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Rights of the indigenous people and the merger problem

By- Dr. M. Horam
Professor, Manipur University.

l.a. Secretary General of the United Nations declared 1993 as the “International Year of the World’s Indigenous People”. The motto is; “Indigenous People; A New Partnership”.
1.b.    Indigenous People are those who first inhabited in a particular country before other races having different cultures arrived or invaded to that country. The indigenous Peoples, for want of better name, are also called Aborigines, or, Natives. For examples, the Red Indians are the natives of Two Americas (the North and the South), the Maoris are of the New Zealand, the Eskimos are of the Northern Europe, the Tatars are of Russia and the Adivasis are of the Indians.
2.a.    Who are the Indigenous peoples of Manipur.
This is a tricky question to answer. It needs a serious and unbiased systematic study of early history of Manipur. Manipur has past Written history, particularly of the Valley. It had its kings and queens played their parts in shaping the destiny of its people. Manipur had also a political system of its own which was basically feudal; a system in which land was granted by a king to a subject in exchange of for his military and other services. This system however, was badly jolted by the British arrivals in Manipur. A word may be mentioned here that system was primarily enforced and practiced in the valley of Manipur.
2.b.    Manipur, from time immemorial, is geographically divided into two Regions: 1) The Valley and 2) The Hills. The Valley was peopled by various clans, now called the Meiteis, the Hills were/are peopled by the various tribes. These Tribes are now called the Scheduled Tribes by according to Indian Constitution’s definition. The Hill Tribal’s administration was/is entirely indigenous based on their age- old traditional un-written laws and codes. Each village was/is a republic (like the ancient Greek City-States) for example, a Naga Village. A Naga Village has its own administration besides the tribal customs; well-demarcated land and land use system. The tribal way of life continued uninterrupted for centuries till the extension of the British Colonial Rule to the Tribal Areas of Manipur. Nonetheless, the British adopted the “Non-Interference Policy” towards the Tribals respecting their cultures and customs.
The Hill men and the Valley men lived in peaceful co-existence for centuries. These Hill Tribals were not directly under the control of the Manipur King though they had friendly relation with the exchange of good will missions from time to time. Gifts were exchanged by the visiting members.
2.c.    From the above statements we can arrive at the conclusion that the Meiteis are the Indigenous people of the Manipur Valley and the Tribals are the Indigenous people of the Hills. Needless to remind ourselves that the word “Tribals” are of Westerners concept which they often used to the first settlers of a place. The Westerners called the first settlers as ‘tribals’, uncouthh’, ‘barbarian’ and uncivilized whenever they came into contact with them. Therefore, these words have derogatory attribution and contemptuous appellation. The Indian Government and the Indians coming from other parts of Indian Sub-continent still use these colonial phrases with a sense of superiority complex.
3.a.    Objectives of the International Year of World’s Indigenous People are:
1.    To protect their birth rights such as land, forests, culture, religion, language, education, social and economic conditions, self-government and self-determination.
2.    To recognize their contributions.
3.b.    Today many Indigenous Peoples are threatened by systemic development process, distortion of History, artificial creation of boundaries (e.g. Burma and Manipur boundary), forced occupation, military atrocities, erosion of cultures by stronger communities in the name of bringing them into the ‘mainstream’.
3.c.    Peoples of Manipur consider that they are the Indigenous Peoples of the Valley and the Hills of Manipur. If, that proposition is correct, then the Peoples of Manipur have the right to defend their cultures, forests and land.
The Charter of the Indigenous passed and adopted in Penang, Malaysia reads; “We, the Indigenous Tribal Peoples of the tropical forests, Present this Charter as a response to hundreds of yearsfndreds ier that they are the i of continual encroachment colonization of our territories and the undermining of our lives, livelihoods and cultures caused by the destruction of the forests that our survival depends on”. “It further continues to say; “We declare that we are the original peoples, the rightful owners and the cultures that defend the tropical forests of the world”.

4.a.    During the past years, the peoples of Manipur have witnesses the application of Special Arms Acts such as Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and amended in 1972. This Act is supposedly to contain the various Underground Organizations. According to this Act, “Special Power” are conferred to the Armed Forces that any “Warrant Officer” can arrest without warrant, can enter and search without warrant any premises…and no prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, etc. etc.
Recently again, the Punjab Security of the State Act, 1953 has been imposed on Manipur to ‘flush out’ the Insurgents. In the name of curbing the Underground Activities and ‘knocking out the sympathizers’, many innocent men and women have suffered both psychologically and physically.
Many persons have been arrested, tortured and beatened. And fear-psychosis has been created in the minds of the law abiding citizens of the State. There is a general suspicion in the minds of the public that, while applying this Act, wittingly or unwittingly, powers can be misused.
More often than not, the Government officials and the Armed Forces misconstrue and misinterpret the grievances of people as ‘anti-social activities’, or ‘sympathizers’ of the Undergrounds thereby painful and unwanted punishments are inflicted on them. In such eventuality, the eternal question of the public is; imposition of Armed Forces Acts against Human Rights?
Unimaginative and dictatorial application of such Acts can be counter-productive. Problem faced by the Peoples of Manipur are not only military or political problems. They are also human problems; and therefore humane approach to ease the situation is the utmost importance.
4.b.    On the Merger Question.
Much has been said and much has been written on this issue. I need not go the same story all over again. However, it must be admitted that this is a controversial subject and thus it needs to have serious dialogues among the Indigenous Peoples themselves and then with the Indian Government. For further debate, I would like to pose the following questions to the learned members. They are:
1.    Who appointed the “Dewan”? Was he appointed with the consent and approval of the Maharjah?
2.    Did Maharajah sign the Merger Agreement with his own accord, or, under duress?
3.    Was Merger question placed to the people of Manipur for their considered opinion, or, were they by-passed? These are a few questions. The validity and legality of the Merger may be questioned and debated.

Note:
Dewan : Major General
Rewal Amar Singh.

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