Manipur rights body applies healing balm on warring communities

Manipur rights body applies healing balm on warring communities

IANS Photo

Imphal, September 17 (IANS) When Manipur’s ethnic riots devastated the state claiming 175 lives, injuring 1108, displacing over 70,000 people of different communities, the Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC) turned into a saviour for both the non-tribal Meiteis and the tribal Kukis.

Besides the indigenous people of Manipur, the MHRC headed by Justice Utpalendu Bikas Saha (retired) also looked after the human rights of Myanmarese, lodged in the detention centre in the northeastern state, which shares around a 400 km unfenced border with Myanmar.

Justice Saha, a former Judge of the Gauhati and Tripura High Courts, after taking over charge of the MHRC as its chairperson in February this year, disposed off 192 cases of the 375 pending cases and 180 of the 199 newly registered cases in less than seven months.

Commission sources said that in between 2018 and 2022, 614 cases were registered but only 96 cases were settled.  

The three-member Commission of Inquiry, set up by the Union Home Ministry to probe the ethnic violence in Manipur is yet to make much headway.

Gauhati High Court's former Chief Justice Ajai Lamba is heading the inquiry into the ethnic strife which broke out on May 3.

The Central Bureau of Investigation is also probing many cases but the progress is not much.

Various NGOs and civil society organisations including the Meitei community’s apex body, the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), have been agitating to replace the Assam Rifles in Manipur by some other central forces. Many tribal organisations including the Indigenous Tribal Leaders' Forum (ITLF), Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM) and Committee on Tribal Unity, Sadar Hills Kangpokpi often organise protests against the Manipur police and the Manipur Commando Force and the Rapid Action Force.

While Manipur is sharply divided between the people of the valley and the hill regions, the MHRC has been reaching out to the tribal Kuki, Naga and non-tribal Meiteis and redressing their grievances and protecting their human rights.  

With the intervention of Justice Saha , the Manipur government has recently deputed specialist doctors and other health workers to the Foreigners Detention Centre, Sajiwa (Imphal) where 136 foreigners, mostly Myanmarese, including 24 women have been lodged. The Centre was set up on February 16 this year.

At the instance of Justice Saha, the MHRC has recently taken up a suo-moto case against the recent alleged “forced shifting” of Kuki families from Imphal, reportedly by the authorities, and issued a notice to the state government on this count.

Sources in the Commission said that Justice Saha and member K.K. Singh have directed to register a suo-moto case on the basis of a recent media report and served notice to the Chief Secretary, Commissioner (Home), Director General of Police and Superintendent of Police of Imphal East district, asking them to submit a status report regarding the account detailed in the media report.

The MHRC chairperson accompanied by other officials visited the relief camps of both Kukis and Meites and noted their problems, scarcity of basic necessities and asked the authorities to resolve the problems in the camps.

Approximately 70,000 men, women and children belonging to both the Meitei and Kuki communities have been displaced and are now sheltered in 350 camps set up in schools, government buildings and auditoriums in Manipur with several thousand seeking refuge in the neighbouring states including Mizoram.

After the problems faced by lakhs of people in Manipur due to the prolonged suspension of internet services, the MHRC following petitions by the people has taken up the matter with the state government.

With the intervention of the MHRC, 96 higher secondary students of 11 schools could sit for the board examination conducted by the Board of Secondary Education, Manipur (BOSEM).

Thousands of people of remote Chadong village in Ukhrul district had been facing scarcity of water and other facilities including health and education. With the intervention of the MHRC chairperson, the villagers of the tribal dominated hamlets are now getting all the basic facilities.

The MHRC earlier this month in a letter to Manipur Chief Secretary Vineet Joshi sought protection of the land and houses in the villages and colonies where the displaced persons from both communities used to reside so that the landowners may resettle again when they return, or when the government makes arrangements for their resettlement.

The commission’s other recommendations include providing training and facilities to the internally displaced persons who are staying at various relief camps for self-employment and that they may also be engaged in the MNREGA scheme, providing essential commodities for their basic needs, including study materials to the displaced children and students (as already directed by the Supreme Court).

The rights panel asked the government to ensure doctors’ visit the relief camps at least once a week.

The state government and the district administration should make the necessary arrangements for providing proper formal education to the displaced students and the government should take up necessary action to recover all the arms and ammunition which were looted from police armouries and Churachandpur Gun House, the MHRC suggested.

Rights activist Rajkumar Kalyanjit Singh said the MHRC is the only constitutional body that has earned the trust and support of all communities in Manipur, where more than 34 communities exist.  

“People of Manipur, both tribals and non-tribals, want to live peacefully with communal harmony. But some vested interests are responsible for the disharmony and ethnic hatred. The MHRC chairperson Justice Saha with his sincere and hardworking efforts is trying to unite the people of different communities by protecting their rights,” Singh, editor of a Manipuri newspaper, told IANS.