Newsletter May - Aug 2010 

The State Triggers Further Tensions In Manipur And Nagaland

Events in the north eastern states of independent India, more especially Manipur and Nagaland, constantly seem to play themselves out as a series of flashpoints. Instances of violence, outbursts and suppressions. Experiences of anger, pain, denial, desperation and loss. Memories of alienation further entrenched on all sides of the divides. 

The last few months have been no different. If anything they point to an escalating tolerance by both the state machinery and citizens, for the way things are. But first, a brief timeline of some key events. 

FLASHPOINT 1: On 12 April 2010, the Manipur government announced the election of the Autonomous District Council in the state. This revived many concerns of the peoples in the hill regions of the state, primarily the Naga communities over the Manipur (Hill Area) District Council Act 2008 (Third Amendment) which they believe takes away the powers of the tribal people and undermines the authority of traditional tribal institutions in terms of sale/purchase of the land, declaration of forest areas as ‘national parks’ or ‘protected reserves’, appointment of chiefs/headmen, as well as matters of inheritance, marriage, divorce and other customs determined by traditional practice. Consequently, the All Naga Students’ Association of Manipur (ANSAM) called for a 6 day economic blockade, which soon grew into an indefinite one…but it still failed to draw a response from the state government. Then things got even worse. 

FLASHPOINT 2: At the end of April, the leader of the NSCN (IM) Thuingaleng Muivah arrived in New Delhi for the next leg of peace talks with the Central Government. Now in its 13th year, the talks were to be resumed, after a breakdown in negotiations for almost a year. While Mr Muivah was in New Delhi waiting for the meetings to be scheduled, he requested, and was granted permission by the Home Ministry, to visit his home town of Somdal, in Ukhrul District, in the Manipur hills. 

It was as though several political volcanoes had erupted simultaneously. On one side, was excitement among many Nagas at the homecoming after 40 years.  There was a sense of validation, of recognition of their struggles and their leader. Immediately calls went out to form reception committees to welcome Th Muivah, traditional welcome gates were constructed and put up all the way from Dimapur in Nagaland to Ukhrul, Senapati and Mao Gate, the border post between Manipur and Nagaland. 

On the other side, trepidation abounded: whether the proposed visit was in fact, a strategy for the Nagas to assert their territorial claim over the lands of Manipur (one of the most controversial parts of their demand for a greater Nagaland); whether the right of passage by the central government indicated a readiness to give in to that demand; whether the visit would undermine the claim of the Meities and others in the valley of an unbroken Manipur; whether it would reduce the negotiating power of other stakeholders in the north-east affected by the Peace Talks. And so on. The state government of Manipur under Chief Minister Ibobi Singh reacted swiftly, denying Th Muivah right of passage under the pretext of a threat to ‘law and order’. 

FLASHPOINT 3: What followed was almost inevitable. Within hours the security forces - Manipur Rifles, Commandoes and IRB personnel - had moved in to ‘guard’ the state border and clamped down on entries from Nagaland. For the first few days, even press persons from Nagaland were not ‘allowed’ to enter Manipur to witness what was happening in the hill villages. But finally, the silence broke on it, thanks to a large contingent of activists and press people, including a Saheli member, who managed to talk their way in past the security to Tadubi and Mao gate villages, where hundreds, if not thousands, of people, mostly women, were sitting in silent protest against the curbing of Muivah’s movement towards his home. (See Box 1). Their demands were simple: “Don’t militarise the area further under this pretext; don’t jeopardize the peace talks; just allow the man his promised visit home”. A demand that was echoed with minor variations by individuals and groups in many parts of the country. 

By 6th May 2010, the situation was getting tenser by the moment. Th. Muivah had made his way to the last Naga village on the edge of the state, candlelight vigils and protest and public meetings all over the hill areas were building up pressure. In the valley, there was a tense and silent waiting as Central and State Governments negotiated to no avail. And in the hills, in Mao Gate village a skirmish between the security personnel and the protesters ended up with indiscriminate tear gas, lathi charge and firing of both, rubber and live bullets by Manipur Police Commandoes and Manipur IRBs. Two young students, Loshuo and Chakho, were killed, 95 others injured and hospitalised and more than two thousand Mao villagers displaced from their homes overnight.

