The Manipur experience
-- By Dr. N. Vijaylakshmi Brara
In my earlier note on the northeast (Tribal Areas), which was tabled in
the first meeting of this project in the Institute premises (Institute
of Social Sciences, Delhi), I had stated that considering the specific
historical situation in the hill areas of the north-east the areas of
exclusion have to be different, i.e.,
1. The hills people at large vis-à-vis the state administration.
2. The complete exclusion of women in the formation of ADCs, and 3. The
ethnic minorities and the non-ethnic groups vis-à-vis the major
tribal societies. But it seems that the perspective of this project is
different. The guidelines sent by Prof. Baviskar of Delhi University do
not seem to incorporate the ideas behind my note.
As I have understood
the points raised by Prof. Baviskar he wants us to study the involvement
of the three kinds of gram Pradhans in the running of their respective
gram Panchayats, their relation with the Zilla Parishad and with the state,
along with other variables of the region to bring out a contextual study,
for the people to understand the problem in the ethno-specific background
of the region. Needless to say that to bring homogeneity of the study
I will need a shift in my paradigm by shifting my focus from tribal areas
to the non-tribal areas of Manipur. Unlike the hills which has (Autonomous?)
District Councils, the plain of Manipur has PRIs as envisaged in the rest
of India along with the specific social structures, which are peculiar
to this region. I have already dealt at length with the status of PRIs
in Manipur in my project," The Status of Panchayats in North- East
India", for this esteemed Institute.
Now my focus will narrow down to the in-depth study of one district
in the plain areas of Manipur.
The plain area of Manipur comprises of four districts: Thoubal, Bishnupur,
Imphal East and Imphal west. When the Manipur Panchayati Rai Act, 1994
was enacted, there were three districts in the valley area, viz., Imphal,
Thoubal, and Bishnupur. The Imphal Zilla Parishad was subsequently divided
into Imphal East and Imphal West after the bifurcation of the erstwhile
Imphal District into Imphal East and East Districts.
Before the introduction of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, Manipur
also experienced Panchayati system of governance since 1964 under the
adopted U.P. Panchayat Raj Act, 1947. The second general elections to
the Panchayats were held in 1971 under the aforesaid UP Act. Subsequent
thereto, in the year 1975 Manipur enacted its own Panchayat Act providing
a 3 tier system of gram Panchayats and Panchayats samities were held.
Zilla Parishads were never constituted under the aforesaid Act of 1975.
The functioning of these institutions ensured their involvement of the
people in the governance at the grassroot level. Because of lack of infrastructure,
lack of adequate funds and non- cooperation from the existing government
departments in sharing power with them, these Panchayat institutions remained
merely as advisory bodies rather than a vibrant democratic institution.
Perhaps the most important stumbling block was the resistance from the
local MLAs and Ministers to allow them to function as autonomous bodies
as this would directly dilute the enormous influence and power wielded
by the MLAs and Ministers. Lack of infrastructure and lack of funds came
as convenient excuses for the non-performances and stagnation of the Panchayat
Things have not changed in spite of the epoch making 73rd constitutional
Amendment which led to the enactment of Manipur Panchayat Raj Act 1994.
Even though the Constitution envisages a three tier system in Manipur
Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, only the Gram Panchayats and the Zilla Parishads
are provided and there is no provision for Panchayat Samiti. The authorities
here have explained this lack of the middle level body as due to the inadequate
population ratio in the state. This argument however, does not carry much
weight in view of the fact that in the earlier Act of 1975, three tier
system of Gram Panchayats, Panchayat samities and Zilla Parishads were
incorporated and the State of Arunachal Pradesh which has much less population
than Manipur has already incorporated Panchayat Samiti under the Act.
In any event the Panchayat Samiti was already a functional body under
the earlier Act of 1994, which could have been continued under the New
Act of 1994.
The Manipur Panchayati Raj Act of 1994 as in the past extended only to
the valley area as the hill areas come under the jurisdiction of the Manipur
(Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971 and the Manipur (Village Authorities
in Hill Areas) Act, 1956. The municipality areas in the valley districts
have been also excluded from its operation. Thus this Act is applicable
only in the valley districts of Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and
A Brief Historical Background of This State
Manipur is quite categorically an indigenous society. I have also observed
in my book (Politics, Society and Cosmology in India's North East) that
even while opening up to the outside world, Manipur is at the same time
returning to its roots, its culture, and its belief systems, informed
with an understanding that such a return could help preserve the identity
that is constantly being threatened by the inroads made by more dominant
The people of Manipur have witnessed many conquests of their society over
time. Hinduism invaded Manipur around the fifteenth century but established
a strong hold in the state only in the eighteenth century. Christianity,
which crept in with the British invasion, got firmly entrenched in the
hills after displacing the traditional beliefs, rites and rituals. But
administratively they were unable to win the confidence of the people.
