IJDTSA Vol.3, Issue 3, No.5 pp.42 to 53, December, 2018
Revisiting the Inner Line Permit System: With Reference to Contemporary Issues in Manipur
The tribals in India have been constantly the victim of displacement, dispossession, deprivation, hunger, poverty and violence due to the state hegemony. The paper seeks to highlight the violation of human rights against the indigenous tribals in Manipur, a northeastern state in India. The paper critically analyses, examine and discern what an Inner Line Permit system is. The main objective of the paper lies on why Inner Line Permit System is building an impasse between the Hills and Valleysi people of Manipur. The paper further draws a comparative analysis of Inner Line Permit, pre and post-colonial era. The paper further highlights the dominant Meitei’s incessant hegemony over the tribals as the Meitei, along with the demand for the implementation of Inner Line Permit, have been continuously fighting for the Scheduled Tribes (STs) category under the Indian constitution.
Keywords: Inner Line Permit System, Meitei community, Schedule Tribe, Manipur, Anti-tribal bills, Northeast India.
There are thirty-four constitutionally recognized scheduled tribes (STs) in Manipur. They can be broadly categorized as the Naga and the Zo peopleii. The major community, Meitei shared 10.02 per cent of the entire geographical area of the state and also share 64.9 percent of the total population of the state as per the latest census. On the other hand, the Naga and Zo people together occupy 89.98 percent of the total geographical area of the state and account for 35.1 percent of the total population of the stateiii. On 30th November 2012, Scheduled Tribes Demand Committee of Manipur Valley, STDCMiv submitted a memorandum to Gurbachan Jagat, the then Governor of Manipur to begin the demand for the inclusion of Meitei who are socially and politically dominating community in Manipur into Scheduled Tribe category (Piang, 2014).
The Naga and Zo people together represented twenty seats, out of sixty in the state legislative assembly and one, out of three elected members of the Indian parliamentv. Moreover, while the Meitei are concentrated in four plains districts, Bishnupur, Imphal East, Imphal West and Thoubal, which are interlinked to one another. On the other hand, the Naga and the Zo people are dispersed within the five hills districts of the state viz., Chandel, Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenglong, and Ukhrul, which are scattered throughout the state without proper connectivity and are mostly connected with international boundaries.
History of ILP
On 27th August 1873, the British in India pass a regulation called the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation which came into force on 1st November 1873. The provision was to be pertinent to the districts of Kamrup, Darrang, Sibsagar, Cachar, Lakhimpurvi, Garo Hills, Khasi and Jaintia Hills, Naga Hillsvii and Nowgongviii.
After the British occupied the northeast the colonizers started exploiting the resources of this region for the economic benefit of their empire. The East India Company set up economic base in the Brahmaputra Valley and it had successfully started off tea plantations and oil industries in the tribal inhabited region. The tribal people of the region lived in remotely distant and almost impervious hill areas of the region. The tribal were very primitive and would regularly conduct raids into the plains and loot and plunder the villages. Therefore, the East India Company resolve for the execution of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation in 1873 so as to hike their economy and run economic related activities in the regions robustly.
Initially, the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation was meant to restrict the tribal people and stop them from marauding the tea gardens, oil rigs and trading posts set up by the British East India Company. But within a few years of the British occupation of these hills, and after the tribal people were in control, the precincts on the movement of tribal people come to an end, and they were allowed for fishing, hunting and attending markets freely on both sides of the Line. Ironically, the restrictions now applied only to the people of the neigh boring plains districts of Bengal and Assam for whose safety the Line was initially defined.
Until the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891, permission was required from the cabinet of the independent kingdom of Manipur, to enter and exit into the territory of the King by a non-Manipuriix. Then, the British introduced the Inner Line Permit system, which remained in force until 1950 so as to protect its commercial interests, particularly in oil and tea and continued to protect the tribal peoples and their cultures. But the then commissioner of Assam, in whose jurisdiction Manipur fell, revoked it in the areas that went on to become the state of Manipur, in 1972. Manipur is not officially a tribal state, unlike Nagaland or Mizoram, therefore, there are constitutional challenges to implementing ILP system (Kipgen, 2015).
