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Manipur bills: Fresh deadline, fresh tensions

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New Delhi: With agitators in the Manipur valley setting a fresh deadline for the state government to implement three controversial bills and the people of the hills continuing to vehemently oppose this, renewed tensions have loomed over the northeastern border state.

This week, the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS) that spearheaded a three-month-long agitation earlier this year in the Valley, set a fresh deadline of December 15 for the Manipur government to implement the three bills, failing which it threatened to resume its agitation from December 16.

The people of the Valley carried out the agitation demanding the enforcement of an inner line permit system (ILPS) similar to one that are in force in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland to check the influx of non-Manipuris into the state.

The JCILPS says that according to the 2011 census, Manipur’s population is 2.7 million. Of this, only 1.7 million are indigenous people while the rest are people who have their roots outside the state.

Ostensibly to safeguard the rights of the indigenous people, the state government, bowing to the pressure from the agitators, convened a special session of the assembly on August 31 and passed three controversial bills – the Protection of Manipur People Bill, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill (Seventh Amendment) and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill.

The very day the bills were passed, protesters, mainly comprising tribal organisations, torched five houses belonging to Congress legislators. Among them were the dwellings of Health and Family Welfare Minister Phungzathang Tonsing and Lok Sabha member from Outer Manipur Thangso Baite in Churachandpur district.

The violence and resultant police action left at least nine people dead.

According to the tribes inhabiting the hills of Manipur, the three bills would directly undermine the existing safeguards for the tribal hill areas regarding land ownership and population influx, as the primary threat for the tribal people came not from outside the state but from the Meitei people of the Valley itself.

The protests of the tribal people spread to New Delhi, with the Manipur Tribal Forum, Delhi (MTFD) holding rallies and submitting memorandums to the president as also to union ministers, including those of home, tribal affairs and development of northeastern region (DoNER), seeking the centre’s intervention in resolving the issue.

The MTFD, along with the Joint Action Committee (JAC) against the three bills, the All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) and women’s organisations, have said more than once that they did not trust the state government. They want the central government to convene a tripartite meeting and have demanded a separate administration for the hills.

With President Pranab Mukherjee not assenting to the three controversial bills and the centre yet to act on the demands of the tribal people, matters have reached a stalemate of sorts.

On Wednesday, however, Khomdram Ratan, convenor-in-charge of the JCILPS, held a press conference in Manipur capital Imphal at which he said that the indifferent attitude of the state government has led to the three bills rotting in the president’s hands.

“If the state government really wanted to save the indigenous people of the state, they should pressure the central government,” media reports quoted him as saying.

On Friday, an indefinite strike launched by the MTFD in the national capital demanding the withdrawal of the bills completed one month. Nine symbolic coffins laid out at the protest site at Jantar Mantar reveal the most tragic side of the whole saga – the bodies of the nine people killed in the protests in Churachandpur are still lying in a hospital morgue with the families refusing to claim them till the demands of the tribal people are met.

“The state government should have taken all stakeholders on board before passing the bills,” Mani Charenamei, former Lok Sabha MP from Outer Manipur constituency, told IANS at the protest site here.

Charenamei is of the opinion that the Imphal dispensation should be more sensitive to the demands of the tribal people.

“Now, if both the parties step up their movements, the state government will be compelled to somehow resolve the issue,” he said.

Addressing the protesters, the former MP said: “It has become very clear to the state government that the tribal people are not at all happy at the way they are being governed.”

Meanwhile, on Friday, an MTFD delegation met Satyendra Garg, the newly appointed joint secretary (northeast) in the home ministry, and apprised him of their demands.

“We were told that all memorandums and other documents that we had submitted have been sent to the judicial wing of the ministry,” J. Moivio, co-convenor of the MTFD, said.

“Action can also be taken only when the remarks from the judicial wing come in,” he added.

With December 15 close ahead, the question is: Who will blink first?

(Aroonim Bhuyan, IANS)

Next Story

Manipuri Women Are Breaking Barriers, The Birthplace Of Modern Polo

"Their enthusiasm lit a desire in me to play polo. I've felt close to horses since my uncle brought them home. But before that, horses roamed about everywhere. My family was not very well off and my uncle couldn't afford to buy a horse,"

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"Here is one (polo) community whose welfare is so closely tied with the welfare of the animal on which the game is played. We felt that since India did not have any women's polo tournament, Manipur could be, and should be, the home of women's polo in India," Somi Roy says. Pixabay

Polo, often thought of as a game of the rich, has also been generally dominated by men. However, a quiet revolution is taking place at the very place where it all started – the northeast Indian state of Manipur, which is considered the birthplace of modern polo.

