The ongoing violence in Manipur has claimed hundreds of lives. The indifference of the Centre to the internal conflict which has taken the shape of a civil war has drawn desired criticism and wonder about their minimal interference.
It certainly raises a lot of questions about why the Prime Minister has refused to deal with the issue at all. Are things really out of hand? Or, are there more layers than what meet the eye? Only time will tell what is the future of Manipur.
Dark clouds hang over the state. It is an anomie-like situation, where there is a complete breakdown of social order, particularly between the Kuki-Zo people, on one hand, and Meiteis, on the other.
Trust between both sides has eroded and there is near segregation between the two groups with strong demands for separation administration of Kuki areas. Demands for separation have come from the Kuki Inpi and even MLAs of the BJP who belong to the Kuki community.
NRC in Manipur
Last year, on 6 August, the Manipur Assembly unanimously agreed to implement NRC in the state with a cut-off year of 1961. We all know that Assam’s NRC was the first of its kind since 1951 NRC.
There is a major consensus and demand for NRC in Manipur, particularly from the Meitei and Naga civil society groups and institutions that represent their respective interests. Kuki civil society groups like Kuki Inpi, Manipur have also expressed support for the NRC process.
Women from three Ima Keithels (all-women-run markets), student organisations of Manipur–All Naga Students’ Association Manipur (ANSAM), Manipuri Students’ Federation (MSF), Democratic Students’ Alliance of Manipur (DESAM), Kangleipak Students’ Association (KSA), Students’ Union of Kangicipak (SUK) and Apunba Ireipakki Maheiroi Sinpanglup (AIMS) have all demanded NRC in the state.
They all feel that “illegal immigrants”, who are mostly Chin refugees, have encroached on land and if they are allowed to carry on within the state, they will change the demographic and political profile of the state. They add that such a development threatens the Meitei population. These are very similar arguments to the Assamese nationalist supporting the NRC process.
The United Naga Council (UNC) has stated before that migrant and indigenous people cannot be treated as equals. The Unity of Meitei Society Hojai, Assam has also recently submitted a memorandum supporting the need for NRC in Manipur.
However, Kuki Students’ Union, unlike the Kuki Inpi, has expressed concerns about the NRC process. They fear that it might result in a lot of internally displaced people. Some also see the recent letter from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) directing the state governments of Mizoram and Manipur to collect biometric data of “illegal migrants” by next September as a step closer toward NRC.
In Assam’s case, such biometric data followed after or during the NRC process, not prior to it. In a way, if this call to collect biometric data is indeed a step toward NRC, we can say that the NRC process itself is not unidirectional and more ambiguous than we thought it is.
Why All Kuki-Zo Groups Must Oppose NRC
No thinking mind will want to become stateless, sent to a detention centre, humiliated, and dragged to court to prove their citizenship. An NRC unfairly robs you of your rights (social, political, and economic) and dignity by asking you to prove your citizenship for a doubt that emerges in the mind of other people and the state. The way Meitei Leepun has justified the need for NRC in Manipur, if it sees the light of day, it will be no less than evil.
The entire process is very porous and leaky. Documents can be manufactured to target certain individuals and groups. Civil society groups can take up the notorious role of filing complaints against someone or a group at the drop of a hat and since the onus of proving is on the defendant, it encourages such deviant acts of surveillance easily. The notorious All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) actively participated in such surveillance during the claims and objection process in Assam’s NRC.
This is the right time for all Kuki-Zo groups in Manipur to oppose the NRC in toto. There cannot be any free and fair NRC. That’s an oxymoron used by the majority groups.
In Assam’s case, such opposition came from the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AMSU) which opposed the pilot project of NRC in Barpeta in 2010. During the protest, at least four people died and many were injured due to police firing. Muslims in Assam and particularly those of Bengali origin are second-class citizens. They are not considered “indigenous” to Assam. Quite the contrary, their citizenship is doubted and the NRC exercise is primarily a tool to target them.
There is a significant difference between Kuki groups who are indigenous to the Northeast protesting against this evil exercise over AMSU. NRC in Manipur, Mizoram, or anywhere can do no good. It will deepen social divides, and create more refugees, stateless people, and IDPs. Like in the case of Assam, all other groups who are not considered indigenous to either Manipur or Mizoram will suffer the most.
Unattended Questions Regarding NRC and Minorities
We see the Mizoram government offering hospitality to many people including those belonging to Kuki-Zo groups. What is the scope of the Mizoram Maintenance of Household Registers Bill 2019? After all, it is a register of citizens and non-citizens to be updated every three months.
In the Bill, the definition of citizen is borrowed from the Citizenship Act 1955. It is encouraged through the Bill that the register is used by all government departments and the police for administrative purposes, law enforcement, and development schemes. Where do non-Mizos like Chakmas stand before this Bill?
Similarly, in Manipur, we have the Manipur Peoples’ Protection Bill 2018 which defines Manipur people as “Persons of Manipur whose names are in the NRC 1951 (as Manipur was part of Assam then), Census Report 1951 and Village Directory of 1951, and their descendants who have contributed collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur.”
Subsequently, non-Manipur people are reduced to mere visitors to the state. I am inclined to read the definition of Manipur people similar to the Original Inhabitants (OI) category that was used in the NRC process that shielded a majority of people from the infrastructure of doubt, and along with CAA that provided a safeguard to the Bengali Hindus, it became clear that it was a process directed primarily at Bengali Muslims.
We witness a pattern here. The victims of NRC will always be minorities. They are the ones who bear its social cost. Alternatively, NRC is a potential majoritarian tool that has all the indications of becoming a machine for manufacturing stateless people.
The Manipur conflict opens up on many grounds of land, ethnic status, caste, hill-valley divide, ‘narco terrorism’, etc. What stands out more is the question of citizenship which conjures a very worrying tone for the future. Additionally, the rush to collect biometric data of the refugees from Myanmar, I fear, gives a backdoor entry to legitimise the NRC process, and takes us a step closer to a full-blown NRC in Mizoram and Manipur.
Who will be its victims? The process in Manipur has already commenced with four officials from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) visiting Imphal to train state officials in collecting biometric data. Indian Express reported that currently there are 104 inmates who have been detained in the foreign detention centre in Sajiwa jail in Imphal East district.
Terming all Kuki as “illegal migrants”, outsiders, and a danger to the social and political fabric of the state is a worrying development. The shift in politics from the Meitei side finds a xenophobic and chauvinistic tone when all Kukis are profiled as “illegal”, “narco-terrorist” and so on.
Such collective hate towards one group can do no good whatsoever. I can tell this from the social decay of Assamese society caused by its narcissistic obsession with the “outsider.” NRC has deepened this social divide by giving it a legal sanction to the discourse of the “outsider”. Anyone who is touched by the allure of NRC loses a critical amount of humanity in them. NRC is not a solution to anything. Rather, it is enveloped with designs that will destroy any society.
(Suraj Gogoi is an Assistant Professor in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at RV University, Bengaluru. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect or represent his institution. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the author's views.)