Regulate Not Shut Off

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The uncertainty over the question of introducing a legal mechanism for regulating the inflow of migrants into Manipur it seems is unlikely to be put to rest anytime soon. A Bill had been table in the Assembly on the matter, but it seems the civil body spearheading the agitation for its introduction, the JCILPS (Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System) will not have any of it, saying it is too mild and cannot achieve the objective of stopping influx of population from outside into the state, thereby threatening demographic marginalisation of the original population of the state. This is a very tricky situation and calls for everybody to sit back and reconsider and reassess the whole question once again. The important thing to be kept in mind at this juncture very obviously should be, is it regulation or complete shutting off of immigration that we are looking for? We for one think the need is for the former and we will explain why in the following few paragraphs this column permits.

But first, let us consider these words from a civil servant in the critical years of the early 20th Century who dedicated an entire career in the Northeast, Nari Rushtomji, in his book `Imperilled Frontiers` on why a regulatory mechanism is necessary not just of immigration but of development as such. For many of these small communities, he says, even the arrival of a few families of outsiders can be unsettling. Rushtomji who watched helplessly and with dismay the reduction of the Lepchas and Bhutias into a hopeless minority in the face of an unprecedented influx of Nepali population into Sikkim in the mid 20th Century, generalised his sentiment in these words: `There are communities, however, that have suffered tragically, and beyond redemption, from well-intentioned attempts to reform them overnight. `While, therefore, no community can remain static and while change is an imperative for a community`s healthy growth and development, it has to be ensured that the pace of change is adjusted to the community`s capacity to absorb such change without detriment to its inherent organism and essential values.` He also observes in the same book that the apprehension of cultural aggression `has been at the root of the unrest on India`s north-eastern frontiers since the British withdrawal.` These are the words of somebody who understood the Northeast and empathised with its concerns, and they need to be noted. These words also imply that just as change is inevitable, so also population movements. The caution however is, these changes must be at a pace the local populations can absorb, therefore the need for regulatory mechanisms.

Regulation and why not complete halt? Without going into the arguments of Constitutional hurdles, or those of national as well as international laws, many obvious and overwhelming practical problems can be anticipated if a complete shutting off of immigrants is to be envisaged. First of these is the possibility of internal strife in the state. If as the JCILPS demands, the cut off year for declaring a resident as non local were to be fixed at 1951, there would be many small tribes in the southern and eastern districts who would also end up excluded. It must be noted that population movements into the state is happening from the east too. But this happens at a glacial pace, so as Rushtomji insightfully surmised these migrants have been absorbed into the local social organism and indigenised. If however extremist sentiments prevail and 1951 is pushed, there would be ethnic troubles. We need only to recall the deadly Kuki-Naga conflict of the 1990s for evidence. The next argument follows from this. The population movement from the west has been a matter of alarm because of its pace and number. If regulated, they too can cause no threat, and ultimately would also be indigenised. This has been happening throughout the state`™s history. Islam and Hinduism for instance came in and indigenised this way. And this is good. Regulated immigration refreshes ideas, technologies, genes and in the end all these strengthen and make the society more resilient. The most creative societies in the world are those which followed this principle of encouraging the indigenisation of immigrants. Singapore and the USA are two examples. Likewise Manipur had evolved into an extraordinarily creative society because of absorption of skills and ideas which came its way through history. Isn`™t it a wonder that in complete isolation, from antiquity Manipur knew wheel, bullock cart, plough pulled by harnessed bulls, blacksmiths, goldsmiths… All this could not have happened if it was not open to inflow of ideas and skills, some acquired by travellers, some brought in by immigrants and some original inventions. Manipur was always a melting pot of ideas, skills, ethnicities… It must continue to be so, but at a pace which will not upset the inherent indigenous integrity of the place. It must also be noted that insistence on 1951 cut off was what undid the Assam Agitation in the 1980s.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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