Manipur Looks At One Last Step To End Hereditary Chieftainship

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Manipur Looks At One Last Step To End Hereditary Chieftainship

The Manipur government is looking to scrap hereditary chieftainship, similar to what Mizoram did

Imphal/New Delhi:

The Manipur government will take “appropriate steps” to enforce a law that will end the system of hereditary chieftainship in the hills areas of the state, BJP MLA Rajkumar Imo Singh said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

The state is seeking to scrap the chieftainship system to end the rule of village chiefs, who are the sole leaders of settlements and own entire villages, and pave the way for setting up a democratic way of rural governance.

Referring to Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s statement in the assembly on Monday that the government will enforce an Act, which was passed in 1967 to abolish hereditary chieftainship, Imo Singh said the then President had also given assent to the bill in June 1967.

What remains to be done is to notify the Act in the official gazette, government sources told NDTV.

“A very important statement by the Chief Minister on the floor of the Manipur assembly that the state government will consult and take appropriate steps for the implementation of The Manipur Hill Areas (Acquisition of Chiefs’ Rights) Act, 1967. This Act was passed by the Manipur assembly on January 10, 1967 to abolish hereditary chieftainship,” Imo Singh, who is also the son-in-law of the Chief Minister, said in the post.

“However this Act has not been enforced till now, thus enabling the chieftains to continue with their rights and establish villages as per their hereditary practices. One can see the exponential growth of villages in these places,” Imo Singh said.

“Manipur is the only state in the North East where this Act isn’t implemented. Even a state like Mizoram had implemented a similar act for abolishing chieftainship way back in 1954 when it was a part of Assam. (The) need of the hour is to implement this Act at the earliest date, which we are hopeful now,” the BJP MLA said.

The hereditary chieftainship system has faced severe criticism over its allegedly exploitative nature in modern times. The feudal system often leads to nepotism and autocracy – when the current chief dies, only his son can become the next chief. Power struggles among siblings have led to mushrooming of villages in Manipur.

The state bordering Myanmar – the junta nation that’s struggling for its own survival – is yet to see peace 10 months after violence broke out between the hill-majority Kuki-Zo tribes, who follow the chieftainship system, and the valley-majority Meiteis over serious disagreements on sharing land, resources, political representation, and affirmative action policies.

Since the clashes began, 10 Kuki-Zo MLAs have been asking the central government to carve out a “separate administration” from Manipur.

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Why Act Not Enforced

On why Manipur never enforced the Act to scrap hereditary chieftainship for decades since the bill was passed by the assembly and cleared by the President, state government sources said the fault lies with successive Congress governments in the state.

“The Congress has ruled Manipur for the most part of the decades since Independence. Other parties came and went briefly, like blips on a screen. They never got the opportunity to treat the deep wounds inflicted by the Congress party,” a government source told NDTV on phone from Imphal, requesting anonymity.

“Notifying the Act in the official gazette would not have been a problem. But the past governments didn’t do it because some leaders probably benefitted from the system. And now in these violent times, any major decision would not be easy,” the source said.

After the British left, India passed the Zamindari Abolition Act, 1951, and ended the zamindari system, but in Manipur the Kuki-Zo tribes still practice it in the form of chieftainship. Even neighbouring Mizoram, where the tribes share ethnic ties with the Kuki and Chin people, had scrapped chieftainship.

Over 180 have died in the ethnic violence and thousands have been internally displaced.

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