Transcript: The Wire’s Interview with Babloo Loitongbam and Binalakshmi Nepram on Manipur ILP Imbroglio

The following is the full transcript of YouTube video by The Wire titled “Manipur Inner Line Permit protests: Interview with Babloo Loitongbam and Binalakshmi Nepram”. In this interview, Babloo Loitongbam, Executive Director of Human Rights Alert, Manipur, and Binalakshmi Nepram, founder of the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network discuss in-depth the conflicts arising out of the Inner Line Permit System Imbroglio in Manipur. We produce this transcript (verbatim) to spread awareness in the interest of the larger global audience.



YouTube Video:



Interviewer: Manipur has been on the boil for more than a year over the Inner Line Permit (ILP) issue. Why were the three controversial bills passed?

Babloo Loitongbam – Executive Director of Human Rights Alert, Manipur:

Well, at the heart of the issue in Manipur is the whole fear that small communities and microscopic minorities like the indigenous populations of Manipur would one day be over-swamped by the outsider population. And this fear comes from a long history. If you look at Manipur, for example, it was, until the British came, an independent kingdom of its own. And there were regulations on people who are coming from outside to settle there. As early as 1901, there are regulations which are in place. And in 1947, when the British left, we had our own Constitution, and in the Assembly in 1948, this same control of population influx into that area was passed. This got the approval of even the Governor of Assam. And this was in operation.

In 1950, 18th of November, this outsiders’ control mechanism was summarily lifted by an executive order by the then Commissioner – Chief Commissioner. And after that, there is a sudden spike in terms of the decadal growth from — if you look at 1941 to 1951, the average decadal growth was about 12% to 13%, which is the same as in Indian general growth in Manipur. But if you look at 1951 to 1961, it jumped up to about 35%. And in 1951 to 1960, it went to about 37%, which is completely unnatural. And the huge influx have taken place.

So there was a movement from the students, when there was also agitation from in Assam, and in the 1970s, there was a slight reduction because there was a students’ movement. And in 1980, there was an accord signed between the All Manipur Students Union and the Government of Manipur wherein it was agreed that there has to be certain measures taken in order to check this unnatural growth in the population and complete change in the democracy structure. Unfortunately these things are easier said than done. This accord’s never get implemented. Again in 1994, when it was the President’s rule, when General VK Nair was the Governor of Manipur, there was again a similar accord signed between the students.

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So — but this problem of outsider is becoming much more serious now. I mean, in 1948, for example, when this question was asked in the then Independent Manipur’s Assembly, the figure of outsider was just 3000, less than 3000, something 2800 something. But now the estimated figure is about 10 lakhs. So in 70 years span, roughly, if there is this kind of multiplication, then in the next 70 years, the projected outsiders’ population is running around 40 crores. And there will be definitely no place for indigenous communities to survive. And this is becoming all the more challenging, because now we have this — as a part of the Act East policy, the Trans-Asian Highway is running through Manipur. The Trans-Asian Railway is running through Manipur. And now the whole trade between South — Southeast Asia and Far-East Asia is going to go through this. So people are demanding that there should be some way of regulating this population flow. How much can people buy land? How much can they establish shops and establishment? There has to be some form of regulation of this. And this is the core of the agitation today on ILP. ILP is a very old norm that British had started among Arunachal, Mizoram, Nagaland where there is – these are loosely administered and people who enter this inner line has to get a permission. So it’s a very colloquial way of saying we also want to – we also need an inner line permit as it is done in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Mizoram.

But at the crux of the problem is this fear that you will be over-swamped by outside population. And this has already become quite an issue in Assam as we all know. The last election was fought on this plank. In Tripura, the indigenous population has been shrunk to less than 28%. So now they are completely lost. They do not have a say in politics. They don’t have a say in civil society. So the fear is that in Manipur also there is an apprehension that before things go to that situation, there is a need for regulation so that — one is not saying that outsiders should not come. But whoever comes should be regulated and there should be proper ways and procedures that need to be established.

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Interviewer: Why has the ILP issue divided the people of the hills and the valley?

Babloo Loitongbam – Executive Director of Human Rights Alert, Manipur:

To my understanding — to the best of my understanding, this is the crux of the whole problem that is coming up. And unfortunately, this has been interpreted in a very different fashion by the friends from the civil society in the Hills. The Hill civil society is looking it more as a threat to their own land rights. I think this is more hypothetical than real. But if there is any rough edges in this present Bill which is not addressing the issues of the concerns of the Hill people, I think that has to be amended. There is no question about it. And of course, there is also a little problem in terms of when they set 1951 as a cut-off year in identifying the Manipuris, from the historical point of view it was important, because it was a time when this – this what we used to have was kind of lifted — the ceiling was lifted at that point of time.

However if there are people, there is also a process of naturalization where people can be naturalized. And I think those areas need to be looked at. Unfortunately, this Bill was passed in a very very hush hush manner without the proper debate and discussion. So the very core issue seems to be lost in a largely identity ethnic conflict and ethnic rivalries which has always existed in the context of Manipur Hill, Valley, Naga, Kuki, Meitei, that dynamics. Unfortunately, we seem to be losing the issue and we are — this seems to be fought more as a kind of — we have to win or we have to lose. So it’s more like of an identity issue of losing face rather than — and somehow the real issue with which the initial people’s movement for an ILP kind of a system seem to be lost somewhere on the way.