MUMBAI, May 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indigenous
activists will bury the bodies of eight fellow protesters killed
18 months ago in clashes in northeastern India after the
government agreed to consult the tribes on laws impacting their
Violent protests erupted in Manipur state on Aug. 31, 2015,
after the state government introduced three bills - including a
land revenue and reforms bill - that indigenous people said were
"anti-tribal" and infringed on their ownership rights.
Officials said the laws would regularise the sale and
transfer of land.
Nine young men were killed in Churachandpur town in ensuing
clashes. The indigenous protesters refused to bury the dead
until a resolution was reached on the issue.
The bodies have remained in a hospital morgue since then,
with one man's body claimed by his family and buried, according
to local media reports.
India's president rejected one of the bills last year, while
the two others - including the land reform bill - were sent back
to the state for revisions.
Officials this month agreed to consult tribal groups on the
"Any new bill which affects the interests of the indigenous
tribal people, the state government will follow due procedure as
laid down in the constitution," said a government statement.
In response, the indigenous people agreed to reclaim the
bodies by May 25.
"The family members will collect the bodies from the morgue
... and then decide on a date for a mass community burial after
completing rituals," said Soso Samte, a protest leader.
Indigenous people, who make up more than a third of
Manipur's population and live in the state's hills, have
traditionally been governed by customary law. Tribal councils
control land and determine its sale and transfer within the
The 2015 bill would have given the state control of tribal
land and allowed people from outside the indigenous community
access to their land as well, protesters say.
"The wording of the bill was ambiguous and could have made
tribal people more vulnerable, but clearly land is needed more
and more for building highways and dams," said Walter Fernandes,
a senior fellow at the North Eastern Social Research Centre in
Guwahati, the largest city in northeastern India.
"Customary laws have ensured protection of tribal land, but
not its development. The opposing groups must understand land as
being essential to identity and employment, without interfering
with ownership," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Conflicts over land in India have increased as the economy
expands and more land is sought for industrial use.
While several laws have been introduced to protect
indigenous people's rights, some laws have been diluted and not
always helped the most vulnerable, activists say.
"We hope the understanding reached with the government will
help resolve our demands. At least my brother who lost his life
will rest in peace then," said Chingneihhoij Munluah, sister of
one of the nine victims.
(Additional reporting by Zarir Hussain in Guwahati, editing by
Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
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