Unshackling Ladakh and its impact for Manipur

The tribals of Manipur continue to face similar situation of neglect and oppression from the majority community in the state, as the minority Ladakhis did in the State of J&K. the decision of the Central government granting Ladakh the status of UT and unshackling it from J&K seems to provide a glimmer of hope for the marginalised tribes of Manipur to dream of separate land identities for themselves.

ByNgaranmi Shimray

Updated on 3 Dec 2021, 2:55 am

Ukhrul, Manipur (File Photo: IFP)

Ukhrul, Manipur (File Photo: IFP)


Carving out a new Union Territiry of Ladakh from the fullfledged state of Jammu and Kashmir and unshackling the Ladakhis from the domination of a particular majority community is an interesting strategy. This strategy led to the empowerment of the marginalised and neglected small community living in the international border area in India. With one stroke it cut to size the status of J&K from a State to a UT and broke up the state to create a new UT for a neglected small community. By doing this the central government won over a population living in a very rugged terrain at the international border and made them a staunch supporter of the nation.

The Ladakhis have long been neglected by the Srinagar government and have been practically left to fend for themselves as bulk of the resources are spent in the valley dominated by the majority community. Ladakh, which borders China and Pakistan, is a highly sensitive region in terms of defence and security of the country. Therefore it would not be wrong to state that the strategy for security and defence of international border regions would be to secure the support of the people living in the international border areas and make them partners in protecting their land and the country.

Domination of small communities by keeping them suppressed, oppressed, marginalised, neglected and backward can also be seen in regions other than Ladakh. Other similar sensitive international border areas in the country are mostly situated in the north eastern region of India. The biggest headache faced by the central government would be the Naga national movement. The people of Arunachal Pradesh live in peace and do not face any major discontentment except in the districts of Tirap, Longleng and Changlang bordering Myanmar. These districts are inhabited by Naga tribes and they have been influenced by the Naga national movement. In Nagaland, besides the issue of Naga nationhood, there is discontentment among the Naga tribes living in the eastern border of the State bordering Myanmar. They are living in a backward condition and feel neglected by their own government. Disenchanted with the State government’s unfulfilled promises for development and upliftment of their conditions, they have started demanding a separate State of Eastern Nagaland. Arunachal and Nagaland are States governed by the majority tribal people giving them an advantage of solving their differences amongst themselves. However, in case of Manipur the conflict is different.

Manipur has basically two communities; the majority meitei community who live in the valley and the tribals who live in the Hill Areas. The meiteis are about 57% of the population of Manipur and the tribals are about 42% of Manipur’s population as per Census 2011. The meiteis live in roughly 10% of the land in the valley while the tribes have 90% of the land in the hill areas. In such a situation, conflicts in Manipur turn into a tribal and non-tribal face-off.

The valley people are predominantly Vaishnavites Hindus while the tribes belong mainly to the Christian faiths. Over the years, the caste Hindus upheld pure practices and distanced themselves from impure activities and people as a consequence there has been hardly any form of social inter-mingling and emotional bonding between the non-tribals and the tribals of Manipur. The social divide also exists between the Naga tribes on one side and the kuki-chin-mizo tribes on the other side. This is mainly due to the deep seeded hatred between the Naga tribes and the kuki tribes over past and recent atrocities perpetrated against each other. To make matters worse, functions in remembrance of the dark past history continues to be held affecting the young ones.

Under such conditions there has been hardly any social inter-mingling amongst the two largest communities i.e. tribal and non-tribal and also between the Nagas and kukis. Unlike the homogeneous tribes in Mizoram where they have been able to find a unifying factor, namely Mizo language, Manipuri as a language has not served as a glue to bond different communities together as one. The absence of solidarity amongst different communities in Manipur which remains un-bridged even to this day indicates that Manipur is a strong candidate for being termed a failed State.

With the lion share for development and employment taken by the valley people, the fissures between the non-tribals and tribals of Manipur appear to be widening. Militancy is in abundance in Manipur and it would be difficult for anyone to refute that poverty and unemployment are not some of the reasons why youth continue to be attracted to militancy. As the share of the pie of government benefits dwindles and prosperity appears to be concentrated mainly in the valley, tension linked to poverty and unemployment is bound to rise in the State.

The tribals of Manipur continue to face similar situation of neglect and oppression from the majority community in the State, as the minority Ladakhis did in the State of J&K, the decision of the Central government granting Ladakh the status of UT and unshackling it from J&K seems to provide a glimmer of hope for the marginalised tribes of Manipur to dream of separate land identities for themselves. The perpetuation of oppression and contemptuous reactions, displayed in the recent past by the Hon’ble Speaker who had inducted 9 non-tribal MLA from non-Hill Areas into the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) and the State government’s attitude of summarily rubbishing the revamped district council Bill, 2021, drafted and approved by the HAC, begs the question of why the people in the Hill Areas of Manipur should not cry out for help to the central government? There is a danger that the tribals could soon come to the ultimate conclusion that they cannot expect justice and fair play from a Legislative Assembly and a State government dominated by the majority community. The central government is already aware that recruits for militancy are mainly from the hills of Manipur where the discontent festers? Would it be far from the truth to say that lack of development and opportunities in the Hill Areas of Manipur have been partly responsible in pushing the tribal youths of Manipur to identify in solidarity with other armed organisations?  Under such circumstances, would the central government take note of the sufferings and oppressions of tribal people of Manipur and consider a Ladakh-like solution for the Hill Areas of Manipur?

The slogan from the dominant community has always been ‘Chingtam Amadane’ (Hills and Valley are one). There would be hope for Manipur to stay together as an entity when communities from the Hill Areas are given their due and fair share of development and equal opportunity to prosper. Magnanimity is the name of the game and the need of the hour. The ball can be said to be in the court of the majority community and it is for them to consider how they would like the future of Manipur to pan out.

(The views expressed are personal)

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