The demand for NRC, for an inner-line permit and the protest against rail lines are all interrelated issues that need to be understood comprehensively, and boil down to the fear of outsiders changing the culture and customs of the state.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a much-talked-about issue in the whole of Northeast India. The issue of migration is not new to this part of the country. However, the nature of migration in other states is different from Assam. To be precise, Assam is struggling because of migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. Other northeastern states have a problem of foreign migrants as well as migrants from other parts of India.
There are certain statutory protections for these special category states such as the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, the Inner Line-Permit Act, the Restricted Area Permit Act, etc. The Sixth Schedule is aimed at protecting the language, culture, customs and traditions of the tribal people of the northeast against outside interference. They are provided autonomy in managing their own affairs. Non-local people are prohibited from buying land; and permanent settlement is not possible in these states. The inner-line permit is required even for Indian citizens who wish to visit Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. Other states, such as Meghalaya and Manipur are also demanding the introduction of the inner-line permit there. The Meghalaya assembly has already passed resolutions in this regard and check posts have been erected at different entry points to the states.
After the publication of the final NRC list in Assam on August 31, concerns have been expressed from various quarters in Meghalaya that the ‘illegal’ migrants identified in Assam may infiltrate into Meghalaya. Recently Chief Minister Conrad Sangma stated in the assembly the steps taken by the government in this regard. Civil society organisations are keeping a close watch on the movement of the migrants. Police officers have been instructed to take stock of the situation on day-to-day basis. There is a feeling in the state that ‘illegal migration’ would have serious consequence on Meghalaya’s economy, society and politics. This is one side of the story.
Meghalaya, like other states of the region, is also demanding the implementation of the NRC in the state. The apprehension is that there are illegal migrants in the state and they need to be sent out. Several organisations have expressed their concerns and want concrete steps from the government to follow the rules in right earnest. Here, as mentioned before, migrants may be from other countries or from other parts of India.
Meghalaya, being the sixth schedule state, does not allow land rights to non-local individuals except in identified European Wards of Shillong city. There are very few pockets of the European Wards in the city and here also certain restrictions exist in matters of sale and purchase of land. A non-local individual serving throughout his career in Meghalaya has to return to his place of choice in another state for settlement, certainly not within the state.
Meghalaya is the only state in the region where the entire territory comes under autonomous districts; Khasi, Jaintia and Garo. The same person can be elected to both legislatures and the same voter elects candidates to both bodies or at times same candidate to both bodies. The purpose of mentioning it is that the people are subject to dual administrations, state as well as the autonomous district council, apart from the traditional local bodies. Sometimes, there is a conflict of rules while at other times there is an overlapping of powers and jurisdictions. Though the state is agog with discussion on the NRC implementation, it is yet to see under whose jurisdiction it would fall.
Sangma mooted the idea of providing work permit to Bangladeshis in order to tackle the issue of illegal migration amidst a hue and cry from the Opposition. Although the work permit to foreigners comes under the Centre, the state government thought of using it for containing illegal migrants.
Another related issue is the protest against laying rail lines to the state. Several social organisations argue that illegal migrants will sneak into the state through trains. Their argument is that unless precautionary measures are taken to detect them, Meghalaya should not have train services, not even goods trains. In fact, the NRC, the demand for inner-line permit and the protest against rail lines are all interrelated issues that need to be understood comprehensively.
While there is the demand for NRC in the state, there are vehement protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Even Sangma has pleaded against it.
The NRC can be looked at from a nationalist perspective which requires that India is for Indians; citizenship is preferably to be acquired by birth. However, a more humanistic perspective is that people have migrated either for the sake of their survival — as happened in the case of the Syrians’ migration to Europe — or for better economic opportunities. In the case of migration from Bangladesh, it is a matter of the struggle to live.
Also, it is not that this migration has happened only in Assam or the northeast, illegal migrants from Bangladesh can be found just about all over India. This does not mean that the risk and pressure large-scale migration brings on the local populace and administration be underrated. However, it is a matter of policy management as to how this problem is addressed.RK Satapathy is professor, Department of Political Science, NEHU, Shillong, Views are personal.The Great Diwali Discount!
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