Demand for Inner Line Permit in Manipur - A Gorkha Perspective

Writes: Upendra for The Darjeeling Chronicle
Sit-in-protest at Kabui Mothers at Kakhulong demanding Inner Line Permit System
The demand for an Inner Line Permit to enter Manipur by the dominant Meitei community has snowballed into full blown political issue. However before venturing into the current Manipur situation, there is a need to understand the origins and development of the Inner Line Permit concept.
The origins of ILP can be traced back to the colonial days. On 1st of November, 1873 the then British rulers enacted the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations in order to protect the interest of the British Crown in rubber, wax, tea, oil, elephant and other forest related trades against private British entrepreneurs.
The BEFR of 1873 states that the “The [Government] may, by notification in the [official Gazette], prohibit all British subjects or any class of British subjects [now replaced with “citizens of India or any class of such citizens”] or any persons residing in or passing through such districts from going from beyond such line without a pass under the hand and seal of the chief executive officer of such district or of such other officer as he may authorize to grant such pass; and the [Government] may, from time to time, cancel or vary such prohibition.” [Details:]
ILP which was designed by the British to protect their commercial interests were continued to be used by the government of India to keep the people under such places as described in the original 1873 BEFR Act happy. After Independence north-East India has continued to simmer with separatist movements and with China right next door continuing to pose as a grave threat, the Government of India used ILP to restrict the flow of people into those areas that they feared would be threatened due to influx of outsiders.
Currently Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram are covered under the ILP regime which requires Indian citizens from outside these states to get a permit to enter the state for a duration ranging from 15 days to 6 months for temporary visits and up to 1 year for those who go to work there.
In addition places that are covered under the Inner Line Permit various places in other states such as Sikkim, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Manipur, Andaman and Nicobar Islands etc require Protected Area Permit (PAP) and Restricted Area Permit (RAP) which require both the foreigners and Indian citizens from outside these states special permit to visit these places. [Details:]
In addition to these permit requirements, almost all of the North Eastern states, as well as other mountain regions such as Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir prohibit outsiders from buying and selling land in their respective states. This is done to “safeguard local mountain communities from rich land-grabbers” from the cities.
In fact, Darjeeling is the ONLY mountain region in India, where local interests are not protected and anyone from the actor Govinda to international investors are freely allowed to buy and sell land.
In addition to this, protection is also provided to lands owned by SCs and STs across India, in that no SC or ST land can be bought or sold by anyone other than people belonging to the SC or ST communities, and only if no SC or ST buyers show interest, can people from other categories can purchase such a land
However, the idea of ILP is sold to the rest of the country as being a protective measure to ensure “safeguarding the indigenous people from inundation of eternal migrant and immigrant communities.”
This idea does carry some merit, as, if you look at the demographic shifts then indigenous people in Tripura were overrun by immigrant Bengalis and the natives are now a minority in their own land. Similarly parts of Assam and almost all the Border regions of West Bengal, including the foothills of Darjeeling district has seen massive raise in population due to Bangladeshi refuges as well as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants flooding into these areas, whereas, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal have remained more or less safe from these immigrants.
However if "protecting the indigenous communities" is the main motive of continuing with ILPs then shouldn't it be applied to all the tribal regions of India equally, and not just in three selective states?
In terms of migrants and immigrants, it is well acknowledged that due to the open border policy shared between India and Nepal, people from both the nations have emigrated from one nation to the other.
While immigration has continued freely post Independence, what majority of the people in India fail to realize is that prior to the British invading various parts of India, Nepalis were already living in across the length and breadth of India. Places like Darjeeling, parts of Sikkim, Kangra and Garhwal were actually parts of Nepal until 1816 when these tracts of lands were handed over to the British. The land which were usurped by the British also contained a healthy population of Indigenous Nepali speaking population – today these people who did not cross the border, but for whom the borders crossed them back in 1816, are recognized as GORKHAS in the Indian context.
The term “Gorkha” is used in India to identify the Indian citizens of Nepali ethnicity including the indigenous Lepchas and Bhutias (in the Darjeeling and Sikkim context), from the citizens of Nepal who are referred to as “Nepalese.”
In terms of population “Gorkhas – Indian Nepali” constitute around 12 to 15 million (1.2 to 1.5 crore) people who are spread from Arunachal to Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
According to 2010 report by United Nations states that around 1.7 Million (17 lakh) Nepali nationals are working in various parts of India and around 2-4 million Indian citizens are living in Nepal [details:]. For the sake of argument let us assume that the number of immigrant Nepali population in India has gone up to 2 million individuals. These are the people who work in India, and then head home to Nepal once or twice a year to be with their families.
Due to Indo- Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, 1950 (INFT) – the term “illegal immigrants” does not apply to people from Nepal entering India or Indian citizens entering Nepal. Every Indian citizen who moves to Nepal or every Nepali who moves to India does so legally and is protected by the INFT of 1950.
Article 6 and 7 of the INFT – 1950 state the following
Article 6: Each Government undertakes, in token of the neighborly friendship between India and Nepal, to give to the nationals of the other, in its territory, national treatment with regard to participation in industrial and economic development of such territory and to the grant of concessions and contracts, relating to such development.
Article 7: The Governments of India and Nepal agree to grant, on a reciprocal basis, to the nationals of one country in the territories of the other the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of a similar nature.
Sadly it is these two clauses which were written to safeguard citizens from India and Nepal in each other’s country, which creates misunderstanding and problem for Indian Gorkhas.
Most of the people across India naturally assume that all “Nepalis” are from Nepal, and start calling us “foreigners,” “immigrants,” and “outsiders” in various parts of India, and particularly so whenever we have demanded our rights to a separate state here in Darjeeling.