FLASHPOINT 4: It was like a moment of awakening for the media. The north east was back in the news, with tales of death, injury, rage, shock, grief, military presence and protests. It was however very tough to get any media space for efforts being made across community and political allegiance to speak out against such blatant aggression by the state. In a joint statement issued within hours of the incident from Imphal, 26 groups and individuals from all the seven north eastern states condemned the violence of the state and urged the Prime Minister and Home Minister to prevent any escalations of the violence (Box 2). In Delhi, Bangalore and elsewhere too people stepped in to try and be heard. But neither the media nor the government (at the Centre or in the State) had ears for voices of reason. 

The only stories there was space for, were of the increasingly hardening stand taken by Ibobi Singh’s government, of Meira Paibi and other Meitei groups speaking out against Muivah’s visit, of angry Naga mobs who burnt down buses or rampaged a police station in Ukhrul, and yes of course, stories of fractures among the various Naga militant groups, especially the NSCN (Khaplang), NSCN (Unification) and the NNC - their age-old tensions emerging in the time of crisis. 

Several weeks passed, with a fast-waning public interest in the events in the region. The state government it seemed had decided that it did not need to engage any more with the issue. After several attempts to negotiate with the State Government, the Centre too distanced itself from the Naga concern and the question of Muivah’s visit or withdrawal from his plan to visit Manipur. Even the Declaration of the Naga people of the Hill areas of Manipur issued on 15th May, rejecting the state government and resulting in the destruction of many government offices and property, failed to evoke a response. And in the midst of it all, what totally fell by the wayside was any serious concern about the future of the peace talks and the ceasefire with the NSCN (IM). 

A statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission & the Manipur based Human Rights* on 24th May 2010, said, “The government of India has the singular responsibility of allowing the issue to escalate to this proportion… The deepening divide and the fragility of peace between the ethnic communities is also the result of unilateral negotiations that were brokered in the past by the government of India, ignoring the collective tribal and ethnic identities of the people living in the region… At the very minimum the government cannot ask Muivah to restrict his movement within India, and least of all prevent him from visiting his home village since over the past decade Muivah has been encouraged by the government to accept the Constitutional premise in the country with all its guarantees including the freedom of movement. Any attempt to restrict Muivah could probably result in a unilateral withdrawal from the peace accord by the Nagas, a costly affair for the government and Nagas alike. Ibobi on his count has added fire to the issue by allowing his police to kill Naga protesters in Mao town...”

FLASHPOINT 5: But a few weeks down the line, the voices rising from the Manipur valley became too loud to ignore. The economic blockade called by ANSAM (across the vital link road, National Highway 39, connecting Manipur with the rest of India which passes through Nagaland) was causing an intense humanitarian crisis in the valley. Shortages of food, fuel, medical supplies and so on were mounting, emergency services in hospitals were closed down, corruption was rife and the black market was soaring. As was hunger, grief and anger… that once again raised its head as fractures between communities. The government had to airlift supplies, and finally engage with the ANSAM and other groups to bring to bear ‘moral pressure’ to end the blockade. 


For a few short days in July, it seemed as though the State was listening – to the peoples of the valley and the hills of Manipur and Nagaland. But once again, the hopes turned out to be false. Despite many meetings with stakeholders on various sides of the conflict, no concrete steps have been taken by the state or central governments to address the political implications of the events of the last few months, much less to resolve the issues that emerge from them, including the question of punishment for the armed personnel guilty of excesses against local populations.

Once again, the state has chosen to let the tensions simmer; To use military might to retain its control of the region; To fan the flames of difference that have arisen despite efforts on the parts of members of different communities from all over the north east to rise above them through these difficult months. On our part as activists and supporting organisations outside of the north-east, we too have tried to play our part, but the road has been full of obstacles. 