And this trust of the alien did not change even with Indian Independence,
as the Indian government too, failed in gaining the respect and confidence
of our people. All the three structures of religion, colonialism and the
broad Indian political framework were impositions from above. And all
the three structures failed to get assimilated with the Manipuri world-view.
In the year 1950, when the governor of Assam, Shri Prakasa and his adviser
met Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, the first Home Minister of independent
India, they explained the difficulties regarding the merger of Manipur.
Patel in return asked if there was no Brigadier of the Indian Army there.
In other words, the Indian Union was to use the same methods as the British
to 'annex' Manipur The manner in which the state of Manipur was included
in the Indian Union, whereby it was given only a peripheral status added
to the feeling of alienation of these people from the country of which
they were a part. Even after the merger with free India, the people of
the state were not free to choose their own rulers. With the coming into
force of the Constitution of India, Manipur became a 'Part C' state.
The special feature
of Part C states was that the they were administered by the President
of India thorough a Chief Commissioner or a Lieutenant Governor, acting
as his agent. Parliament had legislative power relating the Part C states,
but the Constitution empowered Parliament to create a Legislature as well
as a Council of Advisors or Ministers for Part C states. In exercising
this power, Parliament enacted the government of part C states Act, 1951
by which a council of Advisors or Ministers was set in each part C State
to advise the Chief Commissioner, under the overall control of the President
and also a Legislative Assembly to function as the Legislature of the
State, without derogation to the plenary powers of Parliament. Manipur
was thus virtually governed by the non-elected Chief Commissioner, the
Council of Ministers being merely advisors to him. Similar administrative
set-ups continued even after the States Reorganization Act, 1956 when
Manipur became a Union Territory. It was only after the North Eastern
Areas (Reorganization) Act, 1971 that Manipur was granted statehood with
a responsible government. It was only thereafter that the people of this
state were able to directly choose their government.
Its rich language
(Manipuri) was included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of
India only in 1993 after a prolonged and at times violent agitation. With
the geographical barrier between Manipur and the rest of the country because
of its mountainous terrain and with no sincere efforts made to bridge
the communication gap with the mainland, the State remained and still
is isolated from the rest of the country culturally and economically fostering
a sense of alienation amongst the people. Today the people are made to
feel insecure about their territory. The attitude of our present Home
Minister has not changed. At present due to insensitive and casual handling
of the situation, the State is witnessing unprecedented violence and massive
popular protest against the extension of the ceasefire between the Government
of India and the NSCN(IM) without taking into confidence the majority
of the people in Manipur. 14 people have already died of CRPF firing because
they were protesting against the extension of cease- fire. Things have
not changed after 50 years of 'India's Independence'. The sense of alienation
is still existing.
the Panchayati Raj Institutions in Manipur
Elections to the 3 Zilla Parishads in three valley districts of Manipur,
viz., Imphal, Thoubal and Bishnupur districts and also to 166 Gram Panchayats
were held in 1997. The Imphal Zilla Parishad was subsequently divided
into Imphal East and Imphal West Zilla Parishads after the bifurcation
of the erstwhile Imphal District into Imphal East District and Imphal
West District. Though elections to the Zilla Parishads and the Gram Panchayats
were not on party lines, nevertheless, only those persons with strong
local party affiliations could get elected. Elections however, were not
completely free and fair. There were allegations of rigging of elections.
Wide ranging powers touching almost all the important developmental functions
of the state had been envisaged for the Gram Panchayats and Zilla Parishads
under Sections 35 and 61 respectively of the Act of 1994. However, soon
thereafter, before any elections could be held under the Act of 1994,the
State Government amended the said two provisions, viz., Sections 35 and
61 as per Amendment Act of 1996 with a simple provision that the Gram
Panchayats and the Zilla Parishads shall perform such functions and activities
in respect of items enumerated in the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution
of India as may be notified by the State Government and published in the
official Gazette. This amendment Act of 1996 was another retrogressive
act on the part of the State government. Instead of making the powers
and functions of the Panchayat bodies as statutory provisions in the Act,
these have been sought to be notified from time to time by executive orders,
thus subjecting to political expediencies of the Government. These acts
of the State government in tinkering with the provisions relating to the
powers and functions of the Panchayati institutions do not indicate any
keenness on their part to make the Panchayat bodies a vibrant democratic
institution. It was only after sustained struggle by the elected members
of the Panchayat bodies that the State Government took certain steps towards
identifying and devolution of powers to the Panchayat bodies. There are
hardly any executing role assigned to the Panchayat bodies and these are
mainly supportive and advisory rules.
