Counting Citizens: Manipur charts its own NRC

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Like Assam NRC, Manipur has also decided to start with a Peoples' Bill, to deport the illegal immigrants. But the NRC is still under a cloud as the Union government is eager to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. If this bill is passed it will grant citizenships to the illegal immigrants, mainly of Hindu descendants from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal

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IPRI # 1, 27 July 2019

India's Northeast
Counting Citizens: Manipur charts its own NRC

  Titsala Sangtam

On 3 August 2018, Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh announced that the State Government has constituted two separate committees- state and district level, to monitor the entry of illegal immigrants in the State. 

On 27 February 2019, the leader of the House, Y. Khemchand Singh and the Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh has informed the House that the State Government has urged the Centre for the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to help the identification of local residents and to check the influx of illegal immigrants in the Manipur state.

On 6 May 2019, the Manipuri Youths' Front of Assam (MYFA) has urged the Chief Minister of Manipur to tell the Chief Minister of Assam for the inclusion of Manipuris who has been settled in Assam since time immemorial.

The Politics of Immigration: Issue in Perspective
On 15 November 1949, before Manipur was declared as a State, the restriction of the entry to Manipur was lifted. That came into effect from 18 November 1950 by a notification issued by the Chief Minister of Manipur. After that, there was no boundary to the entry of the Indian citizens into Manipur. But there was a sudden increase in the population which created fear and insecurity in the minds of the people of Manipur. Later, the people of Manipur raised a mass movement demanding to enact a law which is similar to the earlier permit system imposing reasonable restriction in the influx of immigrants, in order to preserve their culture and identity. Further, these immigrants who intend to stay in the State as tenants needed to be regulated with certain conditions such as mandatory registration for the immigrant people and the owners who provide accommodation to the tenants. Thus, it became a means to maintain harmony and public order for the interest of the general public. Hence, on 28 August 2015, the Protection of Manipur Peoples' Bill was introduced in the Manipur Legislative Assembly. 

On Thursday, 2 August 2018, in a press conference, the Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh said that in relation with Assam NRC list, the Manipur government is inquiring about the influx of illegal immigrants from Assam and neighbouring states and that they have taken measures to prevent the entry of "illegal immigrants" by forming two separate committees- state and district level. These two committees will initiate steps for checking and verification of the entry of "illegal immigrants" in the State of Manipur from Assam and neighbouring countries. Also, he said that at the airport in Imphal, the Manipur police have identified 29 people, who are not permanent residents of the State.   

On 19 August 2018, a whole day seminar was conducted on "Discourse on NRC update in Manipur", organized by Ethno Heritage Council Manipur for a deeper understanding about the need for NRC update in Manipur, to prevent the entry of "illegal immigrants" and for the protection of the people of Manipur. According to its President, "illegal immigrants" is one of the most important issues in Manipur as it has started controlling the administration and the economy as elected members. They have also began to establish villages, enjoying all privileges meant for the original settlers. He said that now is the time and the moment to find out who the illegal immigrants are in Manipur and how many and how to curb the influx. 

The participants in the seminar recommended that the Manipur government should update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the State to save the indigenous people by immediately constituting a "Manipur State Population Commission" to plan and formulate policies to check influx of the illegal immigrants in the Manipur state.

During the eleventh Manipur Legislative Assembly which saw the demand of the majority community of Meiteis, the Manipur People's Protection Bill which was passed in July 2018. The bill defines "Manipuris" which included the Meities, the Pangal Muslims, Manipuri Schedules listed under the Constitution India  and Indian nationals who have been living in Manipur before 1951  and  those who didn't fall under the umbrella were deemed "Non- Manipuri's" who were given a month to register themselves to the authorities . In addition, the outsiders visiting the State would have to obtain an Inner Line Permit, a system that is in place in three other North-Eastern States - Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland. This bill seeks to regulate the entry and exit of the "non- Manipuri's" in order to protect the interest and identity of the "Manipuri's". The issue with the drafted bill is that it has a cut- off year 1971, but in the final version which was passed in the Assembly, it was changed to 1951. This means only those residents who had their names in the village directory or National Register of Citizens (NRC) in 1951 would be construed as Manipuri and everybody else would need permits to stay in the states. As, the State of Manipur was formed on 21 January 1972, a number of stakeholders wanted the 1972 as the cut-off date and year because the 1951 cut- off was a problem for tribal communities as the data of several villages in the National Register of citizens, 1951, as well as in the Village Directory of 1951 is not available so this could render many tribal's as non-state subjects. 

A Collective Fear of Identity Loss 
On 6 October 2018, Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh said that the Manipur People's Protection Bill which was passed on 23 July 2108, will not stop anyone from settling down in the State, and it is not similar to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) because the NRC is pure of Assam and it has nothing to do with Manipur. The only one similarity between the NRC and the Manipur People's Protection Bill is that both seek to identify people who are not Indians, but the People's Protection Bill does not block any person from buying a property or settling down.

