Conflict Alerts # 39, 4 March 2020
In the news
On 28 February, the Khasi Student Union of Meghalaya staged a protest in Ichamati against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the implementation of Inner Line Permit (ILP). It went rogue when the clashes between the students union and the non-tribal escalated leading to the death of some civilians. Meghalaya is actively protesting against the CAA since its initial developments as well as the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) which was introduced in December 2019.
On 2 March, Tathaghata Roy, the Governor of Meghalaya went on leave prompting the Governor of Nagaland to take charge. The former made a sensitive comment in Twitter against the protests which created a further uproar in the state. Previously, he upset the public by not giving assent to amendments of the Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act, 2016.
Issues at large
First, the protests are about the influx of “outsiders” into the state and taking over their businesses and jobs. The tribal, indigenous people of Meghalaya fear losing opportunities to them and thus are adamant about being exempted from the CAA. Second, the insecurity is also about the influx of Bengali-speaking people from Assam. Assam, becoming hostile towards the Bengali-speaking communities exhibit high chances for the latter to flee for safe shelter, Shillong being the first choice of preference. The state feels highly vulnerable to the Hindu population in Bangladesh as it is a border region between India and Bangladesh. The CAA will provide them entry into India and there are high chances of that happening through Meghalaya.
Third, Meghalaya falls under the sixth schedule of the Constitution of India. This schedule safeguards the tribal areas and provides them with special administrative rights over their lands. In this manner, most of the state is exempted from CAA automatically. In spite of this, the protests are on because the state capital of Shillong is the only place where the CAA would be applicable. Thus, the main economic and administrative hub of the state is under threat, according to the tribes of Meghalaya.
Fourth, they are also protesting because they want the Government of India to implement the Inner Line Permit (ILP) in their state. The population wants the ILP as it will create a barrier between the state and the outsiders, especially those who will plan to settle illegally in the state.
The protests in Meghalaya and the rest of Northeast India are strikingly different from that elsewhere in India. While the rest of India is in uproar against the CAA as they feel that a particular religious community’s rights are compromised, Northeast India is putting up a secular fight.
Irrespective of religion or language, the settling down of any new immigrants in the region is being protested about. All the protesting states of northeast India, including Meghalaya, wants its indigenous population to be protected against all the chances of being deprived of opportunities, jobs and resources.
States like Meghalaya feel vulnerable towards an Act like this as they are the peripheral states of the country. Immigrants entering the country through Meghalaya or Tripura have high chances of settling in places closer to the border. With these reasons alive, the protests against the CAA in the northeastern states of India will stay for sometime.