On 31 August 2016, cries of “Ibobi down down” and “Fuck you Ibobi” and “Sakthu (Meitei for Fuck you) Ibobi” rang out as a large crowd marched through the town of Lamka in Manipur’s Churachandpur district. They were protesting against the chief minister of the state, Okram Ibobi Singh for pushing through three bills under pressure from the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System, an umbrella organisation of 30 civil bodies in Manipur. The committee had lobbied for the the enforcement of an inner line permit system (an official document issued by the government to allow travel of an Indian citizen into a protected or restricted area) similar to those in force in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland to check the influx of non-Manipuris into the state.
On 31 August 2015, in a special session, the Manipur State Assembly passed three bills: the Protection of Manipur People Bill, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill, and the Manipur Shops and Establishments Bill. All three bills—drafted to protect the indigenous people of the state—were passed unopposed by the tribal members of Legislative Assembly.
The protestors told me that their main objection was the new definition of “Manipur people” in the Protection of Manipur People Bill. The bill states that “Persons of Manipur [are those] whose name are in the National Register of Citizens 1951, Census Report 1951 and Village Directory of 1951.” This means that to be considered a “person of Manipur,” one would have to be listed in all three registers since 1951. The bills are seen as threatening the distinct identity of the hill areas that surround the Imphal Valley.
When elders in the community objected to the language being used in the protests, the chants subsided but only for a while before erupting again. The protestors covered a distance of ten kilometres from Churachandpur College grounds to a memorial built for those that had died over four hours through the gently sloping hills of pastoral Churachandpur. This town, just an hour’s drive south of the state capital Imphal, has been the site of demonstrations since nine people were killed on 31 August 2015, when a protest against the three land bills turned violent and the police opened fire. One of the dead was a ten-year-old boy, Khaijamang Touthang. The Joint Action Committee against the Anti Tribal Bills, which was formed in the immediate aftermath of the widespread public outrage and consists of several hill tribes and student organisations, has stated that it would not bury the dead until the demands of the hill districts are met.
Urged on by the community, the state government and district hospital ordered a cold storage for the bodies, which took over three months to procure. In the meanwhile, the bodies were kept in a morgue, cooled by two running air conditioners and locally sourced ice.
Vivek Singh is a Delhi-based documentary photographer and journalist. He has been working on stories out of India’s north-eastern periphery since 2006. His work can be seen on http://www.viveksinghphoto.