TODAY -

State and social movements: Inter-community agitations in Manipur
- Part 2 -

Dr Poujenlung Gonmei *

ILP :  JAC Against Anti-Tribal Bills conducted mourning / prayer session to mark 300th day of tribal movement at CCpur :: June 26 2016 .
ILP : JAC Against Anti-Tribal Bills conducted mourning session to mark 300th day of tribal movement at CCpur on June 26 2016 :: Pix - T Minlun Suant



Fallout

The ILP movement has provided an opportunity for the Nagas and Kukis to come together under a common platform. The JAC against the 3 bills received support and solidarity from all sections of the 'tribal' communities in Manipur and beyond. The protest against the ILP bills in New Delhi is led by Manipur Tribal Forum Delhi comprising of all Naga and Kuki 'tribes' since 2015.

Traditionally, the two ethnic groups have fought over land and resources since the colonial times but the ILP movement has brought them together to even contemplate demand for 6th Scheduled status as provided in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram. ADC members have become more vocal in demanding the legislative and executive authority as given to the ADC under the 6th Scheduled in other states. The ILP and the ST demands have also opened room for strengthening pan-India tribal solidarity.

In an unprecedented move, leaders of ethnic groups from Churachandpur visited Hebron Camp, the designated headquarters of the NSCN (IM) in 2015 to explore avenues for possible political accommodation within the Naga peace process. These developments are indications of a widening rift between Kukis and Meiteis who have traditionally shared close strategic ties since the colonial days. The re-orientation of the traditional allies entails greater political leverage for the aggrieved 'tribals' and a political disadvantage for the dominant community.

Bases

Protagonists of the ILP refer to Mizoram and Nagaland as the social Ideal Type in keeping out illegal migrants and protecting the rights of the indigenous communities. This is partially true. ILP system has restricted migrants into Mizoram and Nagaland.

ILP has however failed to check the demographic change in these states brought about by social practices such as inter-marriages between locals and migrants. An enraged public lynched an alleged rapist and a Bangladeshi migrant in 2015 at Dimapur who later turned out to be an Assamese married to a local girl. This was just the tip of public resentment against illegal migrants in the border town.

Protagonists of the ILP also cite the case of Assam and Tripura as the examples of state failure to check illegal migrants. ILP protagonists noted that migrants from West Bengal and even Bangladesh have overshadowed the local population there.

So ILP supporters advocate that if Manipur does not have ILP system like Nagaland and Mizoram the indigenous population would soon be outnumbered. Influx of migrants has generated an anxiety among the dominant community that the migrants have the potentials to disturb the local demography and thereby adversely affect the local politics by electing non-Manipuri lawmakers in the corridors of power in Imphal. For instance, a few years back a migrant community elected an MLA from an unreserved assembly constituency. This set the alarm bell ringing for the dominant community whose population growth has seen a significant stability as compared with the rising fertility ratio of other communities.

Legislative methods

Manipur government passed the 3 bills by majority votes as Money Bills. Money Bills are not subjected to legislative checks and balance processes unlike other ordinary bills which are subjected to gubernatorial scrutiny. Further, 'tribal' MLAs failed to scrutinise the bills in the Assembly either due to oversight or sheer political ineptitude.

Only after the bills were passed and the uproar against the bills gained momentum did the 'tribal' MLAs in the opposition trickled out to oppose the bills. While those in the government supported the bills claiming that the bills do not harm their interests in any way.

After the ILP bills received negative feedbacks from the central government, the state government began to keep distance from the ILP bills. The government pointed out the support of proscribed non-state actors in the ongoing ILP movement.

Accordingly an FIR was lodged against Ratan Khomdram the former Convenor of the JCILPS stating that he is a member of a proscribed underground outfit. This prosecution was made on the basis of a photograph of the convenor in the presence of the members of the proscribed outfit. In retaliation, the JCILPS called a 48 hours bandh from 24th 25th June 2016 asking the government to withdraw the FIR.

Anomaly

Considering the magnitude of the challenge posed by illegal migrants to the local demography and inter-community political configurations, the ILP movement has inherent merit. However, the 3 ILP Bills also have glaring anomalies. The ILP Bills had been supposedly drawn up to keep out illegal migrants and restrict other migrants in Manipur but it is visibly directed against the hill 'tribes' increasing social mobility and their settlement in the valley.

Therefore, the hill 'tribes' sees the 3 bills as having negative existential ramifications for them. As a result they are determined to reverse the bill and similar bills at all costs. Legislations to restrict movements in sensitive parts of the country are best initiated through open debate and informed opinion and not by means of in-camera legislations.

Moreover, the hasty attempt to rectify the enduring problems of illegal migrants overnight with a stroke of the pen is a politically untenable move. Hence, the ILP bills are seen as arbitrary and unjust by the antagonists. Setting 1951 as the dateline for qualifying as indigenous person or community entails the danger of leaving out more than 50% percent of the 'tribal' population as stateless citizens according to an estimate.

Tribal villages and tribal population not enlisted in the 1951 census stand to lose their citizenship. The bills overlooked the local problems of non-existent census enumerating mechanism at the time.

Now that the ILP Bills have been vetoed, it is in the interests of the state government to seriously engage all the indigenous communities in the new lawmaking process. Transparent and imaginative methods could also be adopted for filtering out the illegal migrants instead of harming the interests of the indigenous populations.

For instance, multiple documents such as Electoral Rolls, Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Caste certificates issued by the state could be used to determine the indigenous status of a citizen. Cut-off dates could also be made flexible instead of 1951. Most importantly, open discussions to arrive at a consensual opinion would go a long way in preventing further inter-community mistrusts, political logjam and rejection of such bills.

Concluded....


* Dr Poujenlung Gonmei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
Dr Poujenlung Gonmei taught India's Foreign Policy at Zakir Husain, Delhi College, Delhi University. He can be reached at poujenlung(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on July 18, 2016.



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