The Gorkhas in Manipur share a glorious history, while there were scattered population of Gorkhalis living in Manipur, formally the Gorkhas became a part of Manipur history when Raja Gambhir Singh recruited Gorkha soldiers to defend Manipur from Burmese intruders in 1824.
As history is our witness, the 1st Gorkhali freedom fighter Subedar Niranjan Chhetri defended Manipur under the revolutionary Manipuri hero Jubraj Tekendrajit Singh and was summarily hanged by the British in 1891. His last words were, “my birthplace is my Motherland, I am ready to die for this land, and I am ready to kill for this land... but I am not ready to accept surrender and subjugation of my own land.” The account of his valour and that of his fellow Gorkha soldiers of Manipur is widely celebrated in the history of the region.
Recollecting other significant phases in Gorkha history in Manipur, Mr. Dinesh Sharma writes, “Govt of Manipur decided to shift the Gorkhali/Nepali Gwalla to the northern part of the Manipur Valley creating a Gorkha/Nepali reserve (18 miles long) in between Sekmai and Kangpokpi in 1915 and later on partially extended up to Maram, Siddim Pukhri and lrang Part-I & II (Source: Manipur State Administrative Report 1915-16 Chapter – V, No. 2 Para V. Durbar Resolution 1 dated 17th February 1915).” [Details:]
Since then, Gorkhalis have lived peacefully in Manipur and have contributed towards the growth, progress and development of Manipur, like every other Manipuri. Majority of whom settled in hill tracts and remote villages, where they minded their own cattle and indulged in farming as their mains source of livelihood generation.
However time and again the “Gorkhas” have been subjugated to humiliation and discrimination, and derogatory terms such as “outsiders,” “foreigner,” “immigrants” are regularly used in reference to them.
Racism in the form of “Bhumiputra” movement caused around 100,000 Gorkhalis to leave their ancestral lands from various parts of North East India between 1977 and 1983, including around 20000-30000 from Manipur due to the “Metop-Meeyancha Tanthokadabani (meetop means foreigner and Meeyancha means outsiders from India, go back)” movement of 1980s.
This was one of the main drivers of Gorkhaland agitation, as the Gorkhalis in Darjeeling feared that we would also be treated in the same manner if we did not act to protect our own rights.
Currently there is not Inner Line Permit system in Manipur as it was never under the British rule and Manipur only became a part of India in 1949. So many Manipuris contend that they cannot adhere to the Indian constitution as they were not part of the deliberations process when the constitution was framed. So they feel that ILP needs to be implemented in Manipur to protect the “indigenous” people from influx of migrants and immigrants.
The old demand for Inner Line Permit in Manipur got new lease of life when the 2011 census data came out, and according to K.H. Ratan, convenor-in-charge of the Joint Committee on ILPS (JCILPS) said, “the population of Manipur is a little over 27 lakh (2,721,756), of this, only 17 lakh (1.7 million) are indigenous people and 10 lakh (one million) people are outsiders." Here outsiders refer to mean “those people whose roots are outside of Manipur” and it includes the Gorkhas who are 60,000 or so in number.
So the agitators are demanding that Inner Line Permit be set and that the cut off year of 1949 be set in place, with anyone who is not registered as of 1949 be declared as an “outsider.”
While the Meitei community from the valley are supporting this demand, the hill tribes who constitute around 30% of Manipuri population, are opposed to the demand on the grounds that their views were neither sought, nor welcomed by the majority Meitei community.
In a democratic country like India, the Constitution alone holds the highest power, and even though to demand various demands is one’s rights, but it has to be situated within the ambit of our constitution.
In terms of citizenship our Constitution is clear on who is an Indian, it reads:
• “Citizenship by birth.-
o (1) Except as provided in sub-section
(2), every person born in India,-
(a) on or after the 26th day of January,1950, but before the 1st day of July, 1987;
(b) on or after the 1st day of July, 1987, but before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 and either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his birth;
(c) on or after the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003, where-
(i) both of his parents are citizens of India; or
(ii) one of whose parents is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of his birth, shall be a citizen of India by birth.” [Details:]
Our constitution clearly states who is an Indian citizen and who is not, and no two citizens of the same country can be treated differently. The current demand for setting 1949, some say 1951 (1st census of Independent India), some say 1972 (when Manipur was made a state) is too arbitrary and will lead to levelling of one section or the other of Indian people as “outsiders,” and that should not be permissible.
Having suffered the pangs of illegal Bangladeshi immigration diluting our original population in the Siliguri, Dooars and Terai region and rendering us a minority in our own land, as an individual, my conscience does not permit me to oppose the demand for Inner Line Permit raised by the certain sections of the Manipuri community.
However, as an Indian, I cannot support anything that goes against the spirit of our constitution. To demand an arbitrary date to set as a cut off year or day on who will or who will not qualify to be counted as a person of Manipuri origin, will go against the spirit of the Indian constitution, and also it will make room for nefarious elements with their own political and personal axes to grind to victimize one community or the other.
I think that it will be prudent if the Inner Liner Permit were imposed, with the cut off date set as the day when such a law would come into be imposed. This will ensure that no one who is today a part of Manipur is left out, and this will also ensure that those who are today a part of Manipur will be protected for all such times to come.
It is said that for every Manipuri who lives in Manipur, at least two live outside. Whenever Manipuris have been a victim of Racism elsewhere in India, we – the Gorkhas have always spoken out and stood by our friends from Manipur, as we know how much it hurts when one is subjected to racist humiliation.
Manipur has been one of the greatest civilizations in the South Asian region, and it adopted democracy even before India formally did. So I appeal to all the Manipuri people, to protect uphold the glorious history and rich legacy of your ancestors, and embrace the highest ideals of democracy by treating the minorities amongst you as one of your own.
For in unity lies our strength.

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