In contemporary India, the system is acting as a certificate or pass required for any outsidersx who are entering into the aforementioned territory in which the ILP system is executed. The pass is issued only for the purpose of traveling for certain periods and not for a permanent residency. Moreover, it also restricts any outsiders from buying and owning any property. ILP system also acts as insurance for the indigenous tribal people in the states from the amalgamation of their traditions, customs and languages with the popular dominant culture of the outsiders. At present, the Inner Line Permit is imposed in the north-eastern states of India; Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
Contentions in Manipur
The first demand for the ILP in Manipur dated back in 1980 in the Parliament and this subsequently continues on several occasion. The organization set up by the Meitei community, Federation of Regional Indigenous Societies (FRIENDS), in 2006 took up the demand in earnest. The demand turned violent with repeated strikes and continued agitation in 2012. The current phase of protest for the restoration of ILP is spearheaded by the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS), an umbrella organization of 30 civil bodies in the valley of Manipur, including all the student organization. The JCILPS is mainly composed of various volunteers, mainly from the Meitei student community and student leaders. The protests once again intensified in July 2015 as the JCILPS demanded the withdrawal of the bill passed by the state assembly in March 2015, “Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Worker’s Bill”, and to replace it by passing the Inner Line Permit bill. The Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Worker’s Bill made it mandatory for non-Manipur persons upon entering the state, to register themselves with the government for the reasons of their safety and for maintaining public order. The Bill also proposed to set up visitor registration centers in the state. Owners of various hotels, motels, lodges, guesthouses, who let out accommodation to visitors from outside the state should register the details of the visitors along with their identity documents with the Director of Registration of Visitors and Tenants. Contractors hiring workers from outside Manipur were to follow the same rules and the government is to issue permits to the migrant workers. Also, the bill proposed with maximum fines of ₹50,000 against violation or noncompliance. But the JACILPS was not satisfied with the proposed bill and continue to fight for the implementation of ILP. On lines with the Himachal Pradesh Tenancy and Land Reforms Act, 1972, the JCILPS also demanded the amendment of the Manipur Land Revenue and Reforms Act, 1960 to restrict the transfer or sale of land to non-Manipur people. But this was not incorporated in the proposed billxi.
On July 8, the protest gathered momentum with the death of a 17-year-old school student Sapam Robinhood due to the tear gas released by the police during the agitation to scatter the mob and the body was not claimed either by the family nor comrades even after a week as was used as a political tool to strengthen the protestxii. The majority of the Meitei community would have liked to make the demand an inclusive one, rather it turns out to be discordant and on some occasions has even taken a communal tone. As out of the three major communities in Manipur, Meitei, Naga, and the Zo People, only the Meitei were demanding the implementation of ILP. Thus following resistance from the local public, a prearranged rally in support of the ILP was canceled in Churachandpur district, a predominantly Zo people town. Moreover, in Morehxiii, an indefinite curfew was imposed after the class broke out between the ILP supporters, Meitei and those against it, the tribal.
Finally, the state assembly agreed to pass three bills as a substitute for the inner permit system in the assembly session, within four days of their introduction in the assembly on the 31st August 2015. The three billsxiv were;
1. The Protection of Manipur People Bill 2015:
The Manipur Legislative Assembly state that the proposed bill is to provide protection, maintenance of socio-economic and cultural balance of the Manipur People and for maintenance of peace and public order in the State of Manipur and regulation of entry into and exit from Manipur for Non Manipur persons and tenants in the interest of general public and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. The state assembly also states that the bill on its enactment and implementation shall be extended to the entire State of Manipur. This bill on enactment as an act will ensure mandatory registration of Non-Manipur persons in the registration authorities set up by the state. A Passxv will be issued to Non-Manipur persons and tenants for entering Manipur. The legislation argues that the bill is proposed so as to control and introduce a reasonable restriction in the influx of Non-Manipur people. This will expedient to maintain tranquillity and public order in the interest of the general public and issue a Pass to the Non-Manipur people through a new Directorate for effective supervision. Furthermore, with the enactment and implementation of the proposed law, the proposed Directorate and its subordinate will generate a non-recurring expenditure of ₹10 crores for the development of infrastructure and a recurring expenditure of ₹80 lakhs approximately per annum on account of salaries, maintenance etc. will form the Consolidated Fund of the State for running the Directorate of Registration of Non-Manipur persons and tenants.
2. Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (MLR & LR) (Seventh Amendment) Bill 2015:
It is a bill to amend the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 (No. 33 of 1960). Section 158 of the MLR & LR Act, 1960 restrict the selling of the land belonging to Scheduled Tribe in the valley cannot be sold to a non-Scheduled without the prior consent of the prior consent of the concerned Deputy Commissioner. In this Seventh Amendment, sections 14A and 14B is inserted. Section 14A (1) impose a mandatory approval of the State Government if a Non-Manipur persons, firms, institutions or any other entities intend to purchase and own any land in the State of Manipur, after submitting an application to the concerned Deputy Commissioner of the district. Section 14B, states that only after the approval of the State Cabinet, the Government will only then allot land to Non-Manipur persons, firms, institutions who intended to purchase land. The proposed amendment sought to empower the State Government to provide the rules and the forms of application to be submitted by a Non-Manipur Person, firms, institutions or any entities who intend to purchase land in the State. The legislation further guaranteed that there shall be no additional financial liability to the Consolidated Fund of the State once the bill is enacted.
3. Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill:
This bill is to further amend the Manipur Shops and Establishments Act, 1972 (Manipur Act No. 4 of 1973). The amendment of the bill is to protect the interest of the employees by imposing a mandatory registration of employees by the employer and to issue identity cards. Under sub-section (4) of section 7A, the bill further seeks to empower the State Government to provide the rules, the form, and manner of the identity cards which is to be issued to the registered employees and the register to be maintained for the same as per sub-section (6) of section 7A. The legislation further guaranteed that there will be no expenditure from the consolidated fund of the state once the bill is enacted.
This ignited an uproar in the hills district. And it was termed “anti-tribals” bill by the tribals in Manipur. The agitation sets in with the burning of the effigy of the CM and various tribal MLAs for not opposing the bills in the assembly. Eventually leading the mob to burn down the houses of the tribal MLAs in Lamkaxvi town including the health minister, Phungzathang Tonsing. Thus leading to the death of three innocent youth and many casualties during the crush of the mob with the security forces. The killing doesn’t stop here on the next day i.e., on the 1st September, the number of casualties increased and four more innocent youth lost their life including a minor who was shot dead by the security personnel while walking near the police station during the attack on the police station by the angry mob. Thus, the number of death numbered to seven within two days of agitation. There was a hue and cry in the entire region of the state. All the tribal community including the Naga come together under one umbrella to fight against the Meitei regime. 31st August 2015 marked a history that all the tribal unitedly came together for a common goal is the first of its kind, as undoubtedly, the tribal people in Manipur constitute diverse ethnic differences on the basis of cultures, languages, and tradition.
A renowned scholar among the tribal people of Manipur, Kham Khan Suan Hausing stated: “In a tearing hurry to appease and cave in to pressure from the majoritarian Meitei civil society groups to implement the Inner Line Permit System in the state, the government leverages integrationist methods by being insensitive to the tribal concerns. The passage of the bills without consulting the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) reinforces this. These three bills may not only undermine but also infringe legal and constitutional norms and directives pertaining to the tribal rights to land and identity. The outlook of the state is also vague and absurd to the deep hills-valley divide, an influential motif of Manipur politics since colonial epochs” (Hausing, 2015).