The apex body of the various Gram Panchayat and Zilla Parishad bodies,
the Manipur State Panchayat Parishad, Manipur Panchayat Bhawan, Imphal
submitted representations to the State Government for devolution of powers
to the Panchayat bodies and also make a clear policy about the powers
of the Panchayati bodies under Sections 35 and 6} of the Manipur Panchayati
Raj Act which provides for powers and functions of the Gram Panchayats
and the Zilla Parishads. However, as the State Government ignored their
plea, the said body resorted to mass relay hunger strike for about two
weeks in January 2000 and again in June 2000. They also threatened mass
resignations for fulfillment of their demands. The agitation ended after
the Minister in charge of the Panchayats assured them for implementation
of their demands. In the 20th State Level Panchayati Raj Sammelan held
in January, 2000 at Imphal, the Secretary (Rural Development and Panchayati
Raj), Government of Manipur in his address had openly stated that because
of the unwillingness on the part of the politicians to part with their
powers, the Panchayat bodies and in turn the rural development have suffered.
In spite of the assurances and promises made by the politicians, things
have not changed.
The shortage of funds available with the Panchayati bodies has been the
greatest handicap to the effective functioning of these Panchayati bodies.
Because of non- devolution of power and lack of any taxing power given
to the Panchayat bodies, there is no source of internal resources of the
Panchayat bodies. The Panchayat bodies have to depend almost entirely
upon the State Government for meeting their establishment expenditure.
It may be mentioned that most of the funds meant for development are diverted
to meet the establishment costs including payment of wages and salaries
of the employees.
However, in spite of the lack of power and sufficient funds with the Panchayat
bodies, at the village level, the Panchayat bodies had been discharging
commendable works. It is at the time of crisis, especially during operations
conducted by the security forces, the Panchayat members take up the mantle
of the villagers and act as the mediators with the security forces. In
the process the Panchayat members especially the Pradhans bear the brunt
of the excesses of the security forces. Many have been badly beaten and
harassed by the security forces. They are charged with sympathizing with
the underground and also giving support to them. On the other hand they
are also victimized by the armed underground on the charge of giving information
to and collaborating with the security forces. On many occasions, the
Panchayats have to seek the help of the security forces for health care
and developmental activities, as these are almost non-existent as far
as the government help is concerned. Thus they are sandwiched between
the devils and deep-sea. Other problems faced by the Panchayats is that
because of the bad law and order problems relating to insurgency, it is
difficult to embark upon any developmental activities. They also say that
the underground groups against which they have no means to resist also
sometimes take the meager funds meant for the developmental activities
One aspect, which may be noted, is that Manipur, which is known for its
strong women's organization in the form of Meira Paibies (torch bearing
women) ironically, does not have women leaders of reckoning in the Panchayat
bodies. On the other hand, women leaders of the PRIs are also not trusted
by the Meira Paibies. They are considered part of the Government machinery,
with official aura around them with very little interest in the public
welfare. The women Pradhans and Adhyakshas are going through the stage
where they have to adhere to what their husbands or any other male members
of the family or the male members of their political parties say. Therefore
there is a chasm in the women's movement and the women representative
of the PRIs. One comes across very young women GPs who have become Pradhans
because they were the only educated women in their locality. Since the
locality was under the reserved constituency for woman, their minority
in age was concealed to enable them to contest. These young girls surprisingly
showed great sensitivity to the problems of their area. Unfortunately,
because of their age and sex, they were completely ignored in any major
decisions in the meetings of the GPs. On the other hand there are women
Zilla Adhyakshas who have spent lacs of rupees for their elections to
remain in office as Adhyakshas and have not shown any difference from
their male counterparts in the matters of corruption and their insensitivity
to the problems of the people. My hypothesis is that, if the Meira Paibies
women can be brought into the decision making processes of the local self-governments,
the Panchayat bodies will be understood better and appreciated by the
The situation of the scheduled caste is also a bit different from the
rest of India. Here the SCs are not considered 'untouchables'. They are
those people who did not embrace Hinduism, when it was made a state religion
in the 18th century. Till today they believe in their traditional pantheon.
