Divisive tactics seen behind targeted eviction in Manipur

There are 2,799 illegally encroached and constructed houses in different areas of Manipur but the authorities are targeting only the minority-dominated areas in the northeastern state, writes MD CHINGIZ KHAN

The modus operandi of selective targeting of minority Muslim community in the name of illegally encroachment and construction at the reserve forest area appears to be the new ‘divisive’ tactic of the present government in Manipur in particular. The issue of Kshetri Bengoon Awang Ching Mamang is an encroached illegally constructed area based on government perspective which needs to be discussed at length. Some relevant questions need to be asked constructively while discussing the argument here. Why did the government evict the Kshetri Bengoon Awang Ching Mamang areas? What are the role and responsibility of the government in the process of eviction through the undergoing process of demolition of many houses? What are the roles of Civil Society Organisations in this eviction process? Are there any hidden political and ideological agendas towards the demolition of many minority houses in the name of reserve forest area? Why did the government not evict the other community’s areas despite the fact that some of those were included in the reserve forest area and paddy agricultural wet land act? What are the rehabilitation programmes arranged by the government for the evicted people? All these questions need to be answered in the present hour.

As far as the question of historical background of Kshetri Bengoon Awang Ching Mamang issue is concerned, it is necessitated that there are around 74 houses including Masjid, Madarsas, government schools, etc. They obtained all the government facilities like water supply, aadhaar card, enrolling in the electoral roll since their settlement in the region, establishment of government anganwadhi centre, etc. Their total number of population is approximately 410 members. All of them drifted and relocated from other parts of Manipur such as Irong, Mayang Imphal, Kairang, Hatta, Golapati, Kshetri Bengoon and its adjoining areas. They started settling in that region since the beginning of 1970s. Why they made their dragging is probably because of the point that they could not get the bounteous space in their earlier settlement areas and search for inhabitation. They are yelhoumees (indigenous community) of the state not the ‘illegal’ migrants with the exception of three as claimed by the government skeptically. On the other hand, it is distinctly evident that no one even including the historians, anthropologists, sociologists, ethnologists has knowledge and put a question with respect to the large number of ‘illegal’ migrants around 400 members from Bangladesh and its contiguous territories particularly belonging to the local community of Manipur. They started settling in Durgapur (presently Lamdai Khunou) of Jiribam constituency since 2003 after being displaced all the earlier settlers who had inhabited in it since 1920s. They obtained all the government facilities. How and why they settled there is one serious question that needs to be addressed. This is possibly due to politics of displacement.

When the question of the roles of government towards the eviction process has been being asked time and again, it is stated out that this area is under forest reserve land. They claimed that they sent numbers of notification to the villagers to shift to other areas for resettlement. They started eviction process since 2015 in different places such as 15 houses in Langol area, 78 houses in Heigang reserve forest, etc. It stated that ‘the eviction drive is not vested against any person or community but in the interest of people of the state and to conserve the environment. The Government needs full cooperation of the people.’ This issue is being stayed back by the High Court of Manipur for some time. Without informing to them and untouchably other houses belonging to local community and tribes, they started demolishing forcibly all the 74 houses with the help of thousands of paramilitary forces. The problem is that the evicted area is only covered under the forest reserve land in 1990. Thus the question comes as how many of the reserve forest areas have not been evicted and how many got evicted in other local community and tribal areas. There are 2,799 illegally encroached constructed houses in different areas of Manipur as shown some of them in the Statistical Handbook of Manipur 2002. Even a step has not been taken so far with respect to the eviction process but they targeted the minority dominated areas. Why is it so? This is quite surprising seeing the step done by the government towards the minority community. The response is not yet confirmed from the government side. Moreover, it is not covered the so-called Lamyanba Robinhood cemetery area. Why is it so? The issue is cast doubt upon and not answerable.

All Manipur Muslim Organisation’s Coordinating Committee (AMMOCOC) and other representatives of Pangal’s CSOs through the 36 hours total shutdown all over the state on April 10, 2018, have been firstly opposing on the recent opaque and cloudy operation of government stunt emphasising on the displacement of some houses approximately 74 houses of minority community numbering around 410 (yelhoumees/Pangals) from several places under the pretext of reserve forest land. There was hue and cry all over the state regarding this issue. There was hugely lathi charged of police who used tear gas to drive out the masses in the assembled areas. Many persons got serious injured in the police brutality and lathi-charged. They have not paid the compensation for the serious injury caused to them. This total shutdown was called off due to the mutual understanding and signed an agreement that there would be an amicable solution within three weeks between the government and the CSOs of Pangals particularly under the leadership of AMMOCOC emphasising on the knowing of the sentiments of the affected villagers.

By violating the above signed agreement, not informing about the final case verdict undergoing in the High Court of Manipur and betraying the CSOs, full of heavy paramilitary forces exercised by the government of Manipur camped in the evening and grouped stage by stage towards the surrounding area for the demolition of Kshetri Bengoon Awang Ching Mamang areas houses except the mosque. There was resistant from some sections of the nearby areas including the CSOs of the representatives of the Manipuri Muslims but could not get enough strength to fight with the government forces for stoppage of the eviction process. Instead of trying to bring a peaceful solution, government enforced huge security forces and started demolishing houses without showing any mercy. Police fired shots and tear gas shells against those who stood against the demolition. Against such illegally eviction process, all the CSOs under the representative CSOs of Pangals particularly under the leadership of AMMOCOC president SM Jalal started second time total shutdown all over the state in which the on-going 24 hours total shut down strike would be extended for another 48 hours all over the state on July 3, 2018. Police behaved beastly character and beat them like animals while trying to stop the peaceful protest called by the CSOs and police even tried to kill one person.

Till now no arrangement of rehabilitation or alternative arrangement from the government side is there. Those affected villagers are staying as homeless in the relief camp opened in the primary school of Kshetri Bengoon Awang Leikai, Imphal East. Then the question comes to as right to life is lesser than right to forest. This is in gross violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Some club organisations, professional bodies, and other groups from different backgrounds help them in terms of giving cash, food, clothes, drinking water, etc. Subsequently, one quandary trait based on the eviction episode at Kshetri Bengoon Awang Ching Mamang is that some persons consciously or unconsciously tried to take the political edge on the issue in such a way that they even electrified the government step for the wrecking of proposed illegally constructed houses at the reserve forest area for their equitable interests. This is firmly affirmative that right to life and livelihood has been deprived through the different channelization of state sponsored activities towards the minority Muslim community.

So easy to make out that there are politico-religious hidden agendas towards the eviction process at the above said area. Nothing happened positively in the local dominated areas except the minority Muslim dominated areas. There is hardly any valid justification to eviction process at the local and tribal dominated areas. The eviction circumstance shows the present government’s leaning stance that there is a sidelining and inbred xenophobia in the politico-religious affairs on the state’s indigenous people that can be effortlessly divulged. Some enticements and interference from the current government side like the preceding government should be there to relocate or rehabilitate the affected villagers based on constitutional and humanitarian criterion and corpus juris. On hindsight, there is a need on part of the government to prepare a remedial framework before implementing any policy on a particular community.