While men had been playing this game here for centuries, the spotlight has now shifted to women of the state who now field five professional polo teams to compete with the world’s best. These Manipuri women from humble backgrounds are not only shattering stereotypes that polo is a game for men, but also that it is the privilege of the rich.

L. Somi Roy, conservationist and partner at Huntre! Equine, has been one of the main crusaders for women’s polo in the state and sees it also as a campaign to save the iconic Manipuri pony, whose numbers have been declining over the years. He says while Manipuri women traditionally did not play polo as it was an equestrian game coming out of a martial tradition, in modern times, in the 1980s, they got inspired by their male relatives.

“The All Manipur Polo Association encouraged them. About 40-45 per cent of polo players in the world are women. So we are just catching up. It’s pretty gender free as a sport, so it puts them on the level of men when they play together,” Roy tells IANS.

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“Playing with the United States Polo Association (USPA) team was a great experience. Though their skills are very different from ours, we could learn a lot,” she says.
Pixabay

While Manipur produces one-third of male players and three-fourths of women players in the country, Roy says most of these players from an isolated, economically-underdeveloped state are not members of the Indian Polo Association.

Yet, the state has India’s longest polo season — November to March — with two international and four state tournaments, including the Manipur Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament, the only such tournament in India where teams from the US, UK, Canada, Kenya, Australia and Argentina have participated alongside Manipuri girls.

The matches are held in Imphal’s Mapal Kangjeibung Stadium, the oldest running polo ground in the world.

Filmmaker Roopa Barua, who started documenting the story of women’s polo in Manipur in 2016, says a young polo sisterhood is developing in the state that ploughs on despite adversity and political turmoil.

“Around 2014-15, there was an effort to bring in international women players to play in Manipur. Part of this effort was to create a campaign to save the Manipuri pony which is endangered. I saw a symbiotic relationship developing and I followed this story for four years,” she tells IANS.

This documentation culminated in a film which intends to take the story of these strong women players to the world. The documentary film, “Daughters of the Polo God” was showcased earlier this month at the IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival in New Delhi, and would also be screened at the Bombay Stock Exchange on March 26.

“Manipuri players are natural horsewomen and extremely athletic. As I stayed on throughout the tournament, I saw that women’s polo was becoming a growing story. The symbiotic relationship between women’s polo and the endangered Manipuri pony was a very unique concept,” Barua said.

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“Horses for centuries here are owned by people, they are trained, they are broken. And then they are let loose to graze freely in the open wetlands of Manipur.”
Pixabay

Nineteen-year-old Tanna Thoudam, one of the protagonists of the film, was inspired to play polo when she saw some women players playing in a match in 2010.

“Their enthusiasm lit a desire in me to play polo. I’ve felt close to horses since my uncle brought them home. But before that, horses roamed about everywhere. My family was not very well off and my uncle couldn’t afford to buy a horse,” she says.

Tanna joined the Assam Rifles Polo Club in 2011 and became the only junior to make it to the final Manipuri team for the 2017 Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament. “It was the happiest moment of my life.”

Thoinu Thoudum, founder of the Chingkhei Hunba Polo Club, says it is good to have a women’s tournament as it encourages girls to start playing polo while also showing solidarity and respect for women players.

Jetholia Thongbam started playing polo in 2016 and carried on even after her sister stopped playing following her marriage. She believes that Manipuri players are becoming better every year by playing with international players.

“Playing with the United States Polo Association (USPA) team was a great experience. Though their skills are very different from ours, we could learn a lot,” she says.

N. Ibungochoubi, Secretary of the Manipur Polo Society, says the relationship between Manipuris and horses is special.

“Horses for centuries here are owned by people, they are trained, they are broken. And then they are let loose to graze freely in the open wetlands of Manipur.”

But lately, the Manipuri ponies have lost their home to urban blight with their numbers declining from 1,893 in 2003 to just around 500 in 2014.

This is where this symbiotic relationship between humans and horses can potentially be a game-changer.

“Here is one (polo) community whose welfare is so closely tied with the welfare of the animal on which the game is played. We felt that since India did not have any women’s polo tournament, Manipur could be, and should be, the home of women’s polo in India,” Somi Roy says.

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He adds that going to play polo in Manipur is like going to Mecca.

“For people who know the history of polo, Manipur is a special place – that’s where it all came from. And then we say it’s going to be played on the original Manipuri pony, and then we tell them that it is on the world’s oldest living polo ground. It’s a fairly irresistible invitation,” Roy adds. (IANS)