Article 371C of the Indian Constitution features the Hill Areas Committee (HAC), which comprises nineteen elected tribal members of the Manipur Legislative Assembly. The HAC is modeled in lined with the Hills Areas Standing Committee of the erstwhile tribal areas of Assam. It is an established constitutional norm in the state that the HAC is referred by the government to any tribal-related issues. However, the state cabinet, during the assembly session justified the bypassing of the HAC by stating that the aforementioned bills are not being extended to the hills areas and would not affect the tribal rights. Thus, the HAC reportedly endorsed the bills on the same day. The state has reiterated this position of the HAC and contended that the tribal agitators are “misguided” and “misinformed”.
But the section 2(b) of the Protection of Manipur People Bill reasonably spells out a deeply knotty condition for defining “Manipur people” as, “whose names are on the National Register of Citizens, 1951, Census Report 1951 and Village Directory of 1951 and their descendants who have contributed collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipurxvii”. It also clearly defined the “Non-Manipur person” as a person who is not covered by Clause (b) of Section 2, and who intends to visit the State of Manipur with a Pass issued by the registration authority. It is needless to say that the tribal chiefs in the hill areas were illiterate, the limited tradition of written historical records in the 1950s and the remote location of the villages where roads are conspicuous by their absence, it is even furthermore impossible for the census enumerators to cover and accurately record residents of the villages. Hence, this is used as a pretext by the state to transform tribal citizens into “foreigners” in their own land. A close perusal of the Protection of the Manipur People Bill also belies the stance of the state, as section 11 pursues to embolden it to “remove difficulties” in the implementation of the legislation. The tribal people realize and notified that the historical pattern and sinister design undermine and violate their constitutional and legal rightsxviii by the dominant Meitei community. The tribal community is wary of the objectives of the ILP campaign. The apprehension has recently been using the ILP to advance various tribal as being “foreigners”.
Hills – Valley Divide
The Meitei have been demanding Scheduled Tribe status, emphasizing their “indigenousness”, in addition to the Inner Line Permit system. The idea seems to be the aim of converting Manipur state into a tribal-state like Mizoram and Nagaland, by forcing the government to admit the Meitei into the Schedule Tribe category and then place the entire state under a uniform ILP regime (Thangkhanlal, 2015). The majority of the Meitei are Hindu and belong to the scheduled caste and the twice-born caste of caste system prevailing in Hinduism. Moreover, their language “Meiteilon” is documented under the eighth schedule of the constitution. Also, the hill tribes are sub-divided into more than thirty-four scheduled tribe (ST) groups, based on their dialect, clan relationship, and mythical origin. Do the Meitei plan to get the ST status under one homogeneous category? Or else, what will be the basis of their sub-classification? (ibid.).
The tribal people were aware that there is a hidden design behind the demands and protests for the implementation of ILP by the Meitei community. They see it as a Meitei issue. As none of the four members of the committee set up to draft the new ILP Bill by the Manipur government on 21st July 2015 was tribal. Also under the proposed bill, the targeted “outsiders” were not a just migrant from outside the state, but also the indigenous tribal people itself who ever falls under the cut-off year of 1951. Thus, the recent incidents underscore the lack of trust between the tribal people and the Meitei. The political demand of the tribal for the up gradation of the existing Autonomous District Councils to the status of Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, have been opposed by the Meitei even after the Manipur Cabinet itself had agreed to and recommended at least twice in the past.
