Thursday, June 9, 2016

Inner Line Permit and its politics of Manipur

ILP or Inner Line Permit is a document that is issued by the government of India for inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period. This owes its origin to the British administration, in the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873 which controlled movement of British subjects into certain areas of their dominions. In independent India it has been seen both as a security measure as well as an effort to conserve the ethno-social demographics of certain societies.  Presently ILP system is in place for entering Nagaland, Mizoram and parts of Arunachal Pradesh.

It is with this background that the recent controversy regarding imposition of the ILP in Manipur must be understood. Manipur, with the city of Imphal as its capital, has a total population of 2,166,788 persons according to the 2011 census. There are a number of ethnic groups in Manipur. The major ethnic groups of Manipur are the Meiteis, the Meitei Pangals (Muslims), Nagas, Zomis and Kuki. It is bounded by the Indian states of Nagaland to the north, Mizoram to the south and Assam to the west; it also borders Burma to the east. The Meiteis (Meiteis), who live primarily in the state's valley region, form the primary ethnic group (60% of the total population) but occupy only 10% of the total land area. Their language, Meiteilon (Meeteilon), (also known as Manipuri), is also the lingua franca in the state, and was recognized as one of the national languages of India in 1992. The Muslims (Meitei-Pangal) also live in the valley; the Kukis, Nagas, Zomis and other smaller groups form about 40% of the population but occupy the remaining 90% of the total land area of Manipur. Out of the total population of Manipur 46.01% follow Hinduism, 34.04% follow Christainity, 8.81% follow Islam and the rest follow others.

The debate centred on ILP hinges on the edifice of ethno centricity driven by the narrative of  territorial homelands with historical roots and identity . Today Manipur and indeed large parts of NorthEast are actively engaged in the “us versus them” debate. While self assertion movements ideologically seem all encompassing in parts, eventually most of them fall prey to the low hanging fruit of exclusion politics. Manipur seems no different. The present struggle for the ILP is centred around the Imphal valley which is dominated by the Meites. The Meites are a resilient race which has a rich cultural heritage as well as long association with history. The Imphal valley is surrounded by hills which are inhabited by the Naga tribes mostly of Rongmei and  Tanghkul stock . Historically, while the Meiteis and the surrounding hill tribes enjoyed a cordial relationship, the question of Greater Nagalim or unification of all Naga inhabiting areas in recent times has become a perpetual thorn in this cordial relationship. Because of this burgeoning conlict, the hill tribes have mostly been immune to the issue of ILP. The other major ethnic group in Manipur, the Kukis, too refuse to be drawn into this struggle with their sights on their own battle for an independent Kuki homeland.

In such an environment Meities of the Imphal valley have a fear of being eventually outnumbered in their own lands. The overwhelming voice of the movement has been that ILP will ensure that outsiders will not be able to buy land in Manipur. A large part of the social narrative of Imphal valley today is that of “foreigners” of Bangladesh, Burma and Nepal taking over their traditional land and livelihood. Thus, ILP seems to be a last resort against this “onslaught” of the outsiders. Incidentally at this point it would be worthwhile to note that Manipur already has its law that forbids non-tribal people from within as well as outside the state from buying and owning land in the tribal/hill areas in Manipur.

Yet the question of ILP itself would not limit itself to the question of entry rights alone. The demands also are supplemented by calls for granting Scheduled Tribes (ST) status to the Meiteis which would in effect turn Manipur into a complete tribal state. Such demands are rising more frequently in North East now, even sections in Assam demand tribal state status. This is seen as a guarantee against invaders from outside. However in the case of Manipur, granting of ST status to Meities, would have far reaching consequences. An equality of status among the hill tribes and the plains people will have its own ramifications in the socio political narrative of Manipur .Today there is a trans border unification of imagined communities which are not limited to the Nagas alone . A unified community cutting across territorial boundaries also seem to take shape among the Kukis as well . At this juncture, if the Meiteis are given ST status, these identity assertions would indeed take new dimensions which are very hard to predict. And given the trust deficit between the Kukis and the Meities, any move to grant ST status to the Kukis would have its own faultlines.

At the root of these demands however, is the question of identity of a homeland which is squarely dependent on territory. North East is composed of hundreds of tribes of varying stock and often their idea of “historical homeland” overlaps with the idea of historical homelands of someone else. Hence the question of ILP in Manipur is merely not a question of administration alone but a deeper engagement with all stakeholders . And it is the Meitei society that has to play the larger part. Today a large part of ethnic problems including insurgency stem from the question of ethnicity .And questions that are juxtaposed in ethnicity cannot be solved by administrative measures and laws alone. Manipur once called the “crown jewel “ is today vexed by insurgency and low economic growth . But most of all Manipur has become a victim of its own history bogged by its geography. Despite the Meities consistenly punching above their weight in academics and sports , the twin goals of peace and development seems a distant dream . ILP cannot hope to take care of any of these issues, neither development nor the question of homelands. While it may or may not be a successful tool for “protecting” Meitei interest, the distant goal has to be creative engagement with all stakeholders within its society for a developed successful Manipur of the future.

-          Ibu Sanjeeb Garg ( Views expressed by the author are personal)

( (This article first appeared in   )

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