Is a Manipuri Autonomous Council in the Pipeline in Assam?


Is a Manipuri Autonomous Council in the Pipeline in Assam?

Prakreetish Sarma | December 26, 2020 14:28 hrs

One of the striking features about the state of Assam is the presence of autonomous councils which are spread across the length and breadth of the entire state.  

These are a result of years of struggle and movements for autonomy. These autonomous councils have their own set of rules and regulations. Chief Executive Members or CEMs are elected in a democratic manner just like chief minister for any state election in India. 

The Manipuri community of Assam has recently intensified its demand for their own autonomous council. There have been a series of high voltage rallies carried out such as the recent rally taken out by the All Assam Manipuri Youth Association (AAMYA) in a bid to pressurize the government to form an autonomous council; the massive rally was taken out in Manipuri Para in Itkhola in Cachar district. 

The demand for autonomy can be traced to the memorandum forwarded from the Plain Tribal Council of Assam (PTCA) to the then President of India, Dr Zakir Hussain, way back in 1967. The memorandum showered light on the fact that although the PTCA had welcomed the then federal division of India, however the sentiments, grievances of the tribal people could be upheld with the help of full autonomy. This memorandum was also forwarded to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. A proper bifurcation was necessary as had been reiterated by members of the PTCA such as Charan Narzary. 

For example, although the demand for autonomy was common, there were differences among them such as Bodo or the Miri people were of Mongoloid origin and were sons of the soil. Similarly, there were some tribal groups who were of Tibeto-Burman origin and spoke the relatively foreign Indo-Aryan language. Hence it was necessary to have different divisions/territories, as clubbing everyone within one territory was not feasible.

As for the Manipuri population, their presence in Assam can be traced way back to the 17th century as Sir Edward Gait had put forward that when the Burmese invasion of Manipur took place in 1765, the then king, Jai Sing, had to flee and seek refuge in present-day Cachar and subsequently, one of the Manipuri rulers, Chaurijit Singh, had even established his empire in South Cachar. It was only through the Treaty of Yandaboo which was spearheaded by the British that Gambhir Singh, a king of Manipuri origin, was reinstated to the throne of Manipur in 1826. Hence, it is natural for some of the Manipuri population to have stayed back in Assam. 

As per mythology also, migrations in Manipur can be traced to the days of Mahabharata, as Arjun had apparently married a local royal (a serpent queen). Apart from that there is a considerable amount of Manipuri population in Brahmaputra Valley as well such as Manipuri Basti in Guwahati, and also in patches across the upper Assam side.

In Assam, the division of autonomous council is based on two aspects. The territorial council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution emphasizes more upon preserving the land rights, administering the respective districts etc such as BTR (Bodoland Tribal region), North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council etc. On the other hand, the statutory autonomous councils constituted under State Act such as Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council, Mising Autonomous Council etc emphasize more on uplifting and preserving the socio-economic, educational, ethnic rights etc and extend across the core as well as people living in the satellite areas.

Apart from that the government of Assam had taken an initiative to further help the socio-economically weaker sections with the creation of 33 Development Councils and have decentralized power and responsibilities to ensure better governance. And the Bishnupuri Manipur Development Council, Manipur Development Council are also included in the list and are bestowed with the rights and privileges.

But this never-ending demand of various tribes and communities for autonomy has given nightmares to the administration. It turns out to be a paradoxical situation as whenever such a demand arises the administration has to restructure everything from scratch. Apart from the people demanding autonomy, there are people belonging to different origins, and the looming risk of losing certain integral rights such as rights over the land, seats in the election, reservation in jobs and educational institution prevail. It can be seen in the recently created BTR region where Obodos (non-Bodo) origins are at constant risk of losing their land rights.

As of now, the stakeholders of the various Manipuri organizations such as the Manipuri National Council, All Assam Manipuri Youth Association (AAMYA) have questioned the double standards of the authorities in granting the Koch Rajbongshis, Morans, and Muttocks and denying them the same. In spite of the fact that even they have been residing in Assam for a long time but due to neglect have been deprived socio-economically, politically. They have further warned to intensify the stir. Now the biggest question is as the CAA stir is on the brink, will the authorities pacify such a demand to avoid another stir or stymie such a demand?    

(The author is currently practicing as an Advocate in Gauhati High Court. The views expressed in the article are his own.)

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