Have you ever heard of a process owing to which a genuine Indian citizen has to seek permission from certain state governments to enter ‘their’ states? Well, this is a reality in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, all of which are Northeast Indian states. The permission to enter these states is granted by a permit known as the ‘Inner Line Permit’ or the ILP. This is an offshoot of The Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873. The date of this Act is indicative of the fact that it is a colonial law, which was formulated with the pure intention of killing all competition to the British government business in the Northeast.
The British colonizers of the time were involved in tea, oil and elephant trade in the region. The then “Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873” had next to nothing to do with protecting the indigenous tribes of the Northeast. It was purely enacted in order to keep all non-governmental business rivals and competitors at bay, and to further strengthen British hegemony in the region. Despite the fact that the ILP was originally created by the British to safeguard their commercial interests, it continues to be used in India, officially to protect tribal cultures in Northeastern India. There are different kinds of ILPs, one for tourists and others for people who intend to stay for long-term periods, often for employment purposes.
It is absurdity of the highest order for an Indian citizen to require a ‘permit’ to travel to a state or reside in it. It is in direct contrast of Article 13 of the International Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the ‘right to movement’ to all. ILP, in its present form, is a draconian constitutional provision which legally facilitates discrimination of Indians on the basis of their culture and place of birth.
In most of the Northeast states, like Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim; non-tribals have no right to land and individual property. This begs the question, why is there then a need to superimpose an archaic law on all Indians who wish to visit these states?
One can keep complaining about ‘mainland Indians’ not paying heed to Northeast India with regards to tourism, but does one really have the right to question them when governments and organisations here openly ask for domestic visas from them? Yes, I make a clear distinction between a ‘mainland’ and ‘Northeastern’ Indian. One cannot expect to be bracketed in the same manner if one’s policies openly discriminate against non-indigenous Indians.
However, holding qualms against the entire tribal population of the Northeast would also be an injustice on my part. The elephants in the room need to be addressed. These two notorious elephants usually are: Governments/Political parties and NGOs. The motives of both these groups are usually the same. The former seeks to gain political capital by creating a divide between the tribals and non-tribals, while the latter is struggling merely to remain in relevance. The only yardstick which these ‘pressure groups’ shrouding themselves as NGOs and Student Unions hang on to, is to continuously maintain a rift between the two communities. To further validate their existence, these ‘pressure groups’ claim their communities’ right over this land. No, you do not own this land. As a part of India, we all have an equal share in every inch of this nation’s land. For far too long, this poppycock of non-tribals being ‘outsiders’ has gone on. It is time for the Central government to step in, and act!
There are three states where ILP is already implemented, and further three states are demanding its implementation. The state of Manipur, for example, saw the support of the BJP in the proposed implementation of the ILP. A bill in this regard was passed by the State Assembly, however failed to get the President’s assent. The sentiment in Manipur is largely pro-ILP, and therefore the BJP decided to join the bandwagon, while completely ignoring its stated ideology.
In other states of the Northeast, the BJP remains a firm opponent of such discriminatory proposals. Yet, since supporting ILP in Manipur would yield them political capital in the state, hence they willingly chose to turn hypocrites on the matter. In Meghalaya, the demand witnessed its peak in 2012-13, when violent protests shook the state capital, Shillong and the Khasi Hills. Census reports show that the non-tribal population in the state saw a 7% decline from 20% to 13% between 1971 and 2011, yet, vested interest groups continue to harp on to the archaic demand in order to preserve their culture.
We have witnessed indefinite bandh calls, night road blockades, office picketing and all the other theatrics which came along. A non-tribal shop owner was burned to death during the protests in 2013, headed by the pressure groups of the state. One was a direct witness to the xenophobia hurled at the time towards non-tribals by a certain section of the people here. The then Congress Chief Minister stood his ground and out rightly rejected the demand of ILP, calling it a ‘redundant’ mechanism. Ever since, the government is working on an ‘anti-influx policy’, which has still not seen the light of day. A similar demand is also in demand by the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
It is noteworthy that the state legislatures do not directly have the right to decide as to who is eligible to enter their state and who is not. The matter boils down to regulating the migration of a population, which is purely a Union list subject, and the state cannot frame any laws with matters pertaining to the Union list. This was the probable reason why Manipur’s ILP Bill got shelved in New Delhi.
All said and done, one must realise that Northeast is a part of India, and therefore extravagant exceptions like these must not be made for any state. Each state has a unique culture and identity, yet no state of India requires one to furnish documents in order to enter the state. If one can enter Punjab, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi Tamil Nadu and other states freely, the same must be applied to the seven sisters of Northeast. If ‘mainland Indian states’ can accept diverse people from across the country, so must the Northeast. Period.