The northeastern states of India have taken to the streets to protest the Citizenship (Amendment) Act approved by both Houses of the Parliament during the ongoing winter session.
Apart from seeking revocation of the Act, the states have also placed a demand for the Inner Line Permit (ILP) to be implemented across the northeast.
Following the passage of the Citizenship Bill, a violent protest broke out in Assam in which two protestors lost their lives in clashes with police. The protest quickly intensified and the violence trickled down to the neighbouring states of Tripura and Meghalaya.
All the streets in the seven sister states echoed the cry for an Inner Line Permit (ILP), a crucial demand in the debate surrounding the Act there.
As Meghalaya turned into a tinderbox, CM Conrad Sangma rushed to Delhi to meet Home Minister Amit Shah for the implementation of the ILP. Earlier, several civil society groups and political parties had contended that the Act will threaten the culture and language of the indigenous people of the northeast.
After conducting several meetings, Shah finally extended the ILP to Manipur making it the fourth state after Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal to become a part of the ILP system.
What is Inner Line Permit?
The Inner Line Permit is an official travel document that allows Indian citizens to stay in an area under the ILP system. The document is currently required by visitors to Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram.
The ILP is issued by the concerned state government and can be availed both by applying online or in person. The permits issued are mostly of different kinds, provided separately for tourists, tenants and for other purposes.
The document states the dates of travel and specifies the particular areas in which the ILP holder can travel. It's illegal for the visitor to overstay the time granted in the permit.
How did the ILP come into existence?
In 1873, under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, the British, in a bid to protect the Crown's (commercial) interests, framed regulations restricting the entry and regulating the stay of outsiders in designated areas. The Act was brought in to prevent "British subjects" (Indians) from trading within these regions.
However, after partition, the Indian government replaced “British subjects” with “Citizen of India” and retained the ILP to protect the interests of the indigenous tribal communities of the Northeast.
What is ILP's connection with the Citizenship Act?
The Citizenship Act enables non-Muslim refugees (Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians) from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who arrived in the country before December 31, 2014, to obtain Indian citizenship. Although the rest of mainland India is protesting the controversial Act for being anti-Muslim, for the northeast, the worry is entirely different. If the Act is implemented without the ILP, then the beneficiaries under CAB will become Indian citizens and will be allowed to settle anywhere in the country. However, the implementation of ILP bars the refugees from settling in the states under the ILP system.
Assam and Tripura have been up in arms against the Act because these states share the longest borders with Bangladesh and have been subjected to the highest influx of Bengali-speaking undocumented refugees since the partition.
Assam has been a hotbed of protests since the 1970s. The state witnessed a mass agitation against undocumented immigrants that began in 1979 and ended with the Assam Accord in 1985.
The Northeast is home to 238 indigenous tribes that constitute 26 per cent of the region’s population and the leaders' state that continued the influx of Bengali-speaking refugees will threaten their identity.
The North East Students’ Organisation, an umbrella group of all students’ bodies, in particular, has time and again reiterated its demand for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) in all the states of the region to avoid this.