The Manipur government on Saturday suspended mobile internet services across the state for five days after clashes broke out between students and the police, according to an official order.

Around 32 students and two policemen sustained injuries during a confrontation in Imphal city on Saturday, reported The Indian Express.

Nearly 100 tribal students had staged a protest at Kabo Leikai in Imphal West district, seeking the release of some leaders of the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur.

The leaders had been arrested for imposing a total shutdown in the region last week. They were demanding that the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Councils Amendment Bill, 2021, be introduced in the state Assembly. The Bill is recommended by the Hill Areas Committee – a body consisting of 18 legislators that is empowered to monitor administration and legislation for the hill region.

On Saturday, the police dispersed the protestors citing Section 144 of the Criminal Code Procedure that prohibits the gathering of four or more persons. But the students allegedly hurled stones and confronted the police, reported The Indian Express.

“We were holding a peaceful protest demanding the release of our leaders but the police harassed the students,” said Ningzan Jajo, a leader of All College Tribal Students’ Union. “We strongly condemn the high handedness of the police. We will continue our agitation until the arrested ATSUM leaders are released.”

Later in the day, the chief judicial magistrate of Imphal West district remanded the arrested student leaders to judicial custody for 15 days. The prosecutor told the magistrate that associates of those arrested had set the district transport office in Churachandpur and a vehicle of the Ukhrul police on fire.

On Saturday evening, Manipur Special Secretary (Home) H Gyan Prakash in an order said that some anti-social elements are using social media for hate speech.

“Therefore in exercise of the powers conferred under Rule 2 of Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services [Public Emergency or Public Safety] Rules, 2017, having satisfied that the above situation is likely to cause serious disturbances to the entire peaceful co-existence of the communities and maintenance of public order, do hereby order suspension of mobile data services in the territorial jurisdiction of the entire state of Manipur,” the order stated. “Any person found guilty for violation of aforesaid orders will be liable for legal action.”

The action was taken after a vehicle was reportedly torched by three to four youngsters on Tiddim Road in Bishnupur district.

The authorities have also imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Code Procedure in Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts.

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The Bill the students are protesting for

Tension has been brewing in Manipur since the N Biren Singh-led Bharatiya Janata Party government introduced the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council 6th and 7th Amendment Bills, 2022, in the state Assembly on August 2. The Bills were not initially part of the agenda of the House on that day.

The All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur, however, had sought the introduction of the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill recommended by the Hill Areas Committee in August last year. This proposed law seeks greater financial and administrative autonomy for the hill areas to ensure that they are able to develop at par with the Imphal Valley region of the state.

For several decades, citizens in hill areas of Manipur have alleged that they have faced administrative neglect as compared to citizens who stay in the Valley.