Our only hope is to help keep the dialogues open, to work to strengthen the linkages and move forward in our shared struggles against state violence and repression, as manifested through the events of May – July 2010 in Manipur, and the continued existence of black laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. (See Box 3) 

Footnote: As we go to press, it is Kashmir’s turn to burn once again. What started as protests against ‘encounter killings’ of three young boys in April, grew into a full fledged crisis following the accidental killing of a teenager by security forces in June. Since then, it is believed that more than 40 people, mostly young boys have been killed in firing by security forces. And most of them young professionals and educated youth, pelting stones against such blatant human rights violations, as well as sheer joblessness and hopelessness… but even then, the state is unwilling to listen. The Prime Minister, who had been working on economic packages for the state for more than four years now, simply assured the youth that they would ‘get jobs’ on his last visit to the state. Not a word about the deaths and violations that have been meted out, not a word on the question of justice. But on one thing he was clear:“I understand your sentiment in asking for the repeal of AFSPA, but we cannot demoralize our troops”, Dr Manmohan Singh told the people of Kashmir! 

A daunting message for the people of Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, and indeed, for all of us, wherever in the country we are. A stark reminder of why our campaigns against laws like the AFSPA must go on, from strength to strength. We have no choice.

BOX 1 


Bela Bhatia | Vani Subramanian 

In the midst of the tension around the proposed visit of NSCN-IM leader, Th. Muivah to the Naga Hills of Manipur, the border between Manipur and Nagaland has become a site for state belligerence as well as protests. Security forces moved into the territory in large numbers on the evening of 2nd May 2010. That very day the traditional welcome gate at Mao Gate was pulled down by them, and Section 144 imposed on Ukhrul and Senapati areas. Curfew has also been imposed and vehicular entry from Nagaland is also severely limited. 

As a women’s team from Delhi and Mumbai, we visited the area to assess the situation. En route we saw the smouldering remains of four trucks burnt in the middle of last night. So far no group has claimed responsibility, but they remain disturbing evidence of mounting tensions in the area. Like many others, we were stopped at Mao Gate, the border between Nagaland and Manipur by the Manipur State Police who said that they had orders not to allow ‘any media’ in to the state. However, after further telephone communication with their officers they decided to allow us entry for a short while. 

We visited two Naga villages closest to the border: Mao and Tadubi. As we reached the village centre in both places, we witnessed impressive gatherings of thousands of Mao Naga women in traditional black and red shawls, of all ages, many with children, from as many as 22 surrounding villages, gathered in silent protest. On the face of it these were ‘silent’ protests but not if you read the scores of placards that the women were carrying: ‘Muivah has a right to visit his birthplace’, ‘Respect Indo Naga peace process,’ ‘Down with the Ibobi government’, ‘We want peaceful settlement’, ‘Nagas are one’, ‘No more militarization’, ‘We want peaceful co-existence’, ‘Expedite peace process’, ‘Do not provoke peace.’ 

“Why have curfew and Section 144 been imposed? There was no turmoil here, no reaction, even after they pulled down our traditional ceremonial gate welcoming our leader,” said one Naga mother. Another asked: “Why have they deployed so many forces here, more than ever in the last three decades?” Other sentiments posed by the men at the protests included, “It is unconstitutional and undemocratic to not allow a citizen entry to his home.” “Our future is threatened.” “Such actions of the government of Manipur are going to cause ethnic clashes.” 

Amid news reports of escalating military presence and tensions in the hill areas including the attack on the police station by women in Ukhrul, are also stories of such other peaceful mass protests and candle light vigils. The Naga people in these areas are trying to get themselves heard through their silent protests – the question is will the state and central governments be democratic enough to hear them, and act without any further delay? The current situation inherently contradicts the spirit of peace talks towards a political settlement of this long-standing conflict, and threatens peaceful coexistence amongst the various communities of this region. 

