Manipur Assembly Unilaterally Passes Bill to Criminalize Place Name Alterations

News Reporter News Reporter
Thursday, March 07, 2024
Manipur Assembly Unilaterally Passes Bill to Criminalize Place Name Alterations
All Kuki MLAs' Absence Raises Eyebrows Amidst Growing Ethnic Discord
Imphal, 7 March, 24: In a move fraught with implications for the ethnic dynamics of Manipur, the state assembly has approved a bill making it a punishable offense to alter existing place names, with potential imprisonment of up to three years. The passage of this legislation, termed the Manipur Names of Places Bill, 2024, marks a significant escalation in tensions between communities in the region.

The bill's approval, which occurred during the ongoing assembly session, unfolded amid the conspicuous absence of all ten Kuki MLAs, including those aligned with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This absence underscores a deep-seated divide between the Meitei and Kuki communities, with legislative actions increasingly reflecting the interests of the former.

The genesis of this legislative maneuver traces back to the assembly's opening day of the Winter Session on February 28, where Meitei MLAs unanimously passed a resolution urging the Union government to end its suspension of operations with Kuki armed groups. The resolution accused these groups of breaching ground rules and targeting Meiteis during ethnic strife, setting the stage for further polarization.

Chief Minister N. Biren Singh's government cemented its stance by criminalizing attempts to reference certain places by alternative names in official capacities. Notably, Singh highlighted the case of Churachandpur, historically known as Lamka by the Kuki community, as a focal point of contention. He emphasized that any alteration of place names without proper authorization constitutes a violation of authority, signaling a firm stance against perceived attempts to undermine historical legacies.

Instances of contentious name changes have underscored the deep-seated tensions between communities. Last year, amidst escalating tensions, the Air India ticketing office (ATO) at Imphal was suspectedly hacked, resulting in tickets being printed with the designation "ATO, Lamka." The incident sparked outrage among Meitei passengers, prompting intervention from local lawmakers and highlighting the sensitivities surrounding place names.

Further exacerbating the situation, Chief Minister Singh cited instances of attempts to rename historical landmarks and reserved forests, further fueling apprehensions within affected communities. The legislation, reinforced by stringent penalties including imprisonment and hefty fines, serves as a stark warning against any perceived affront to established place names.

As Manipur grapples with the complexities of ethnic relations, the passage of the Manipur Names of Places Bill, 2024, underscores the need for dialogue and reconciliation among communities. While aimed at preserving historical identities, the legislation risks further polarizing an already fragile social fabric, necessitating nuanced approaches to bridge existing divides and foster a sense of inclusivity and understanding.