When the Report of the Fact Finding Team of the Editors Guild of India was received, the first reaction on seeing the cover is, this is not going to be neutral as it carries a photo of the Wall of Remembrance with photos of those killed in the current conflict.
The All Manipur Working Journalist Union (AMWJU) and the Editors Guild Manipur (EGM) had reacted to the report and what has been said will not be repeated here except for critical ones.
The four-day visit of the team was crowd funded as the EGI had solicited contributions for at least two lakhs which makes the exercise doubtful as any major contributors will have the ability to influence the outcome, though it may not have been.
The report is mainly based on hearsay as alleged in the rebuttal of AMWJU and EGM. The team have not gone through the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972, which was referred to as the Hill Areas Committee Act of 1972, can be gauged by the claim that the procedure laid down therein was not followed.
Under this order, the HAC has no function over reserve forest as per item 4 of Schedule 2 of the Order. Further, under item 3, the HAC has no role to play on land acquired for public purposes in accordance with any law for the time being in force.
In fact, the District Council Bill drafted by the HAC was not accepted by the Government because of many deficiencies such as the effort to insert a narrative that Article 371C envisage a separate administration of the Hill areas and to make a standing committee of the Manipur Legislative Assembly, the HAC, as part of the executive blurring the distinction between the legislature and the executive.
The objective of the HAC order was to ensure that the customary laws continue while providing local self government through the District Council. Even the term Autonomous District Council used in the 1971 Act was to have separate Councils for the then Sadar Hills and for the erstwhile Chandel area, the former under Manipur North District and the latter under Central District, or in other words the jurisdiction of the Councils do not coincide with the boundary of the revenue districts.
The team continues to follow the narrative that since 1901 and 2011 there is no unusual growth of the non-Naga tribal population. The British clumped all non Naga as Kuki but later many groups show affinity to the Naga and joined the group. A study of the demographic profile after segregating the population into groups taken out from the primary data of the censuses is brought out as below
Pangal + Muslim
Growth higher than 1200% or so indicate in migration that is Muslims, Kuki and other communities. Hence, the claim of normal growth of population for Kuki is not supported by data.
It is very clear that the narratives circulated by certain interested party was taken as gospel truth and that the order of the Hon’ble High Court of Manipur in WP(C) No. 229 of 2023 was not gone into.
The order was simple as in the operative part the State Government was directed to send the recommendations to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in response to a query dated 29.5.2013 and that the State Government should consider the case of the petitioner for inclusion of Meetei/Meitei in the ST List preferably within four weeks in terms of the averments set out in the writ petition and in line of the order passed in WP(C) No. 4281 of 2002 dated 26.05.2023 by the Hon’ble Gauhati High Court.
In other words, the state government was asked to look into the conditions laid down for eligibility of the community for inclusion in the ST List and that the recommendations can either be negative or positive. The claim perpetuates the misleading interpretation of the court’s order.
The interpretation of the term “Kuki-Chin narco terrorists’ was also as per the interpretation by certain vested interest groups. When COCOMI declared war on “Kuki-Chin narco terrorists” what it meant was war against the Kuki-Chin who are involved in narco terrorism and not against all Kuki-Chin.
It is not disputed that members from all communities are involved in the drug trade but it is only the Kuki-Chin who are involved in terrorist acts by firing on innocent people and killing them with sophisticated weapons bought from drug money.
The claim that over emphasis on poppy cultivation to the detriment on the smuggling of synthetics is not borne by the fact that seizures of yaba and other drugs continue, though with the conflict the seizures are now limited with the security forces focused on the conflict rather than normal law and order and drug control which is understandable.
Even though other communities are involved in poppy cultivation, their number and area under cultivation is limited and the main grower are Kuki-Chin and 90 per cent of the area under cultivation is in Kuki-dominated areas. Thounaojam Brinda by the way is not an IPS officer as was mentioned in the report but an MPS officer.
The report hinted as if the appointment of the Security Advisor was done by the Centre and as neither President Rule nor Article 355 was invoked, the Shoot at sight order issued in the name of the Governor was incorrect. It is unfortunate that even the provision of the Constitution is not understood.
Article 166 (1) lays down that “All executive action of the Government of a state shall be expressed to be taken in the name of the Governor” and the appointment of the Security Advisor or for that matter shoot at sight orders was issued by the State Government in the name of the Governor.
The report did not mention that the Security Advisor was made the Chairman of the Unified Command in place of the chief minister as was earlier.
The report said “.... but physical or geographical separation had taken place between the Meitei and Kuki-Zo inhabited areas” without going into who had started the ethnic cleansing first and had swept this aspect under the carpet and only the outcome was incorporated, which by now everybody knows, perhaps except for the team.
It is surprising that the team in their list do not include media like Manipur Times or Tollou TV from Churachandpur. The narrative that Imphal media was transformed into Meitei media was totally unjustified as reports from the hills was also carried out by Imphal-based dailies whenever available. The observation on the role of the national media was perfunctory, to say the least.
Various allegations have been made against the journalist fraternity of Imphal but the principle of natural justice was never applied.
If allegations were made which may or may not be true, it is for the team to hear the other side. This is the major cause of concern of the report.
Perhaps, the time taken was too short for such a humungous task and in their effort to finalise it quickly has cut too much corners making the report itself subject to ridicule. As an organisation of journalists it would have been appropriate to dwell a little bit more on how the journalists in the field are functioning, the risk they are taking, etc.
The object seems to target the government without understanding that the anger of the Kuki-Chin towards the government was turned into hatred for the Meitei, resulting in the conflict.
In conclusion, a hash job only meant to fulfil a certain narrative and deserves a place in the big file- wastepaper basket.
(The views expressed are personal)