Colonial logic and growing demand for Inner Line Permit

Representative image

Debananda S Medak
(The writer may be reached at debanandatimes83@gmail.com)

It is often misconstrued that the whole idea behind the introduction of inner line permit system was to safeguard the habitat, ethnic culture and tradition of the tribes residing in the erstwhile periphery hills of the Brahmaputra valley. However, during the post independent period, numbers of Indian social scientists through their breakthrough research could realize that the British Raj’s intention behind the arbitrary drawing of the inner line was to enclose and restrict those tribes within the hills. The reason was to protect the emerging colonial estates and its subjects scattered in the plains as the so called barbaric hill men resorted to frequent raid in the foot hills of the valley.

As a result, the enforcement of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 has perpetually become a barrier in polarizing the plains and the hills politically, economically and culturally. Even the post independent Indian administration could not reduce the gap instrumented by the inner line scheme of the Raj. Rather, the Indian state inherited the genesis of divisive administration by introducing the sixth schedule in the hills which has been extended to the plains in the recent times. Eventually, the binary has shifted from hill-plain conflict to the tribal and non-tribal within the plains of Assam.

Taking advantage of the inner line regulation, the Colonial administration restricted the projects of modernity like education, health and reformation only within the plains for which the hills dwellers were absolutely averted. On the contrary, the chiefs of the tribal clans were turned into loyalist of the colony rulers to expand their control and dominance. Moreover, the camouflaged agenda was to expand the Christianity to the hills to suppress the voice of the tribes in the fear of God. Consequently, they became the poor sons of the Colonial God.

It is significant that after 70 eventful years of India’s independence, numbers of indigenous organizations from the north eastern states have started reiterating the enforcement of the inner line regulation; more particularly in Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur. Presently, the regulation is enforced in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.

The reiteration is made on the pretext that it will become instrumental in constitutionally safeguarding the land, people and their political, economic and socio-cultural rights. However, precise reassessments on the legitimacy of the inner line regulation and the demographic landscape of the present state of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland give us a contradictory picture.
In a state like Arunachal Pradesh, where inner line permit was introduced way back in 1870s during the Colonial era, thousands of Chakma and Hajong refugees from Bangladesh (Chittagong Hill Tracts of erstwhile East Pakistan) were accommodated in the then Tirap, Lohit and Subansiri districts in 1960. According to the 2011 census, 47,471 Chakmas live in Arunachal Pradesh alone. After reorganizations of many districts in Arunachal Pradesh, majority of the Chakmas are living in the present districts of Changlang, Namsai and Papumpapre.

According to sources, the number of these Chakma refugees has increased from about 5,000 in 1964-69 to one lakh. Presently, the popular speculation is that, the Chakmas will emerge as the major community in the state. Some of them have already got the privilege to exercise citizenship rights in a phase manner. More significantly, in 2015, the Supreme Court had given a deadline to the central government to confer citizenship to the Chakmas within three months.

The state of Mizoram is not an exception. Despite the enforcement of the inner line regulation, a large numbers of Myanmarese population are settling across Mizoram either temporarily or permanently. According to a research paper carried out by Julien Levesque and Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman and published in the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), Delhi, “Mizoram has been hosting temporarily a Burmese population – almost entirely from Chin state – of 70,000 to 100,000 people, who have fled political repression, military oppression and economic impasse. The Chins migrate to Mizoram for linguistic, cultural and religious proximity with the Mizo, as they share a common historic and genetic background.”

Moreover, over 1,400 Myanmarese nationals who took refuge in the Lawngtlai district of Mizoram have not returned to their homeland who were mainly from the border villages of Varang, Paletwa, Pakangwa and Mulaw in Myanmar’s Chin state. It is widespread that the size of the Myanmarese nationals permanently settling in Champhai district has been growing. Even they occupy a lion share of the cross border trade in Champhai as Zokhawthar, the only international trade point is just a 28 km away from the town.

Although the inflow of foreign nationals have not been recorded visibly in the state of Nagaland, the aggression of the traders and the work force both in the organized and unorganized sectors have outnumbered the local population. The present landscape of Kohima and Dimapur will strengthen this statement. The most challenging episode is that the size of the population settling in the state of Nagaland from outside the state through inter cultural marriage is not less. However, the phenomenon is seen across the states of the region.

As such, since its enforcement till date, we see the overall failure of the inner line regulation across the north eastern states. Under this given situation, how the inner line regulation will safeguard the indigenous rights is a million dollar question.