By Rocky Wahengbam
“What is ILP?” people ask. Why are youths involved? Do they need to? Are the indigenous people really threatened? Without giving a straight answer ‘Yes’, let us first try to understand the issue as a whole. If you’re an outsider and want to travel to Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, you’ll need this Inner Line permit (a type of certificate/paper). Even if you’re an Indian citizen and wish to travel to these places, you’ll need an ILP. This provision was made by Britishers under an Act called as Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873. An outsider cannot take away any rubber, wax, ivory or other forest product (or any book, diary, manuscript, map, picture, photograph, film, article of religious or scientific interest outside these inner line permit areas). This ILP provision was made to give special protection to the indigenous people of the North-east region. If I give the above definition when someone asks about ILP, it would be just a lame one. The present demand for ILP encompasses much more than the above mentioned definition which derives from the Act imposed by the then British for their business interests. In addition, the MRVTMW Act 2015 passed by Manipur Legislative Assembly in March 2015 which awaits the consent of the State Governor neither serves any purpose in protecting the native population.
The JCILPS set up to demand the implementation of the said permit agreed with the All political parties before its drafting of the said bill on 5 major agendas namely : 1) Issuance of passes/permits to outsiders/migrant workers. 2) Not allow their permanent settlement in Manipur. 3) Marking 1951 as the base year to differentiate migrants from original settlers. 4) Denying land holding rights to outsiders/migrants. 5) Setting up of a full-fledged Labour Commission to regulate entry of inter-state workers and detect illegal migrants/outsiders. But, the MRVTMW Act 2015 didn’t talk about land holding rights and didn’t define indigenous/original inhabitants/ permanent settlers. Hence, it ended up backfiring itself. Any act passed which do not ban the land holding rights of non-indigenous outsiders will remain a joke to the demand committee.
The Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers Act, 2015 which experienced a walk-out of the 4 Trinamool Congress Opposition MLAs when it was passed in the Assembly in March 2015 failed to capture the aspiration of the people. The Leader of the House CM Ibobi Okram who moved the motion in a hasty manner by proclaiming to make amendments if needed in future, blatantly shows how a Bill which in its soul passed to protect the Indigenous Inhabitants ends up protecting the Migrant Workers. An Act which was hastily passed without paying heed to the All Parties Resolution by projecting that the Govt. has stopped resorting to the ‘delaying tactics’ ends up being a part of the same old game.
What are the implications of ILP? ILP can be used only for travel and not for permanent residency in the area. Outsiders cannot buy property in the state. Inter-racial marriage (Marriage of Manipuris [Kangleichas] with Non-Manipuris) will become minimal as residences of outsiders are not permitted. There will be less competition among the backward tribes and in-flowing foreigners. Although such provisions though are not valid for Central Govt. employees, security personal, etc.
ILP is applicable only to Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, but it is not applicable to Manipur. So, question: Why doesn’t Manipur fall under ILP system? Because Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh were under the British control till independence. So Britishers implemented ILP permit there, but Manipur was princely states so ILP wasn’t implemented here. Although, Manipur (as a princely state before independence) had created its own system of Permits/ passports but it was abolished in 1951. In 2012, Manipur State Assembly also passed a resolution urging Government of India, to implement the ILP system to Manipur. Moreover, these 3 states with all their original inhabitants belonging to the Scheduled tribe list of the First Schedule enjoy protection under Article 342 of the Indian Constitution. This ST status made them easy in implementing the aforementioned ILP. For Manipur, some sections of population particularly the Meeteis which qualifies the definition of ST (primitive traits, geographical isolation, distinct culture, shy of contact with community at large, economically backward as compare to the mainstream society) under the constitution are still not ST and hence, do not enjoy various other constitutional protections.
Pro ILP arguments for Manipur
After independence, the influx of foreigners/non-locals/outsiders in Manipur has increased exponentially. This has led to increased competition (in jobs, business, elections ) among locals and outsiders. Foreigners started standing for local elections and some of them have also emerged victorious! Local youth has to compete with outsiders for state Government jobs, college admissions. Influx of outsiders, changes the demographic structure of the state, in long term, this could pose a major problem to reservation quota for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.
