Inner line permit row: What Manipuris want

New Delhi (IANS) Even as Manipuri students in the national capital took out a protest march on Monday in support of the demand for an inner line permit system (ILPS) back home in Manipur, the process to frame a bill to regulate entry of “outsiders” into the northeastern state has entered a crucial phase.
As raging protests continue over the demand, the state’s Congress government has formed a committee to frame the proposed new bill in view of the demands by the protesters.

The demand for an ILPS to check unregulated entry of non-Manipuris into the state – mostly in the Meitei people-dominated Imphal Valley – has been simmering ever since the 2011 census results came out.

Things came to a boil in March when the Manipur assembly passed the “Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers (MRVT&MW) Bill 2015”.

On July 9, a day after class 11 student Sapam Robinhood died after being hit on the face by a rubber bullet in police firing, Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh said that the bill was now with the governor for assent.

The demand is for an ILPS in line with that in force in three other northeastern states – Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.

“You know, according to the 2011 census, the population of Manipur is a little over 27 lakh (2,721,756),” K.H. Ratan, convenor-in-charge of the Joint Committee on ILPS (JCILPS) that is spearheading the ongoing movement, told IANS over phone from Imphal.

“Of this, only 17 lakh (1.7 million) are indigenous people and 10 lakh (one million) people are outsiders,” he said, alluding to those people whose roots are outside of Manipur.

Ratan explained that prior to Manipur’s merger with India in 1949 – it became a full-fledged state in 1972 – it had an “ILPS-like rule” to regulate the entry and exit of non-Manipuris.

“However, the then chief commissioner of Manipur, Himmat Singh, abolished the rule on November 18, 1951, allowing unregulated influx of outsiders into the state that has led to the present situation (of demographic imbalance),” he said.

The JCILPS has submitted a five-point charter of demands to be included in the proposed new bill: issuance of a pass or permit to all non-indigenous people coming to Manipur, a cut-off base year of 1951 to check the influx of non-Manipuris into the state, no land ownership rights for non-indigenous people in the state, a full-fledged labour department for registration and regulation of inter-state migrant labourers, and detection and deportation of all illegal migrants.

So, how justified are these demands in the context of other northeastern states, as also the rest of India?

“They (Manipuris) feel insecure against the backdrop of an overarching trend of neo-liberal onslaughts marked by the unregulated inflow of exploitative capital, mercantile monopolists, trained or skilled labour and professionals, whose presence also has cultural and political ramifications,” Malam Ningthouja, a fellow at Shimla’s Indian Institute of Advanced Study, said in an e-mail interview with IANS.

“Since the fear is natural, their demands are the logical outcome of the fear. In that sense, the demands are justified.”

But those non-indigenous people who have been living in Manipur for generations since 1951 feel the demands are unjustified.

According to a WhatsApp message doing the rounds, the number of Manipuris living outside or having land and property outside far outnumber non-indigenous people in Manipur.

If the demands of the protesters are to be met, all other state governments must bring legislation at par with the proposed new law in Manipur “making it compulsory for Manipuris to carry inner line permit outside Manipur”, the message reads.

How practical and logical is it to deport all non-indigenous people living in Manipur since 1951?

“…If the ILP demand is being fulfilled, it is the responsibility of the government of India to take up the concrete measures to identify, evacuate or deport the outsiders on the basis of adequate compensation and rehabilitation of those who will be resettled somewhere,” Ningthouja stated.

The JCIPLS has now given three riders to the Manipur government for holding talks: an August 15 deadline to pass the new law, inclusion of its five demands in the new law and suspension of all police personnel involved in Robinhood’s death before initiating a judicial inquiry.

On Saturday, following a meeting of the newly-formed bill drafting committee, state Law Minister Th. Debendra Singh told the media that the draft would be finalised in “three or four days”.

He has sought cooperation from all quarters so that the new bill has constitutional validity and is acceptable to the president of India and the governor of the state.

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