The Hindu Meiteis since consider them a bit low in the hierarchy.
The tribes in Manipur have been co-existing with the plain Meiteis since
time immemorial. A major gap was created between them when the Meities
became Hindus and the tribals subsequently became Christians. These two
alien religions could not understand nor could adjust with the age-old
reciprocity between the two groups. Although every tribe in Manipur has
their traditional areas, there are some pockets where we have mixed population
of Meities and scheduled tribes. Therefore we also have Pradhans belonging
to these tribes.
The specific field area:
I will study the extent of inclusion of excluded communities in the three
villages of Imphal West District. The three villages will comprise of
one woman Pradhan, one Pradhan from the scheduled tribe and/or caste and
one from the general category. The Imphal West district is not a secluded
area and hence prone to the changing influences. Hence the social setup
and the attitudes of the people are susceptible to changes, which makes
it a dynamic society.
The demographic composition:
The Imphal West district comprises of part I and part II
It has four sub-divisions: 1. Lamphelpat sub division; 2. Wangoi sub-division;
3. Lamsang sub division; 4. Patsoi sub-division.
General information on the gram Panchayats
in Imphal West District:
three GPs that I have selected are:
lroishemba for studying the Panchayat run by a ST Gram Pradhan, Bijoy
Govinda for studying the Panchayat run by a woman and Takyel Khongbal
for studying the Panchayat run by a person from general category. I may
also study a GP headed by a SC category since the reasons for their exclusions
are very different from the biases against the Pradhans from the STs.
In fact the choice of either or in case of ST/SC in the Guidelines sent
by Prof. Baviskar is, according to me, untenable. The discrimination towards
STs wherever ST population exists is very different from the discrimination
towards an SC. Therefore, rather than studying them interchangeably one
needs to examine the areas of their exclusion separately.
In Manipur we have three geographical positioning of the populace; the
center, the foothills and the hills. While the Meiteis dominate in the
center, the tribes dominate in the hills, the foothills comprises of a
mixture from both along with the SC population and some Muslim pockets
As stated above hills go out of the purview of my research since it does
not have PRIs. Iroishemba is situated near the foothills. It has a mixed
population. The areas of exclusion will most probably come out in black
and white. The Bijoy Govind area was the traditional power base in the
king's time. Till today most of the 'Rajkumar' families reside here. The
study of a woman yielding power as a gram Pradhan, where the atmosphere
still emanates with royalty / manliness will be interesting. Takyel Khongbal
is slowly coming up as a small industrial area. My study here will focus
on the changing scenario of the political thinking of the people. These
are the tentative field sites; I may change if I find some other areas
give me more information on the extent of exclusions.
The questionnaire as well as the observations will revolve around:
- The history of
- The place of traditional
institutions such as Ahallup (council of elders), Nahallup (council
of youngsters), Piba (the clan chief) and the Meira paibies (the torch
bearing women) who are still very active.
- The introduction
of PRIs. The role of the GP in the development of the area.
- The functioning
of the woman gram Pradhan.
- The functioning
of the ST Pradhan and/or SC Pradhan.
- The functioning
of the Pradhan from the general category
- The reactions from
the people; their verbal as well as nonverbalcommunications.
- The role of the
bureaucrats towards the pradhans from the excluded category.
- The response from
the local MLAs and the concerned ministers.
One should not forget
that the region is ripped with the insurgency movements and ethnic conflicts.
The study will focus on the reasons and the areas of exclusion keeping
this background in mind.
The decision making processes in the Panchayats and the gram Sabha can
only be assessed through informal conversations and observations during
the meetings. The degree of empowerment of the excluded categories can
be assessed through the extent of their participation in the developmental
works, by studying the scale of their popularity and the degree of power
In conclusion I want to state that to understand the exclusivity in this
region one has to grasp the understanding of the basic social structures,
the ethnic groups and their relations with each other and a bit distinct
form of gender relations. In short, to understand the exclusivity in this
region one has to first understand the exclusivity of this region.
I propose to start my research paper by presenting a clear picture of
the society at first. Which will pave way for other inquiries about the
inclusion of excluded communities? I would like to end the paper with
the changes brought about by the new Panchayati Raj provisions between
the ethnic groups and the traditional gender relations