By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On June 23, 2016, normal life in Imphal and other areas was crippled on the first day of the 48 hours State-wide bandh (general shut down strike) imposed by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) demanding implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system in Manipur.
On the same day, acting on specific intelligence, District Police arrested Nameirakpam Mangi aka Yaima (48), the ‘publicity in-charge’ of the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS), Sagolband New Cachar unit, along with 27 Gelatine sticks, 50 detonators, two 6-foot long non-electric safety fuses, two mobile phones and one Honda Activa during a raid of on house in Yurembam Mayai Leikai in Imphal West District. Nameirakpam, a member of National Revolutionary Front of Manipur (NRFM), further revealed that he was working under the direct command of NRFM ‘commander’ Binodon aka Kishan aka Wangba, and Dhabalo aka Paikhomba.
Earlier, on June 15, 2016, a scuffle erupted between the Police and protesters when Police fired tear gas shells as protesters tried to storm the Chief Minister’s (CM) office after a joint sit-in protest at Keishampat Leimajam Leikai Community Hall in Imphal West District, over the ILP issue. Women protesters lay down on the streets of Keishampat shouting slogans such as, ‘Implement ILPS in the State’, ‘Go back foreigners’, ‘Long live Manipur’ and ‘We condemn wanted tag on Kh Ratan’ [Khomdram Ratan is the JCILPS convenor], etc., as Police attempted to stop them from marching towards the CM’s office.
ILP is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to permit inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period. It is obligatory for Indians residing outside such restricted areas to obtain permission prior to entering them. The system was introduced by the British to protect their commercial interests, particularly in oil and tea, and continues now essentially as a mechanism to firewall the tribal peoples and their cultures from economic and cultural onslaughts by outsiders.
The first demand for the extension of the ILP system to Manipur was made in the Indian Parliament in 1980. The mass movement in support of this demand Manipur commenced in 2011, after Census of Manipur showed that the population of Non-Manipuris in the State had grown at an alarming rate. According to the 2011 Census, Manipur’s population is 2.7 million, of which 1.7 million are indigenous people, while the remaining one million have their roots outside the State. The ILP system, intended to regulate the influx of migrants and foreigners, presently exists in Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. Significantly, urging the Centre to introduce to include Manipur under the scheme, the Manipur Assembly passed a resolution on July 13, 2012, declaring: “That the Manipur Legislative Assembly passes a Resolution to extend and adopt the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873, with necessary changes in the point of details to the State of Manipur and to urge the Government of India to comply with the same.” The Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873, are the legislative underpinning of the ILP. Further, during a debate in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) on November 29, 2012, Dr. Thokchom Meinya, the Member of Parliament (MP) representing the Inner Manipur constituency, strongly urged upon the Union Government and the Home Ministry in particular to immediately look into the matter of introducing the ILP system in the State.
On March 16, 2015, the State Assembly passed a Bill “The Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants & Migrant Workers Bill 2015” with a clause that purportedly enables migrants to purchase land in Manipur. However, the Bill made it mandatory for non-Manipuris to register themselves with the Government for reasons of “their safety and security and for the maintenance of public order”, upon entering the State. The Bill was a step towards regulating the movement of ‘outsiders’ and fulfilled the longstanding demand of powerful local groups, but failed to satisfy the hardliners. Expectedly, on June 25, 2015, the JCILPS, an umbrella organisation of 30 civil bodies in Manipur, restarted its agitation demanding withdrawal of the Bill and also submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, urging the State to introduce a fresh Bill that would restrict and regulate the influx of outsiders and internal migrants, whose demographic influence ‘threatened the socio-economic, cultural and political practices of the people of the State’.
Regrettably, the stir intensified with the killing of Sapam Robin Hood, a class XI student, in Police firing on July 8, 2015, when a large number of students from leading schools of Imphal who joined the protesters to demand the introduction of the ILP Bill in the July assembly session. The State faced a complete blockade on numerous occasions. Subsequently, on July 12, 2015, the Manipur Government withdrew the controversial Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers’ Bill, 2015. Thereafter, on August 28, 2015, the Manipur Legislative Assembly passed three Bills – The Protection of Manipur People’s Bill, 2015; The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th Amendment) Bill 2015 and The Manipur Shops and Establishment (MS&E) (2nd Amendment) Bill 2015, each intended to check various aspects of demographic imbalances in the State. The Bills place restrictions on the entry into and exit from Manipur for Non Manipur persons and tenants; prohibit the sale of land belonging to a Scheduled Tribe (ST) person in the Valley areas to a non-ST persons without the prior consent of the Deputy Commissioner concerned; and make it mandatory for all shop owners to register their employees, respectively.
