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Human rights issues in Manipur and participation of Tangkhul women

by Rinku Khumukcham
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By  : Maireiwon Ningshen
The Tangkhul are one of the notified Schedule Tribes of Manipur.  They inhabit mainly in the Ukhrul District of Manipur. A good number of Tangkhuls are also found in the neighboring districts of Senapati, Thoubal, and Chandel. Ukhrul, the place where the Tangkhuls mainly inhabit was first marked out as a Sub-Division in 1919 during the British rule. Then in November 1969, it was upgraded to a full-fledged district, bearing the name “Manipur East District”. In 1983, Tengnoupal District, now called Chandel District was carved out from the Manipur East District reducing the area of the latter into 4,544 sq. km from a previous area of 8,200 sq. km. After that the name of the district was also changed into Ukhrul District having a population of 178568 (2011 census).  They are also an educationally advanced Naga tribe. According to the Riyan Yung (Preamble) of the Tangkhul Naga Long (TNL), an apex civil body of the Tangkhuls, there are 234 Tangkhul villages and 12 Kuki villages in the Ukhrul District.(Tangkhul Naga Long, 2003: 15-16.)     
The participation of Tangkhul women in socio-political issues of the state is being discussed in this essay under two different headings viz. a) Tangkhul women and human rights issues and b) Tangkhul women and peace & unity campaign.
Tangkhul women and human rights issues
The involvement by Tangkhul women in the Human Rights issues started in the year 1974 and continued to be in active pace till 1997, the year Indo-Naga ceasefire started. Many instances of torture and intimidation of civilians by the state armed personnel occurred in the context of the emergence of numerous underground outfits in the North East during the post-independence period, particularly in Manipur and Nagaland, and the subsequent clashes between the security forces and the undergrounds.
Coming to that of Manipur, the state heard about the first rumblings of militant underground movement in the Naga inhabited areas of Manipur as early as the mid 1950s. Then it was mainly an extension of the underground movement of the Nagas in the then Naga Hills and Tuensang area of Assam. Then the mid 1960s saw the emergence of the underground outfits of the Meiteis which created a serious law and order problem to the state administration. While the grant of statehood to the state resulted in a decline in the underground movement in Manipur for the most part of the 1970s, the closing years of the decade saw emergence of the problem of insurgency with renewed vigour. For instance, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) came into existence in 1977 and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) in 1978 and 1980 respectively. The UNLF also became very active by around 1980. (Senjam Mangi Singh, 1996: 270-309).
Against this backdrop, a series of repressive laws were passed by the Government of India in order to deal with these uprisings. The problem of underground militants has became a most serious and urgent problem inside the state of Manipur by 1980. This led to the declaration of the whole of Manipur areas as “Disturbed Areas” in 1980. Once it was declared as a “Disturbed Areas” the AFSPA was imposed in the state on 8 September 1980. The imposition of the AFSPA was followed by reports of alleged human rights violations suffered by the people of the state in the hands of the armed forces appearing in newspapers inside the state with alarming regularity. The Tangkhuls, along with the rest of the people of the state suffered heavily.  In the hills of the state, the Nagas in general and the Tangkhuls in particular became vulnerable to the excesses committed by the armed forces because of certain considerations. The signing of the “Shillong Accord” on 11 November 1975 by some NNC members instead of ending the problem of Naga insurgency, rather it led to the birth of a new faction of NNC called as “National Socialist Council of Nagaland” (NSCN) on 31 January 1980 at Nokpa village in Nagaland. (MIP, GPRN, 2005: 100).   However, as destiny would have, this new outfit was led by Th. Muivah who held from Somdal village in Ukhrul District of Manipur. With this the Naga inhabited areas of Manipur in general and the Tangkhul inhabited areas of it in particular became the mainstay of the underground Naga movement. It is in this context that the human rights of the Tangkhuls became vulnerable.      

