Manipur in turmoil


Popular movement demands the lifting of de facto martial law

On August 15, 2004, the thirty two-year-old Pebam Chittaranjan Mangang set himself alit in Imphal, capital of the Indian state of Manipur, in order to protest against the ongoing military rule. He later died for his injuries.

This recent episode shows at the same time the desperation as well as the readiness to combat of the people´s of the Seven Sisters, the seven states annexed to the Indian Union when it became independent, and especially the people of Manipur. Since the early stages of the inclusion to the Union, to which they had no important ties, there was popular resistance against Indian rule exercised by brute military force. Already by 1958 the Union imposed the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) which de facto not only means direct military rule but also impunity for whatever atrocities committed by the Indian army.

In the course of the escalation of the popular struggle for elementary democratic rights on one side and the military repression on the other countless cases of murder, rape and disappearance have occurred. The recent outburst of public anger which climaxed in a general strike in July was caused by the apprehension of female activist Thangjam Manorama who was tortures, raped and eventually shot dead by the "17th Assam Rifles" unit of the Indian army and her corpse dumped in the street.

This roughly coincided with the taking of office by the new federal govt led by Congress and backed up by the institutional left. One of the first promisses made by the govt was the removal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the draconian repressive law passed after September 11 and known as the Indian homologue of the US Patriot act.

Consequently the civil rights movement took to the street demanding in analogy also the removal of the AFSPA. But the Union reacted with brute force and now there are rumours that Delhi considers to pass from de facto military rule to a de iure direct federal rule sweeping away the already rachitic Manipuri state institutions.

The situation is not much better in the other North Eastern state. However, the fragmentation of the movements in the other six states is much stronger as it consists of small ethnic and national groups often territorially mixed up and sometimes engaged in conflicts among each other while Manipur – which formed a state already before the arrival of the British – is more homogeneous.

Many of the popular movements in the North East only ask for democratic constitutional rights including autonomy and not necessarily for secession. But as the conflict continues to escalate the voice for full state independence become stronger like with the Naga movement in the state of Nagaland.

Darshan Pal, leader of the "All Indian People´s Resistance Movement", which centre is based in Delhi, describes the situation in the Seven Sisters as the hottest all over India. While the AIPRF supports their right to self-determination they try to unify the anti-Indian state momentum with the much weaker revolutionary movement in mainland India. This is also the intention of the All Manipur United Clubs` Organization (AMUCO) led by Jagat Thoudam, a close friend and collaborator of the Anti-imperialist Camp who was forces to go into underground recently. In this intensive correspondence he expressed his fears that a premature popular uprising in Manipur, which according to him is possible, might not meet the necessary support outside and therefore could be drawn in blood.

"Go back Indian army, remove Black Law from North East, Indian Democracy is for mouth only not for practice, unity is our strength, struggle unitedly, not separately, punish the culprit of pastor Jamkholet Khongsai & Miss Th Manorama Chanu." (Pebam Chittaranjan Mangang in his farewell letter to the Manipuri people before he burned himself to death)