Riding the tribal horse: Why ILP should not be implemented in Manipur

Thangbiaklian Hangzo *

In order to understand Inner Line Permit (ILP) one has to view in the right perspective and that is the view of the erstwhile British rulers. The much hyped ILP in Manipur or The Manipur Peoples Bill, 2018 also is an offshoot of Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 also known as Regulation 5 of 1873 by the British for British Subjects.

The main intention was to isolate various backward areas under British India in order to protect those British subjects who came in areas where there was danger. According to Alexander Mackenzie (History of the Relations of Government with the Hill Tribes of the Frontier of Bengal, 1884), “There was a pressing necessity of bringing under more stringent control the commercial relations of our own subjects with the frontier tribes living on the borders of our jurisdiction.”

It purportedly also was to protect the Crown’s commercial interest on tea, oil and ivory trade from other British Subjects. The act had given the Crown Government the control to draw a line beyond which no British subjects of certain classes or foreign residents can pass and lay down rules regarding trade and possession of land beyond “that line” without a license. Whatever the intention might be, it is a regulation that pertains to certain scheduled areas occupied by backward people – tribal.

The ILP regulation, framed during Colonial India, per se is an ultra vires of the Constitution of India. It contravenes with the Preamble to the Constitution of India which accords “equality of status” to all citizens of India. Moreover, it is a violation of Article 19 (4) & (5) on the fundamental right which grants each and every citizen of India “the freedom to migrate and settle in any parts of India”. On top of that, “Inter-state migration; inter-state quarantine” exclusively falls under the Union List at Entry No. 81 of the Seventh Schedule.

Nevertheless, in continuation of the British legislative legacy, after their withdrawal, the Indian adaptation of the regulation continued to be applied in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram states where exclusive tribal communities inhabit and different schedule of land and law applies. But Nagaland’s commercial town and port head Dimapur has been excluded under its regulation.

Meghalaya, a tribal state, passed a bill called Meghalaya Residential Permit Bill in 1973 which was rejected by the President of India. And an attempt was made again in 1979 to introduce a bill to address the influx of migrants in the form of ILP, but the same could not be considered by its assembly since the subject falls under the Union List.

In Manipur, the bulk of its demography comprises of plain dwelling Meitei/Meetei people, who are categorised as general population and followed a caste Hindu religion. Boasted millennial of written history and touted a constitutional monarchy prior to that of even India’s very own constitution. If one is to go by precedence or original intent of ILP, it will be prudent to comprehend that Manipur in its entirety has no legislative sanction for such blanket protection or inner line permit system.

However, one caveat that could potentially help increase the chance in Manipur is the constitutional status of the Scheduled Tribes who inhabit the Hill Areas and their interest. In other words, ILP should ideally be implemented in the Hill Areas for the Scheduled Tribes leaving out the Imphal Valley as in the pattern of Nagaland’s Dimapur.

Interestingly, the main proponents and advocates are not the Scheduled Tribes, but the valley dwelling caste Hindu Meitei/Meetei community. And the first ILP bill “The Protection of Manipur Peoples Bill, 2015” was introduced as, “A bill to provide protection, maintenance of socio-economic and cultural balance of the Manipur People…” without any mention of Scheduled Tribes , nor was there an intent to address their interest, and was withheld by the President of India.

Whereas the resurgence of the same bill “The Manipur Peoples Bill, 2018” states, “A bill to protect the people of Manipur and for maintenance of peace and public order and to regulate entry into and exit from Manipur for Non-Manipur People in public interest and for the protection of the interest of Scheduled Tribes…” giving special mention of the interest of Scheduled Tribes in its preamble.

What is astonishing in this melodrama is that JCILPS and Manipur government, arm twisted the Hill Areas Committee, and suddenly develop a conscience and the heart to protect the interest of the Scheduled Tribes, in the ILP bill, even after the conglomerate of tribal CSO leaders unequivocally plead them not to do so by deleting the clause “for the protection of the interest of Scheduled Tribes” from the preamble of the revised bill, to say the least.

And we all know whose interest the bill is going to serve if it receives gubernatorial and presidential assent

If Manipur is genuinely interested in “protecting the interest of the Scheduled Tribes”, it could have worked on to repeal the section in MLR & LR Act that empowers the Manipur Gazette to arbitrarily extend the act in the Hill Areas of Manipur. Or ensure that correct reservation policies for Scheduled Tribes are followed in job recruitment or the enrolment of students in the Manipur University.

If Manipur government sincerely desires the protection of the interest of the Scheduled Tribes, they should have installed an infrastructure for at least a marble game, if that exist, in each of the Hill districts during the 30th National Games in 1999, or built a campus or two of the Manipur University in the Hill Areas long time ago rather than whining about the congestion in the valley.

If the protection of the interest of the Scheduled Tribes have been genuine, successive Manipur governments could have responded to the query of the Ministry of Home Affairs when it asked to clarify what it meant by “with certain local adjustments and amendments” in the matter of extending Sixth Schedule in the Hill Areas of Manipur. Or Manipur could have respected tribal heritage and embraced plurality in its historical narrative and withdraw its decision over Chandrakirti Memorial Park at Chivu near Behiang village or Kailam Wildlife Sanctuary which insults its history, heritage and encroaches tribal ancestral land without their prior consent. If, only if.

The endeavour to protect the interest of the Schedule Tribes by the Manipur government or JCILPS came a tad misplaced and little late by a couple score of years or so. The Scheduled Tribes of Manipur are very much privy of what their interest entail, and does not require such autocratic imposition by the Manipur government or JCILPS. Dictating one’s communal agenda and coercing another community to accept it as their own only reveals the hegemonic attitude and narrow bigotry against the Scheduled Tribe community.

The whole ILP episode turns out to be a ploy by JCILPS and Manipur government to ride on the privileges and rights of the Scheduled Tribes in the pretext of protecting their interests, while the real intent is to serve the communal interest of dominant Meitei/Meetei community. There are legal and other alternative recourse to ensure that the bill doesn’t see daylight even if assembly sanction and gubernatorial assent is bulldozed in Manipur. It is, therefore, judicious and fair for the Manipur government if the pending and overdue “interests” of the Scheduled Tribes are addressed as the ILP tarry a while.

A song by the title “Strong Enough to Bend” sung by Shania Twain had these interesting lyrics:
There’s a tree out in the backyard
That never has been broken by the wind
And the reason its still standing
It was strong enough to bend.

Bending, yes! It may hurt a little, but who knows, it may well be the only way to keep the idea of Manipur alive. The pain of bending will surely be more bearable than the pain of breaking.

Or suggest better options, if you have one.

* Thangbiaklian Hangzo wrote this article for
The author may be reached at hangzo(DOT)biak(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on July 28 , 2018.

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