Genesis of the Tangkhul women and human rights issues in Ukhrul District:
The first instance of involvement by Tangkhul women in human rights issues was associated with two incidents that took place in two remote villages of Ukhrul District in the year 1974. The first incident was that of the coerced gangrape of a village girl named Rose Machui Ningshen of Ngaprum village (now Kumram Village situated remotely at Southeasern Ukhrul) by the two Border Security Forces (BSF) officers on the night of 4 March 1974. Ms. Rose, shattered by the heinous act and unable to bear the trauma of such a blatant violation and humiliation of her dignity, committed suicide after two days of the incident on 6 March 1974. (http://www.openspace.org.in/node/759). The other incident was that of the assault meted out to the villagers of Grihang along with the rape of a woman there in the village by the 95 Battalion BSF personnel during the course of another counter insurgency operation on 3 March which lasted till 6 March 1974. The BSF personnel reached the village and began their operation, by beating and torturing the villagers mercilessly including women.( History Committee Tangkhul Shanao Long, 8th May 1974-February 1999, Ukhrul: 7).  Unable to tolerate such an attitude of the Indian  armed forces, the Tangkhul women decided to form an organisation of their own to fight for justice and protection of the dignity of life of the Tangkhuls in general and that of the Tangkhul women in particular. This led to the birth of an all Tangkhul women’s organisation known as “East District Women Association” (EDWA) on 8 May 1974 with Ms. Masophi Luithui as its first President. (History CommitteeTangkhul Shanao Long, op.cit., 10). Once the EDWA was formed, the Tangkhul women began their organised fight for the protection and promotion of the human rights of their people. They also started involving themselves in other socio-political issues concerning them under the aegis of this organisation.  Later, the EDWA was to change its name to Tangkhul Shanao Long (TSL) in the year 1981. (Raisungriang  Second Issue, March 1996: 33).
East District Women Association (EDWA) and human rights of the Tangkhuls:
Right after the formation of EDWA, the first task the association took up was for the immediate arrest and punishment of the BSF personals involved in the rape of Ms. Rose. On 8 May 1974, it organised a rally from Vimla Hall to D.C office in Hamleikhong shouting demands for the arrest of the culprits. After that two women representatives namely Ms. C Mahala and Ms. Anandi Ragui met the then DC of Ukhrul District Shri Y. Radhysham Singh and they appealed for the immediate arrest and punishment of the culprits. (History Committee Tangkhul Shanao Long, Op.cit., 10). As a result, the DCof Ukhrul assured them that stern action will be taken against anyone whether one is BSF personnel or not if they were found involved in the incident. In addition to the appeal that was made to Deputy Commissioner, the EDWA also filed a case against the BSF officers involved in the rape case of Ms. Rose of Ngaprum. It also submitted a memorandum on the 10 May 1974 to the Prime Minister of India Shrimati Indira Gandhi demanding stern action against the persons involved in the crime and also for instituting either a Parliamentary enquiry or judicial enquiry.
The EDWA was also able to get the support and help from the various other organizations of the state. On 3 and 4 August 1974 a big meeting was organised at CC Higher Secondary school by various organisations of the state in connection to Ms. Rose incident. (History Committee Tangkhul Shanao Long, op.cit). In the meeting, representatives from 29 other associations including many from the valley attended, and an “All Manipur Women Action Committee” (AMWAC) was formed. This committee assisted and gave moral and other necessary supports to EDWA in their struggle for justice. When the EDWA petition for the speedy justice was sidelined by the authorities, the EDWA resorted to an indefinite hunger strike protest. As a result, a Court Martial was instituted for the incident that happened in Grihang and for the incident that happened in Ngaprum village a case began in the civil court of Imphal.( Ibid.,2). The formation of EDWA, made the Tangkhul women more and more alert and vigilant about the activities of the security forces. It may be noted that the EDWA was not only involved in the human rights related issues. The association also took up various vital problems affecting the society at large. During the time when EDWA was formed, the Nisha Band movement was gaining momentum in the valley of Manipur. EDWA also began to spearhead a similar movement in Ukhrul District as well. In this way, the executive members of the EDWA together with the women volunteers from each locality undertook the task of checking the import of wine from the neighbouring places to Ukhrul town. Soon a District Level Prohibition Committee was formed in the Ukhrul District. The EDWA’s other activities included organising seminars on issues relating to women, organising sports to motivate sportsmanship among Tangkhul women, etc. Thus in this way, EDWA worked on human rights and social issues in the Ukhrul District right from the day of its inception. From the year 1981 onward the name EDWA was changed into TSL which means All Tangkhul Women’s Association. The name of the organisation was changed with a view to encompass not only the women living in Manipur East District (the former name of Ukhrul District), but all the Tangkhul women living anywhere, even outside the district and state. Obviously, it also became exclusive to the Tangkhul women only.         

(To be contd……)

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