By Dr. Malem Ningthouja
In Manipur the demand for implementation of Inner Line Permit system currently spearheaded by the ILP Demand Committee is gaining momentum. The ideological underpinning to the demand is provided by UCM’s compilation entitled Influx of Migrants into Manipur: A Threat to the Indigenous Ethnic People (2005) and Sapamcha Jadumani’s book entitled Kangleipakta Inner Line Permit System Amasung Masigi Eehou (2011), which had symbiotic parallelism to the methodology, perspective, implication, and emotional invocation of UN Mukherji’s pamphlet ‘Hindus: A Dying Race (1909).’ These books aroused an alarm with a clarion call about racial extinction of ‘insider’ or ‘indigenous’ Manipuri due to unrestraint demographic pressure by ‘outsiders’ from mainland India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal; a total of 704488 in 2001, i.e., about 31% of the total Manipur population.
Manipur had a history of foreign affairs and institution to check entry of outsiders preceding British rule since 1891. The British however surpassing Manipur system and having experimented with localised protective regulations, viz., Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873, Chin Hill Regulation 1896, Garo Hills Regulation 1876 and 1882, introduced a permit system in 1897 to levy modern tax upon foreigners. It was followed by appointment of Foreigner’s Mauzadar in 1903 and Foreigner’s Department in 1931 to systematically intervene into revenue and judicial matters concerning foreigners. Following suit post-Independent Manipur adopted Manipur Naturalisation Act 1947 that systematically differentiated foreigners (sic including Indians) from Manipuris.
Till late 1940s the inflow of British Indian subjects in Manipur was restraint by subjection to entry permits. Brushing it off on 25 August 1949, before the controversial merger took place in September 1949, the Indian Government imposed an order to enrol refugees in the electoral roll of Manipur. On 18 November 1950 the pre-existing permit system for entry into and exit from Manipur was abolished despite public opinion to restore it. Subsequently due to absence of effective mechanism to regulate entry of outsiders unrestraint immigration began. The Manipur Government’s Draft Policy 1976 substantiated the view.
Colonial Manipur had witnessed resistance vis-à-vis dominant outsiders, e.g., Women’s Wars (1904 and 1939), Thadou Kuki War (1917-1919), Bazaar Agitation (1920), Zelianrong Rebellion (1920s), and revivalist movement since 1940s. During the three decades after 1949 there was widespread concern over perceived lost of political autonomy, cultural subordination, economic hardships, militarisation, and corresponding unrests in varied forms ranging from assertion for language, statehood, reservation, employment, development, human rights, and armed insurgency. Xenophobia groomed! In response All Manipur Students’ Union and All Manipur Students’ Coordinating Committee spearheaded anti foreigners agitation in 1980, which was suspended following an assurance by the government to begin identification, detection and deportation of foreigners; to be based from the date of the enforcement of the Constitution, Report of National Register of Citizens 1951 and Village Directory 1951. It was followed by another assurance by the government in 1994 which till date had not been practically implemented.
Interplaying with Manipuri xenophobia was minority cum inferiority consciousness articulated by insurgency in an atmosphere of moribund governance, militarisation and monopoly by ‘outsiders’ who systematically establish control over land, resources, construction projects, market, and labour pool. It had catalytic impact on crystallising into the demand for ILP system. At the Northeast level, largely motivated by the presumed protectionist prospects of ILP in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland; the Forum of Regional Parties of the North East Region in 1987 passed a resolution to implement ILP in the entire NE. Although it failed to ignite consistent follow-up, in Manipur UCM and FRIENDS began to raise the issue in mid 2000s. An ILP Demand Committee was formed in 2006 to assert for an ILP system with local modification to: restrict immigration; control demographic pressure; halt transfer of land, resources, market monopoly power, and political power to ‘outsiders’; develop local productive forces; protect culture and community identity; and enjoy certain degree of protection and autonomy. The demand gains momentum.
The demand for ILP is construed within the framework of India’s commitment to democracy: (a) the Constitution of India and Human Rights Act 1993 and (b) India’s obligation to several international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Right of Peoples to Self-Determination, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities; and the latest UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. The establishment of United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2000 was a threshold that provides the platform to raise the issue at the international scale.
Manipur witnesses escalating systematised sporadic killings of migrant labours and threat warnings to outsider monopolists by insurgents since 2006. However, identifying the act of terrorism with the demand for ILP would be anachronous. Democratic forces comprising youth, student bodies, civil societies, intelligentsia, eminent persons, and political parties are at the forefront in carrying forward the demand. Although the demand lack consistency and coordination largely due to overlapping sensitive issues; the pretext and context of the demand has not been changed. Apprehension about subordination and displacement of ‘insiders’ by overwhelming immigrants as a result of Look East Policy, extension of railways and investment in the construction sector is deep rooted. The State Cabinet had called a meeting on 26 August 2011 to discuss the issue of ILP. Yet, it hasn’t publicly responded to the Report of the Expert Committee on the Introduction of Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873 or ILP System to the State of Manipur submitted on 5 November 2011. It is high time that the government initiate the herculean task of identifying ethnically assimilated ‘outsiders’ on the one hand and implementation of amicable safeguards to defend the interest of the presumed ‘insiders’. The clarion call continues!
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