By P.V. Durga:
There has been unrest in Imphal over the past few days, with protesters demanding the Inner Line Permit System (ILP). A curfew has been in place since Wednesday following the death of a class 11th student, who was an agitator at the protest, due to tear gas shelling. The demand for the ILP is being headed by the Joint Committee of Inner Line Permit (JCILP), and has taken a serious turn with rallies, stone pelting and police retaliation. A committee was set up on Sunday after CM Okram Ibobi Singh met the Center. If the government concedes to their demands, non- domiciles will soon require an official travel document issued by the central government to enter certain restricted areas in Manipur.
The ILP was introduced in the Colonial era, where the British used it to “protect” their revenue from the “wild” people of the Northeast after they had realized that the lush forests of the Northeast could be commercially exploited. Now, the Manipuris want to protect their ethnicity and access to resources by introducing this imaginary line, which is already operational in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram.
The demand for ILP springs from the fear that the Manipuris’ tribal and indigenous population might be “overwhelmed” by settlers. This fear is shared by the Northeast in general too. It is bad enough already that atrocities against the Northeasterners are not given much attention. This demand for the ILP goes on to prove our inability to assure them of a peaceful life, even in their own state.
This xenophobia is not unfounded, because the law does not account for indigeneity while classifying minorities; religion is the basis. Also, only tribes are given special protection under the law, and other indigenous ethnic communities are ignored. For example, the Meiteis’ (the people who live in the valley) access to their own land is being threatened, with many rich people buying land in Manipur. Yet, they do not enjoy any protection, because they are not tribals.
Chronic neglect can only mean that identity politics will become more prominent, and traces of it are evident. Recently, the Angami Students Union, the apex student body of Kohima started a “Non- local verification drive” in order to keep a check on the flow of illegal migrants. Also, the Manipur government introduced the Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers Bill, 2015 under pressure from the public in order to regulate influx by proposing to register visitors, tenants, and migrant workers. The JCILP was unhappy with this because it felt that the bill would not be as protective as the ILP.
If the center approves of this demand, more questions will come to the forefront. The ILP is not a question of the number of migrants, because out of the 2.7 million people in Manipur, non- domiciles are 7 lakh in number. It is about our perception of minorities and the value that we accord to their fears and sentiments. The actual work would start after the demarcation has been done. There is an urgent need to look beyond the strategic importance of these areas, and focus on guaranteeing peace and security to these communities wherever they choose to go. If long term measures are not undertaken, the ILP may end up ostracizing the already marginalized.