By Achungmei Kamei
Since independence in 1947, tens of milions of Indians have been displaced in the name of development. They have been forcibly uprooted from their homes, farmlands, fishing areas and forests to make way for dam reservoirs, irrigation projects, mines, plantations, highways, and tourist resorts. Reportedly less than 20% have ever been rehabilitated.
The forced eviction of communities from their homes and habitat which is often accompanied by violence and intimidation is a phenomenon that has reached an unprecedented scale and continues to accelerate across India and in particular in my home region in the north-east. In many instances these forced evictions are initiated by the government – often in collusion with landowners, land mafia, businesses and others and without the appropriate consultation with the communities affected. Most in fact do not receive compensation, alternate land and housing sites, and livelihood opportunities.
This is the second of four videos from India that Video Volunteers produced in partnership with WITNESS and the Manipur-based human rights group Human Rights Alert to document the stories and ground realities of forced evictions in north-east India. We hope their voices will prevail.
On the morning of the 5th June, 2011, in the middle of the monsoons, inhabitants of Yaipha Leikai Lamphel in Manipur’s capital city of Imphal were taken by surprise when the authorities arrived at their doorstep to force them out of their homes by 5pm that day. According to the Manipur Public Premises Act, 1978 a community must be informed three days beforehand an eviction. In this instance, the eviction order was issued on the 3rd June, 2011, but was not delivered till the morning of 5th June. As the legally binding 3 days notice was not met, the law was violated by the enforcing authorities and therefore, the evictions were clearly illegal.
In one day this community lost all their possessions and belongings, which they had built up little by little over 50 years.
Neither the government nor the local responsible departments have reimbursed the community for their loss and trauma, nor have they provided shelter or basic amenities to these people.
The 17 evicted families had nowhere to relocate themselves other than the adjoining areas submerged by the overflowing water of the wetlands. The living conditions here are inappropriate and a serious threat to people’s health.
Without the proper means, the wetlands of the district make for difficult living. Water-levels and soil density constantly change. Living conditions are unhygienic. The monsoons bring thunderstorms. In such extreme conditions, appropriate housing is essential to safeguard the health and lives of community members from the environment, weather and illness.
The eviction also took place 10 days before the final exams of the children. With insufficient support many did not continue their studies. The evicted community approached the local government with their situation, but received no help. The Right to Education Protection Authority, Manipur (REPA) has the obligation to ensure that children between the age group of 6 to 14 years receive education without any kind of discrimination. The REPA should have provided educational support to the children so they continue their studies and finish their final exams.
The community and residents of Yaipha Leikai at Lamphelpat want to return to their original site of settlement. They request that the illegally conducted eviction order be revoked. For the loss of their belongings, they want to be reimbursed with appropriate rehabilitation schemes from the government.
Only after the free, prior and informed consent of the people affect can projects start. In the future development projects that could cause the removal of communities must be conducted in a participatory and transparent manner. Adequate space for relocation must be provided to the community and they must be given enough time to make the transition. Fundamental rights and basic amenities must be guaranteed. The people must get a fair chance to begin their new lives.
Achungmei Kamei is a Community Correpsondent for IndiaUnheard a project of WITNESS ally Video Volunteers. She was also trained by WITNESS and the International Accountability Project in 2008 on how to use video in forced eviction campaigns. Achungmei is from the capital of Manipur, Imphal, and lives close to the evicted area. Watch more videos about forced evictions in India.