Culturally, outsiders bring their language and culture. It poses serious threat to Manipuri language, scripts, local dialects and traditional way of life. Drug trafficking cases, incidents of rape and other crimes in the State have become more rampant due to the influx of outsiders into Manipur. Manipur is one of the six high HIV prevalence states in the country. The influx of migrants is worsening this problem. Lands in tribal belts and blocks are being occupied by non-tribals and Bangladeshis, but the government machineries have done nothing to protect these lands from the encroachers, rather give them ration cards to secure the vote bank. Since the NE states are already backward in areas of education, infrastructure, etc such a competition has passed on to the younger generation. The recent violent riots in Assam is an example on how if immigration is unchecked can lead to severe problems. Outsiders are ready to work for lower wages. This makes difficult for the local Manipuris to get any employment.
Why ILP is a Valid Demand?
ILP system is already in place in Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, then why should it not be implemented in Manipur, which is in the same geographical area, facing similar problems for immigration. ILP system doesn’t PROHIBIT outsiders from entering into a state. It merely requires them to get registered so they can be easily identified. Any under-privileged section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part there of having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same. This demand is therefore constitutional and legal.
Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers Bill-2015
The Bill originally suffered for bringing out without penal clauses violating Article 35 a (ii) of the Indian Constitution. Without penal provisions in the Bill, it was framed like a tiger without fangs or claws. Firstly, the title of the Bill is a disgrace. The title which seeks to protect migrant workers instead of the indigenous people of Manipur just goes over my head. I cannot comprehend why such an Introduction was put forth in the bill to highlight the aims and objectives of the Bill when there is already an Act called State Migrant Workmen Act-1979 to protect Inter-state migrant workers. The introduction which says – A Bill to provide for registration of visitors, tenants and migrant workers for their safety and security and for maintenance of public order in the State of Manipur, is sure to invite a big slap right in the beginning.
Section 14 of the Bill said that the Provisions of this Act shall not apply to the permanent residents of the State of Manipur. The Clause which doesn’t define ‘Permanent Resident’ is a misleading and ambiguous one. It will become extremely difficult to identify all those who came after 18 November 1950 and chuck them off from the electoral list. Lastly, the major contention with the bill is that there is no clause mentioning about the Banning of Land Holding Rights by ‘Outsiders.’
With the Arrival of Indian Railways, Trans-Asian Highway, Major national projects under Act East Policy and Centrally sponsored schemes, ILP is a must- a socio economic political necessity. The aspirations of the people in total can be realized and full protection can be meted out by incorporating the ST demand with the ILP demand. Today, one dies for ILP; many will die for ST status because ILP is never complete without ST status. With the death of a student called Sapam Robinhood, the public out-roar has become more intense and the fear of other states emulating such protests has also increased. Excesses of state actors particularly the State Police have become quite rampant recently. Lessons have not been learnt when one youth was shot death for not stopping his vehicle at the frisking point. In terms of tackling such protests, I envisaged a civil war if some protests same as that of Delhi gang rape happens in Manipur. Their training should incorporate controlling of angry mob instead just teaching them to shoot suspects.
The 5 days house confinement of outsiders by civil organizations will take an ugly turn if this sensitive issue is not handled in time. We cannot say that a bloody clash between the native and the outsiders will never happen. The death of the Youth and his idolization as ‘Yelhoumi Kanbagi Lamjing Meira’( Torch bearer for the protection of Indigenous people) shows where this issue is moving into. His death can be understood in the way the state has failed to understand peace protest and blood shedding is required in each issue. All these involvement of the students will be termed as the increased political consciousness of the youth or youth being used as instruments to receive political ends, I do not wish to comment. But one thing is sure, this issue could have been easily solved if the legislature ponder upon the aspirations of the people and work towards achieving them. The non-existent intervention from the judiciary is also questionable. It’s high time for everyone concerned to pull up their shocks and nip the issue at the bud by understanding the aspiration of the indigenous people before the cry of mothers become our lullaby and the sounds of teargas and mock bombs become the firecrackers of the night. Everybody loves fire crackers but nobody wants them to be a part of everyday life. It will be already late if we sit and wait for the molehill to turn into a mountain.
The writer is a Sociology Honours graduate from Hindu College, Delhi University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org