Bela Bhatia, writer and human rights activist

Vani Subramanian, film-maker and women’s rights’activist 

BOX 2 



SUB: Appeal for Urgent Action to Diffuse the Situation in the Border Areas of Manipur And Nagaland, following Firing on Unarmed Citizens causing Several Casualties And Injuries 

Dear Sir,

We write to you with deep concern about the events as they are emerging in the border areas of Manipur and Nagaland, resulting from the proposed visit of the NSCN-IM leader, Mr. Th. Muivah to his home town as agreed upon by the Union Government but contested by the Government of Manipur. 

Instead of acting to help diffuse the situation, the state has responded by heightening its military response. Such action by the state has inevitably increased aggression from all sides and generated panic and insecurity among people of different communities in the region. 

Not surprisingly, the situation has now deteriorated sharply, with the armed forces firing upon unarmed protestors in and around Mao village, resulting in three deaths and around 80 men and women hospitalised with injuries. Additionally, there are disturbing reports of other forms of repression of the local population by the forces. 

We condemn such a response from the state and urge you to act immediately in order to bring the situation under control and restore normalcy to the region. 


Angela Ralte , Mizoram; Anthony Debbarma, Borok People’s Human Rights Organisation, Agartala; Babloo Loitongbam, Human Rights Alert, Imphal; BamangTago, Arunachal Citizens Rights (ACR), Itanagar; Bondita Acharya, Purva Bharti Trust, Jorhat; Borok Women Forum, Agartala; D.Vari, Hmar Women Association; Fr. Santiago, Director North East Diocesan Social Forum, Gauhati; Grace Shatsang, Naga Women’s Union Manipur, Senapati; HechinHaokip, CWG, Chandel; Helam Haokip, IRMA, Senapati; Jarjum Ete, Ex-Chairperson State Women Commission, Arunachal Pradesh; Lalam Mate, President, All Tribal Women Organisation, Chandel; Leimatombi, FAC, Bishenpu; Mary Beth Sanate, Rural Women’s Upliftment Society, Churachandpur; MhonKikon, Dice Foundation, Dimapur; Nazma Begum, OFT, Thoubal; Nonibala Narengbam, IRDSO, Wangjing; North East Network, Guwahati; Pramo, FFH, Thoubal; Rebati, ARDWE, Bishenpur; Rose Mangshi Haokip, Kuki Women Union Manipur; Shanghaidar Tontang, Weaker Section’s Development Council, Chandel; Shiluinla Jamir, Nagaland; Suhas Chakma, Asian Center for Human Rights (ACHR); Tamphasana, NEPSC, Imphal West 

*AHRC & HRA. Human Rights Alert is a Manipur based human rights organisation. The Asian Human  Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. 

100 days countdown to 10th year of Irom Sharmila’s struggle against the AFSPA announcement – from gmail!

BOX 3 



On August 21, 2010 about a 100 members of student groups, civil liberty and democratic rights groups, women’s groups and trade unions etc sat on a hour long Dharna and conducted a Public Meeting in Jantar Mantar demanding the Repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from all regions in North East and Jammu and Kashmir. 

This event was organized in response to information that the central government is slated to move a Bill in the present session of Parliament amending some sections of the Act to make the armed forces ‘more accountable’. However the amendments being considered are shrouded in mystery. 

The protest noted attempt to ‘amend’ the AFSPA is in direct contravention to the long standing demand of peoples’ groups for repeal of the Act, as well as the recommendation of repeal from the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission. Last year the UN Commissioner for Human Rights also asked India to repeal AFSPA. In Kashmir a working group on confidence building measures set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also recommended its repeal in J&K. 

“The Act must go lock, stock and barrel” was the call of the day, and “any section of the act being converted into some another act is a complete breach of people’s trust.” The collective demands placed to the Prime Minister on the occasion were: 

• The Act must go lock, stock and barrel.

• No part of this law be put into any other law

• The central government must give sanctions in all cases where the security personnel have been accused by a court of law, judicial commissions and magisterial inquiries. A thorough investigation must be launched into all pending complaints against central security personnel as well as police personnel.

• The government must withdraw central security forces if it is serious about resolving the outstanding issues in the AFSPA-imposed areas and restore peace.

• The government must make its position clear on the above Act.