Identity & influx : Need for constitutional safeguard

Yenning *

ILP : Meira Katpa - Tribute to Sapam Robinhood honoured with title 'Lamjing Meira' or 'Pioneering Light' :: 8 August 2015 .
ILP : Meira Katpa - Tribute to Sapam Robinhood honoured with title 'Lamjing Meira' or 'Pioneering Light' on 8 August 2015 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

Now exactly one month has completed since Sapam Robinhood was killed in police action in the course of public agitation for enforcement of Inner Line Permit System or a similar mechanism in order to provide a constitutional safeguard to the indigenous people of Manipur. The reaction to the killing of the young student was massive and spontaneous, and it rages on till today. The unequivocal demand for a legislation to protect indigenous people manifests a deep-rooted common insecurity among the indigenous people. The ongoing movement as well as its objective should not be read as xenophobia. Rather it demands a comprehensive study by taking into account resources, identity, demographic balance, cultural divergence et al.

The whole dynamics of migration is often analysed based on the interplay between 'push' and 'pull' factors. The 'push' factors may include environmental, demographic, economic and political pressures. Common environmental 'push' forces are drought, flood and earthquakes. Poverty, lack of employment, crop failure and famine have been accepted as major economic 'push' factors.

Political pressures to leave home may arise from wars, revolutions, coups d'tat, persecution by totalitarian governments, expulsion by the state etc. The 'pull' forces which attract migrants to certain destinations are very often the result of forces opposite to the 'push' factors. Some of the common 'pull' factors are economic opportunity to improve living conditions, chance of personal safety, liberty and freedom, and social opportunities such as educational or cultural considerations.

Researchers and scholars have generally accepted that migration flows produce multi-dimensional implications on both places of origin as well as destination countries/states. Migration may relieve population pressure in the state of origin, while eviction of certain ethnic groups may either benefit or harm both the emigrant and immigrant states.

Migration per se does not command overwhelming academic or journalistic interests. But it demands a serious engagement when migration becomes a continuous process involving multitude of migrants in a uni-directional manner. At this stage, migration transforms itself as influx, when viewed from the perspective of the host. When migration transforms into exodus and influx between the place of origin and the destination, the process breeds an inherent threat perception. These threats perceived by the hosts are often genuine and based on sound assessment of the evolving scenario politically, socially and culturally. The degree of threats perceived by the host depends on variance in many factors such as race, culture, relative population size, customs, economic insecurity etc.

All interested academicians, scholars and researchers would find North East India (including Manipur) a perfect area to undertake case studies of migration, its implications and the associated perceived threats. The region has been a destination of both inter-state and international migration, or more precisely immigration since many decades back. Although all the Northeastern States have been affected by immigration from within the country and beyond, threat perceptions vary from state to state. Assam has already witnessed some tumultuous situations which had its roots in large scale influx of Bangladeshi Muslims.

There was intense anti-foreigner movement. Even as the historic movement gave birth to the influential All Assam Students' Union (AASU), the movement achieved little success, thanks to the patronage received by Bangladeshi immigrants from local politicians. Manipur has not seen any such massive or forceful people's movement against immigrants. Yet some civil society organisations have time and again evinced serious concerns over the ever-multiplying number of immigrants. With these concerns, some of them have been persistently demanding enforcement of the Inner Line Permit System.

The great cultural divide

Now, it is pertinent to delve into the fundamental reasons for the threats perceived by the people of North East region vis-a-vis influx from other regions. Foremost, one must acknowledge that the people of Northeastern region have unique identities, quite different from other parts of India. Speaking in terms of race, culture and tradition, they are quite removed from other peoples of India. Numerically, they represent a small fraction of the 1.15 billion people (as on July 2009) of India. Racially they belong to the Mongoloid stock whereas the bulk of the Indian population are of Aryan and Dravidian origin.

