ILPS for valley, 6th Schedule for tribals
- Part 1 -

Jalun Haokip *

ILP : Churachandpur protest against introduction and passing of three Bills related to ILP :: September 3 2015
ILP : Churachandpur protest against introduction and passing of three Bills related to ILP on September 3 2015 :: Pix - Thangpu Samte

Manipur, once called the "Jewel of India", has sadly often been in the news more for bad reasons than good. The protest movements for and against the 3 bills the Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015 (PMP Bill), the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2015, and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015 passed by the Manipur Legislative Assembly on 31 August 2015 has literally thrown the state into turmoil and increased hill-valley divide.

The PMP Bill points out that prior to the Merger Agreement on 15 September 1949, entry into Manipur was regulated by a permit system, however this was abolished on 18 November 1950. Since then there has been no regulation on entry of other Indian citizens to Manipur and the rise of population, particularly of the non-indigenous, has dramatically changed the state's demography. The bill also stated that it is feared that the people of Manipur will lose their identity and existence in the absence of a protective law similar to the earlier permit system to restrict the influx of outsiders. The Merger Agreement with the Indian Union without a greater autonomy or a provision for protection of indigenous people was a huge blunder.

On the one hand, the report on the 7th June that the President of India has held back the PMP Bill for re-examination by legal and constitutional experts for a new legislation to protect and preserve the indigenous people of Manipur after looking into all aspects of the hill and valley people of Manipur and the return of the other two bills for examination for a reasonable conclusion have led to intensified agitation in the valley demanding implementation of Inner Line Permit System (ILPS).

On the other hand, there is no let down in the equally strong tribal protest movement spearheaded by the Joint Action Committee against Anti-Tribal Bills (JAC) in the hills and the Delhi-based Manipur Tribals' Forum in Delhi against the bills. The dead bodies of the 9 tribal martyrs who were killed during the protest immediately after the passing of the bills remain unburied with the JAC and tribal public sticking to their guns that the dead bodies will wait for an honourable burial until the cause they died for, that is, justice for tribals, has been achieved.

In an unprecedented incident, many peaceful tribal protestors who sought to meet with Manipur chief minister-led delegation of political parties from the state that was camping in New Delhi for lobbying the Central Government for President's assent to the 3 bills were assaulted by Manipur Rifles and police personnel and many more detained or charged by the police. The situation has gone from bad to worse.

The concern regarding the influx of non-locals into Manipur causing demographic imbalance is indeed concerning as it poses a danger for the future of indigenous people of the state both in the valley and in the hills. This danger, especially in the absence of constitutional safeguards for the indigenous communities of the state, will only exacerbate with railway lines connecting the state with the rest of the country and the Act East Policy taking shape. Manipur society, as many other societies around the globe, is caught in a dilemma between economic development and protection of identity or how the two are balanced.

For example, the introduction of Free Trade system between India and Myanmar in 1994 without any special provision for the local indigenous people have not benefitted the local tribal populace, but instead disadvantaged them as most of the trades involving huge investment and skills are beyond their reach and menial jobs which used to be a means of livelihood for many of them had gone. The steep rise in land price in Moreh, the border town, have pushed many poor tribal dwellers out of town or forced them to sell their properties and the lands in the surrounding areas are at constant risk of being lost to development or non-tribal at the cost of the local tribal community.

The already marginalised tribal people have been further marginalised and their future is bleaker than ever in the absence of 6th schedule provisions, which Manipur Government has consistently refused to implement despite Centre's keenness for its implementation.

As regards tribal resistance to the 3 bills, it certainly has to do with certain genuine concerns that are present in some of the clauses contained in the 3 bills that will potentially infringe upon their rights over their identity, land and resources. Tribal interests will be severely undermined once the bills are enacted to become law and enforced.

Whereas the State Government and valley people say the 3 bills are for protection of all indigenous communities of Manipur from the danger of unregulated influx of outsiders into the state, the tribals contend that the bills are mainly targeted at the tribals. Had it not been for some of the clauses which are considered anti-tribal, the bills may have been supported by the tribals, as well, for the issue of unregulated influx of outsiders into the state should be a common concern.

Let us take a close look at the bills. The main reason for the tribals' opposition to the bills is clause 2(b) of the PMP Bill which defines "Manipur People" as "Persons of Manipur whose names are in the National Register of Citizens, 1951, Census Report 1951 and Village Directory of 1951 and their descendants who have contributed collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur." Essentially this means anyone whose name were not recorded or wrongly recorded in one of the three registers does not meet the criteria to be "Manipur People" and will thus be automatically grouped under a category of people to be under a permit system that will restrict their movement, rights to land ownership and identity and their ability to claim benefits and privileges.

Without an explicit explanation, people are left to wonder why 1951 is picked as the base year and inclusion of one's name in all the three registers is made a requirement for eligibility to be "Manipur People".

To put into perspective, the benchmark stipulated in the PMP Bill is much tougher than in Assam where similar demand has been made for many years.

In Assam the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is supposedly a register containing details of all Indian citizens, is currently being updated for finding a permanent solution to the vexed "foreigners" issue and the process is being expedited by the BJP-led new government in Assam which won the recent assembly election largely on the issue of illegal migrants.

Unlike for Manipur, in Assam to apply for inclusion in the NCR, one's name or one's ancestor's name has to be in the 1951 NRC or in any voter list up to the midnight of 24 March 1971, the cut-off date agreed upon in the Assam Accord, which was the culmination of the 6 year-long Assam movement against illegal Bangladeshi migrants.

Further, if the applicant's name is not found on any of these lists, they can produce any of the other 12 documents dated up to 24 March 1971 like tenancy/land record, birth certificate, high school certificates, citizenship certificate, permanent residential certificate, passport, court records or refugee registration certificate. The reason for picking 1971 as the cut-off year has to do with the Bangladesh Liberation War that began on 25 March 1971 when large numbers of Bangladeshi refugees entered Assam and have not returned till now and illegal migration since then continues to date.

Interestingly, 1951 is the first census year in free India and Manipur attained statehood only in 1972. Many local residents of Manipur especially the tribal people in the hills would have had their names missed out from the said registers due to various reasons like illiteracy, bureaucratic errors, printing mistakes, lack of information and communication or poor administrative and recording systems at the time. The tribal people are even apprehensive of bureaucratic manipulation of official documents or records.

Moreover, there would have been many cases of misspelt names or nicknames instead of actual names recorded in the registers. Due to these and other reasons many genuine Manipur people or their descendants would simply be ineligible to claim "Manipur People" status. It would be most unfair and unjust if a genuine Manipur person is excluded from the club of "Manipur People" and considered as "outsiders" in their own homeland just because they are unable to provide a document to meet set criteria. It is doubtful the tribal legislators who support the Bills would be spared either.

Plainly speaking, as is evident from the above discussion the eligibility criteria for "Manipur People" status are at best unrealistic, and at worst discriminatory, keeping aside its legality or constitutionality.

To be continued ....

* Jalun Haokip wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer, a native of Manipur who finished Master of Social Work degree from Flinders University in Adelaide, is an Australia-based social worker with experience of working with mainstream Australians and indigenous Australians in different areas of social work. He can be reached at jalunhaokip(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on June 19 , 2016.

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