Manipur: Arrested Tribal Student Leaders Released ‘For Want of Evidence’

New Delhi: Five tribal students who were arrested in Imphal ahead of a shutdown seeking the passing of the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill 2021 were released on Monday (August 8), “for want of evidence”.

According to the Indian Express, All Tribal Student’s Union Manipur (ATSUM) leaders who were arrested on August 2 morning on charges of imposing a bandh and a blockade were release by the chief judicial magistrate at around 6:30 pm. Before the release, representatives from tribal student groups and the government reportedly signed a memorandum of understanding, which was published on social media.

The MoU said that as the seventh and sixth amendment bills of the Manipur Hill Areas District Councils had been referred to the Hill Areas Committee (HAC), and the committee would hold consultations before recommending them to the assembly, the newspaper reported.

All Naga Students Association Manipur president Peter Wanglar Thirtung Wanglar, one of the signatories to this MoU, said, “We have agreed in principle to the agreement to ensure that our leaders are released. However, we will convene a meeting and issue an official statement about our stance.”

The ATSUM has been pressing for the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council (Amendment) Bill 2021 to be tabled in the Monsoon Session of the assembly. The Bill would mean greater financial and administrative autonomy of the hill region, with the stated goal of ensuring development at par with the valley areas of the state.

Instead, the N. Biren Singh-led Bharatiya Janata Party government of the state introduced the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council 6th and 7th Amendment Bills earlier in the week, which the protesters said was not in line with their demands.

The ATSUM was observing a total shutdown in the tribal-dominated Kangpokpi and Senapati since Tuesday, after the new amendments were introduced unannounced.

Schools, colleges, shops and business establishments were closed because of the shutdown, while passenger buses stayed off the roads. The strike ended on the morning of Friday, August 5, following which the “economic blockade” began, affecting supplies to the Meitei-dominated Imphal valley region.

Featured image: An image tweeted by a Congress leader showing what appears to be trucks stranded during the economic blockade near Manipur. Photo: Twitter/@DrLamtinthangHk

This article was first published on The Wire.