Social stratification or caste system is nowhere to be seen in the North East region excepting some areas already dominated by immigrants from mainland India. Though, they are citizens of the Indian State politically, sense of Indian-ness seems to be still very remote in the psyche of the Northeastern people. In other words, sense of being a Naga, or an Assamese or a Manipuri is held much dearer to the people of the region. Truth be told. They are not mentally prepared to sacrifice their unique identities for the sake of a greater, common Indian nationality.

This is understandable from the diverse and divergent historicity of the two geographical regions––the Indian sub-continent and the Indo-Burma region. Afterall sense of regionalism is still a universal phenomenon. Its operation, though comparatively subtle, is visible in India too. Even today, there is the North-South divide and also the East-West chasm. No Tamils or the Punjabis or for that matter Bengalis are ready to forsake their own identity in exchange for a comprehensive Indian nationality.

Sporadic clashes between Assamese and Bengalis, Bengalis and Biharis and the most recent attacks on North Indians by Marathis (led by MNS) have their roots in racial differences, and were fuelled by threat perceptions such as intrusion into the economic security of the host society.

Inadvertent journey of annihilation

As mentioned above, threats posed by large scale influx of immigrants varies reciprocally to geographical size and population of the host state, and correspondingly to the degree of divergence of culture and customs between the immigrants and the indigenous people.

T ∞ 1/S

T ∞ 1/P

T ∞ Cd

This implies, T = KCd /S x P

(T is the threat perceived where S stands for territorial size and P for population of the host state; Cd stands for degree of divergence in terms of culture and custom between the immigrants and the indigenous people. K is taken as a constant representing collective sensitivity of the indigenous people)

This mathematical hypothesis fits perfectly in cases like Manipur. Territory-wise, the State is very small (read limited resources) and its (indigenous) population constitutes a tiny fraction of the total population of India whereas culture, tradition, customs, social ethics of the indigenous people are quite distinct from the so-called great Indian culture and tradition.

The same hypothetical relation implies that the threat perception is uncannily high in Manipur. Here, Yenning cannot afford to overlook one peculiar characteristics of Indian immigrants. They never merged or assimilate with/to the host society. They not only retain their roots but also groom their own culture and tradition on the foreign soil. This often leads to conflicts and sometimes confrontations with the original settlers as soon as the number of immigrants is large enough to form a small community.

Already, temples are abound in many parts of London with the population of Indian immigrants (now known as Indian diaspora on account of their permanent nature of migration) constituting a sizeable section of the city's population. Since the last three/four years, a debate has been raging in the British Parliament (House of Commons) on allowing open-air cremation by Indian community in place of closed-door cremation as is practised presently. This again reflects the infiltrative capacity and lobbying power of the Indian diaspora at the highest political level of the foreign country. Given such characteristics of Indian immigrants, threats perceived in a much, much smaller state like Manipur is quite tangible.

Apart from completely dominating the labour market as well as the commerce of the State, immigrants are steadily infiltrating into the socio-political domain of the indigenous people. Coupled with physical presence of large number of immigrants with character traits and cultural roots quite exogenous to the indigenous people, mass media like television dramas, serials and Hindi movies which are beamed across the country throughout the day have been fast diluting the unique culture and tradition of the original settlers.

Slowly and steadily, these agents of assimilation and appropriation have been culturing a notion about the (mainland) Indian culture, tradition, social customs and practices being superior to the indigenous ones and vice-versa. At the same time, this newly imbibed notion sharpens the level of threats perceived. Here, Yenning would like to take the liberty of guessing that many are fearful that the distinctive identity of the Manipuri people would ultimately submerge in the vast ocean of the so called great Indian civilization.

This is in addition to the possible scenario of the immigrants dominating the political landscape of Manipur. Though, originally they may not have any intention but immigrants are eventually evolving into a threatening force strong enough to annihilate the indigenous people demographically, politically, economically and culturally in not so distant future, if not now.

Having said this, we are not exonerating any form of violence or disorderly movement against immigrants. Rather, we would suggest implementation of a stringent regulatory mechanism with dedicated political will. To start with, the State Government may experiment with re-enforcement of the Inner Line Permit System.

* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at yenning05(aT)rocketmail(dot)com or visit
This article was posted on August 10, 2015.

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