Due to the three bills passed by the Manipur State Assembly, the day to day life of the people of Manipur, both the Meitei and the tribal community is adversely affected. The nine dead bodies who were shot to death by the state security forces during the agitation against the passing of the three anti-tribal bills were yet to be buried until a justifiable solution is met with the tribal people. The Manipur Tribal Forum Delhi (MTFD), spearheaded the issues and continued to fight for an amicable solution and an intervention of the central government, as they totally lost their trust upon the state government and termed, “biased government” and “anti-tribal government”. A remarkable coffin rally from Jantar Mantar to Parliament is held in Delhi on the 9th December 2015 under the supervision of the Manipur Tribal Forum, Delhi. Moreover, the same is held in Lamka town, Churachandpur district, Manipur. Until this paper is written, there is continuous protest and fight for the justice of the tribal people and the nine innocent “martyr” 21 who lost their priceless life in the fight for a common good. Till then, the President of India is yet to approve the bill for its implementation. This infuriated the Meitei community and intimidated the state government to enforce the three bills for its enactment and implementation in the earliest. Moreover, the Joint Action Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JACILPS), released a press statement in December 2015 stating that if the state assembly delay to enforce the enactment and implementation of the bills, the JACILPS is ready to start agitation and upheaval in a more severe manner which will further disrupt the normal life of the state.
The tribal people in the state have lost their faith to the state government and all their elected representative in the state assembly alike. They are relying on the intervention of the central government for bringing an amicable solution for their demand. The passing of the three anti-tribal bills is totally undemocratic as it undeniably violates the tribals rights and entitlement as per the provisions of the Constitution of India. It is clear that the politics of “indigeneity” is provoking all the communal issues between the Meitei and the tribal people and ignites the Hills and Valleys divide. This fight for “indigeneity” by the dominant Meitei community which upshots disputations among the people of Manipur can be seen as a zero-sum game. Where one benefits are seen as a threat to the other. Thus, the tribal people avowed that “It is now better to be a good neighbor than keep on fighting for a contrasting goal”.
Moreover, the ILP is used as a political tool by the dominant Meitei community to attain the rights enjoyed by the tribal people in the state. The reason behind the contemporary fight for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit System by the Meitei is contrasting from the initial Inner Line which was initiated under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, which was enacted and implemented to protect the cultures and tradition of the hill tribes living in the state. However, the Meitei who were neither the inhabitants of the hills nor belongs to tribes, used it as an instrument to implement the aforementioned three bills which will more or less serve the purpose of an Inner Liner Permit system in the state, thus becoming a threat to the tribal people of the state.
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iHere, Hills and Valleys refers to the people living in the Hills; the tribals and the people inhabiting in the Valleys; the dominant ‘Meitei’ community of Manipur respectively.
iiHere, Zo people refers to the Chin, Kuki and Lushei community in Manipur. Henceforth, I will use this term to refer the same.
iiiFor details see:http://epao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=manipur.Census_of_Manipur.Manipur_Final_population_of_data_ of_Census_2011 accessed on 26th February 2016.
ivA committee formed for the demand of ST status by the dominant Meitei community.
vFor details see http://www.manassembly.gov.in/mem10cons.html accessed on 26th February 2016.
viThese are a district in present day Assam.
viiPresent day Nagaland.
viiiPresently known as Nagaon, a district in present day Assam.
ixManipuri refers to the people of Manipur.
xHere ‘outsiders’ refers to any person who are not the indigenous inhabitants of the state which includes foreigners, people from other states of India.
xiFor details see http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/inner-line-permitwhy-manipur-is-on-the-boil-again/ accessed on 27th February 2016 at 23:20.
xiiiA town well known for its trading opportunities, situated on the India-Myanmar border in Manipur.
xivFor details see http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/manipur/documents/index.htm accessed on 28th February 2016, at 15:08.
xvHere “Pass” means an authorized document issued by the registration authority for entering Manipur.
xviHeadquarter of Churachandpur, the largest district in Manipur terms of both geographical area and the tribal concentration.
xviiFor details see http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/manipur/documents/papers/The_Protection_of_Manipur_Pe ople_Bill_2015.pdf accessed on 27th February 2016, at 2:20.
xviiiArticle 19(5) of the Indian Constitution ensured the provision for special restrictions to the state for the protection of the tribal interests while it ensured the rights to move and reside freely throughout India, right to acquisition and disposition of property to every citizens. But, the Meitei have used this special provisions against the tribal people in the state so as to uphold and protect their self-interests.