only a night after the internet was shut down and Section 144 was imposed in the district in response to the burning of a gym that was to be inaugurated by Manipur CM N Biren Singh. Singh later said he cancelled his visit at the request of local MLA LM Khaute who had invited him.

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITFL) called a “total shutdown” from 8 am till 4 pm on Friday to press for their demands to call off the survey that residents believe could lead to the authorities declaring tribal land in hill districts as a Protected Area. On Friday, the police inflicted violence upon those enforcing the eight-hour shutdown. ITFL protestors also destroyed about 100 chairs and other equipment. 

Violence was reported in New Lanka, Tuibong Bazar, Sielmat Bridge, Lanva Bridge and T Champhai. Internet has been further suspended for 5 days in Churachandpur and its neighbouring district Pherzawl for five days.

Tribal activist and chief of Bungmual village, H Mangchingkhup, told The Indian Express that the state government did not mention the purpose of the survey or consult any local leaders when it was conducted. “The only purpose I can perceive for such a survey is to declare our areas as protected forest, and subsequently our eviction from there,” Machingkhup said. “We will not take this lightly.”

Read Also: Network of indigenous communities on padyatra for rights in Nagarhole Tiger Reserve

Background

The ITFL direct action efforts should not be painted as sudden escalation as they are the culmination of several months of rising tensions relating to indigenous land rights at the face of increasing evictions and state clampdown.

Earlier in February, several houses in Chhurachandpur’s K. Songjang village were demolished along the Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest stretch for allegedly being built after 2021. A show-cause notice was also issued to residents of Kunpinaosen, Kangvai sub-division, Churachandpur, to vacate their houses for the same reason. The Deputy Commissioner of Churachandpur district even ordered a verification drive from February 27 to March 17 to identify ‘illegal immigrants’ in the district. According to the notice, all villagers would be required to give their biometrics for the drive, which raised privacy concerns and violated the right to bodily integrity.

In response to this, the ITLF, along with Kuki Innpi Manipur (KIM) and Kuki Students Organisation (KSO) organised a peaceful rally on March 10. Despite the imposition of Section 144 CrPC, heavy state clampdown on the protestors and some reported incidents of police brutality, the rally saw widespread attendance from various communities. Lanka town even saw the coming together of various Zo tribes among the Zomi, Hmar, Mizo and Kuki groups. 

A community leader from the rally in Lanka spoke out against the imposition of Section 144. “…144 CrPC cannot be used to suppress a legitimate expression of the people, our expression through a peaceful rally is our fundamental right given in the Constitution. Our fundamental rights are above all else,” he told EastMojo.

Several protestors pointed out that the recent government orders in the region did not pass through the Hill Areas Committee. This procedure is mandated by Article 371C and the 1972 Presidential Order, i.e., The Manipur Legislative Assembly (HILL AREAS COMMITTEE) ORDER, 1972. Some have raised the demand for greater autonomy and self-governance for tribal communities through a separate tribal administration, such as the Southern Manipur Territorial Council (SMATC).

Despite this, some revenue and forest officials were deployed in Mid-April to carry out a survey in the so-called Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest in Churachandpur district. On April 12, the KSO and Zomi Student’s Federation objected to the survey and stopped officials from conducting it at Sielmat village. Villagers of Valpakot also blocked all entrance and exit points of the village to register their protest against such surveys being carried out in their villages. Various political and civil society organisations also spoke out against the survey.  As reported by Imphal Free Press, the survey team led by Tuibong SDO Jangminlen Lupho and Churachandpur ADM S Thienlaljoy Gangte could not go ahead with the survey as the villagers. 

On April 15, Singh held a meeting with the MLA of Churachandpur LM Khaute along with the village chiefs and declared that he would renew the initiative to conduct the survey in the district. Finally, ITLF members called for an eight-hour total shutdown in Churachandpur and resorted to burning an open gym facility that was scheduled to be inaugurated by Singh.

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