During the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly, during the question hour, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh has responded to a query raised by K Ranjit Singh, MLA of Sugnu AC that 79 illegal Rohingya migrants have been arrested out of which 52 migrants have been sent back after completion of their jail term and remaining 27 are yet to complete their jail term. He states that two local persons, from Moreh and Jiribam, were involved in providing duplicate Aadhar Cards to the migrants. And said that both tried to escape but they have been taken under the law of the land and will not be spared. On 8 September 2017, Pravish Chaman was found dead at Noida (Uttar Pradesh), MLA Ranjit Singh also calls for attention motion in the House that Pravish Chanman death is a sad one and there were even more rumors that his organs had been removed for trafficking. Also, with Pravish's death the People Action Committee (PAC) formed a connection and has called for a 24 hour shutdown stating that there have been many cases concerning North East students in the mainland India, MLA Ranjit Singh has inquired about the steps which have been taken up by the State Government based on the assurance it made in the past regarding pressuring the UP Government to hand over the investigation of the case to the CBI.  N. Berin responded that the State Government is doing its best to speed up the case of Pravish's death and an Additional Director General of Police (ADGP)  was sent to Uttar Pradesh from the State in investigating the case. He said that a Cabinet decision was taken on 6 November 2017 to urge the Uttar Pradesh Government to hand over the case to CBI. On 29 September 2017, CBI wrote to a local Civil Society Organisation (CSO) in Imphal that the case is not fit for them to investigate as the case is under UP Police which is well skilled and equipped. 

Appealing to the CSOs to call off the bandh as it delays developmental activities in the State, N. Berin informed that he is in touch with the UP Chief Minister regarding the case. He also assured the House that he will once again request the authorities concerned to speed up the case. Replying to the query raised by Okram Henry Singh, Wangkhei AC MLA, he said that the State government has deposited Rs. 33 core for construction of a Manipur Bhavan in Mumbai after identification of a plot. He also stated that further consideration for expansion of the existing building of Guwahati Manipur Bhavan at the backside of the complex.

The Chief Minister  Nongthombam Biren Singh also informed the House that fifty additional State police personnel was sent to Jiribam district to tighten security, especially in the border. 
On 6 May 2019, a memorandum signed by Seram Herajit Singh, President Manipuri Youths' front of Assam (MYFA) has been submitted which draws the attention of the Manipur Chief Minister N. Berin Singh to urge the Chief Minister of Assam to ensure that names of all Manipuri's (Meitei) and the Manipuri Muslims who have been settling in Assam  for decades under their own Kings are not left from the list of the ongoing National Register of Citizens (NRC) which is going to publish finally on 31 July 2019. It also urged the Assam Chief Minister to recognize the Manipuri's settling in Assam as indigenous people when Clause 6 of Assam Accord gets amended as per the NRC of Assam. It further stated that preservation and promotion is the urgent need to build up unity and fraternity among the Manipur's scattering in different parts of the North East and stated that Assam and Tripura campus of the Manipur University of Culture needs to be opened and also to construct Manipuri Bhavans at Imphal and Silchar.

An End in Itself? 

Manipur's NRC issue has started some couple of years around 2015 and it was intensified in the year 2018 with the demand for the implementation of ILP (Inner Line Permit) fearing the influx of immigrants from Bangladesh and other states. Manipur resources are not able to incentivize the India's GDP growth . The excess inflow of outsiders occupying the land and utilizing the meagre resources has created a mass problem for the Manipur people. So, in order to check and identify the immigrants the Government of Manipur has proposed the Centre to implement the National Register of Citizens. 

The NRC draft accounts the names, addresses, and photographs of all the Indian citizens, who have been residing in the north-eastern State before 25 March 1971. The draft, which was released on 30 July 2018, left out nearly 40 lakh people in Assam, incorporating names of 2.89 crore people out of 3.29 crore of people who applied. Since then, the Opposition has been at loggerheads with the BJP – led Centre over the issue.

The main objective of  NRC in Manipur is to register the citizen's details, to check and identify the immigrants and locals, to deport the illegal immigrants, to provide protection to the Manipur people, to maintain socio-economic and cultural balance of  the Manipur people , to maintain peace and public order in the State of  Manipur, to regulate of entry into and exist from Manipur for the immigrants and tenants in the interest of general public and for  any matters connected with it or incidental to that.

Thus, like Assam NRC, Manipur has also decided to start with the Manipur Peoples' Bill 2018, to deport the illegal immigrants. But the NRC is still under a cloud as the Union government is eager to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. If this bill is passed it will grant citizenships to the illegal immigrants, mainly of Hindu descendants from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal.  In Manipur both Hindus and Muslims are there at present. Any bill or law that is partisan and tend to disenfranchise or disposes Muslim will create conflict. In the North East, especially in a small hill state like Manipur, the implementation of NRC is not an easy approach. However, Manipur also needs to adopt a policy which would help in the protection of its indigenous people.

Titsala Sangtam is a research scholar perusing her Masters in Political Science from Madras Christian College Chennai. She can be reached at titsala.anar@gmail.com.

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