The tribal communities in Manipur, including the Hmars, Nagas and Kukis, have, however, spoken in unison against the Bills as they suspect that these would lead to dilution of tribal rights over their lands. Tribal groups like the Kuki Students’ Organisation (KSO), the All Naga Students’ Union of Manipur (ANSAM) and the United Naga Council (UNC) raised a united voice, particularly against the land Bill. The crux of the problem of the Bills is in their interpretation. While the Valley people, predominantly Meiteis, view the Bills as a mechanism to protect the State and its people from outsiders, the Hill people (various tribal formations) see the Bills as a threat to their rights over identity and land.
Unfortunately, the agitation intensified when nine protesting tribal youth were killed in Police firing on August 31, 2015, at Churachandpur District. According to reports, the bodies of the victims are still being kept at a morgue, as family members refuse to claim them as a mark of protest. H. Mangchinkhup, the convener of the Joint Action Committee against Inner Line Permit (JACILP) declared, on December 9, 2015, “We will not bury the bodies till the three Bills are repealed. They will be kept in the morgue in Churachandpur till our demands are met.” In view of the opposition from the tribal groups in the State, the Governor did not give his assent to the Bills but sent them to the President on September 16, 2015, with the remark: “I reserve the Bills for consideration of the President.”
Significantly, on May 11, 2016, President Pranab Mukherjee issued his response, remarking: “I withhold assent from the Bills.” However, the Chief Minister of Manipur and other political leaders kept this information as a closely guarded secret for over a month, while people continued to demonstrate in the streets demanding implementation of ILP.
On June 19, 2016, JACILP thanked the President of India and the Union Government for upholding the sanctity of the Constitution by withholding the Protection of Manipur People’s Bill, 2015, and wished and prayed that the Bill along with the other two ‘anti-tribal’ Bills – the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2015 and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015 – be rejected.
The recent chain of protests was sparked on June 10, 2016, when a 10-day economic blockade and ban on construction of all ongoing national projects in Hill (tribal) areas began in Manipur, leaving a large number of goods-laden trucks stranded on the inter-State borders. The blockade was jointly called by JAC of Churachandpur and an apex tribal body Outer Manipur Tribal’s Forum (OMTF) comprising UNC, Zomi Council, Thadou Inpi, Hmar Inpui and Mizo People Convention (MPC), protesting against the process of implementation of ILPS in Manipur through conversion of the three ILP-related Bills into Acts.
On the other hand, demanding the speedy implementation of the ILP system, on June 25, 2016, a group of people staged a protest demonstration under the aegis of the Thangmeiband Kendra Development Organisation (TAKDO), led by Thangmeiband Assembly Constituency (AC) Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Khomdram Joykisan. Protestors displayed placards that read: “Government of Manipur should not blemish democracy”, “Enforce ILPS in Manipur”, “We condemn declaration of former JCILPS convenor Khomdram Ratan as wanted man” etc.
Other groups of the State also came forward to show their solidarity with the demand for implementation of ILP. On June 27, 2016, sit-in-protests were staged at different places in the State under the aegis of JCILPS, with participation of numerous organisations, including Haobam Marak Lourembam Leikai, Haobam Marak Chingtham Leikai, Konjeng Leikai Club Keithel, Konjeng Langpoklakpam Leikai, Kwakeithel Konjeng Leikai, Kwakeithel Konjeng Awang Leikai and Kwakeithel Lamdong Leikai. Women’s groups such as Women’s Welfare Association, Yumnam Khunou Makha Leikai, Women’s Empowerment Association, Yumnam Khunou, Meira Paibis (Mothers’ Association) of Wangkhei Khunou, Sinam and Ishikha, also participated in the protests.
Meanwhile, apprehensions were raised among other groups as well. Announcing the formation of the United Gorkha Committee Manipur (UGCM) on June 27, 2016, Hari Prasad Nepal, Bhumi Prasad Vikas and Shiva Kumar Basnet, who were elected as president, vice president and general secretary, respectively, gave an assurance that grievances and issues related to the Gorkha community would be addressed, and that the Gorkha position would be voiced before the new drafting committee on ILP system.
On June 28, 2016, Manipur Deputy CM Gaikhangam urged all stakeholders of the Hills and Valley to extend sincere cooperation to the State Government in drafting a new and inclusive ILP related Bill in the State Assembly, asserting, “The anti-Bill group from the Hills is still reluctant to come out for a clear-cut solution. They should also join the effort to help introduce a new Bill.”
The issue of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ has been a cause of major conflict in Manipur – and, indeed, across much of India’s Northeast – and has also aggravated tensions between various ethnic communities. The Centre’s propensity to brushing the issue under the carpet, even as the continued and substantial influx of foreigners is tolerated, has made locals hostile even to migrants from other parts of India. These competing ethnic demands and rivalries, and the failure of the State to resolve the consequent conflicts, continue to undermine peace in the State.
* Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management