By Debalin Roy, Piyush Nagpal, Shubham Koul:
The usually dormant tent, housing nine empty coffins, at the northern gate of Jantar Mantar lit up once again on the evening of March 3.
The tent houses nine empty coffins in memory of the nine people killed in police firing including a child in Churchandpur district in Manipur. These people were a part of a protest organised against the passage of three contentious bills in the assembly in August 2015 – the Manipur Land Revenue Bill, the Manipur Shops and Establishments Bill and the Protection of Manipur People Bill.
The young members of the Autonomous District Councils of Manipur and others people from the state held a peaceful protest on March 3 demanding implementation of the Sixth Schedule in Manipur, which provides for the local self-government to the tribal people in hilly areas.
The movement at home and Jantar Mantar was initially started by elderly members to get the issue national importance, but now the youth of the tribal areas have slowly taken on the responsibility to carry it forward.
According to Muan Vualnam, a 26-year-old protester, the bills are draconian and infringe on the land rights of the tribal people. He went on to criticise the Meitei-dominated state government that does 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 has increased so much that the tribal people are now demanding separation from the state of Manipur.
The people taking part in the protest mainly belong to the Manipur Tribal Forum, Delhi. The coffins are placed as a sign of protest against police brutality in the state.
The demand for implementation of the Sixth Schedule in the hills of Manipur is being debated for almost 40 years now. All the 19 MLAs of the tribal constituencies of Manipur got together to form the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) which took the onus upon itself to fight for the implementation of the Sixth Schedule in the hills of Manipur in the year 1978. The HAC was formed just five years earlier, in 1973.