On the evening of 7 June, around ten buses from various parts of Delhi set off for Chankyapuri. The people from the hill tribes of Manipur on board these buses were gathering outside the Manipur Bhawan to protest against the presence of their Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh and an 18-member delegation which was in the capital to pressure the centre into giving assent to three land bills that the state legislature had passed on 31 August 2015.
In a special session, the Manipur State Assembly had 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 hill tribes of Manipur believe the bills impinge on their land rights. The first of these bills proposes to issue a “pass” to any “non-Manipur person” while entering the state. These have been strongly opposed by tribals, who mainly inhabit the hill districts of Manipur and posit that this is a “hills versus valley” divide. Last September, nine protestors were killed in police firing in Churachandpur district of the state during a protest against the bill.
As night fell on Manipur Bhawan on Sardar Patel Marg, a huge contingent of police personnel was present. The bhawan itself was heavily barricaded, and a few senior police officers waited on the peripheries. At least five camera wielding policemen recorded the proceedings. No women police could be seen even though a majority of the protestors were women.
What began as a peaceful protest escalated as stones came flying from the direction of the bhawan. Protesters pushed through one of the gates of the bhawan. They were first brutally assaulted by the Manipur police present inside and then by the Delhi police contingent outside. A reporter with APN news, Himanshu Pandey, who was covering the incident, was assaulted by the police, and suffered blows to the head. I was roughed up despite identifying myself as a journalist several times. People dispersing weren’t spared either. The police conducted lathi charges on men and women who were atleast a kilometre away from the bhawan.
Without warning, the police used a water cannon after the lathi charge. I witnessed around 50 protestors injured and taken to various hospitals around the city, an equal number were detained, many of them women. At Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, a nurse took me to policemen present at the casualty ward. They made me delete some of the images I had taken of the protestors admitted along with me.
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.