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Arunachal Pradesh, where moves are afoot to keep out migrants

As Assam gets ready to publish the final draft of the National Register of Citizens by June 30, neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh is tightening its borders.

What happened?

Last month, contractors in East Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh said 90 infrastructure projects were on hold because 2,000 labourers had left to ensure that their names figured in the NRC. More than a fortnight later, the police in Longding district caught 87 labourers without the Inner Line Permit (ILP) and pushed them back to where they came from — Assam. Similar drives against “ILP violators” saw more than 350 people being thrown out from other districts of the State over the next few days. But the administration in Itanagar indicated that the drive had more to do with keeping out illegal migrants “who may create a law and order problem and disturb peace.” This is linked to the theory that Assam might end up with lakhs of stateless people after the final draft is made public.

Where is ILP applicable?

A British-era system, the ILP is a travel document Indian citizens need to possess to enter the frontier States of north-eastern India: Aruanchal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. It is issued under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, to regulate the movement of people who do not belong to these States. The ILP is valid for a week, but can be extended. People who frequent these States for work can opt for a special ILP renewable annually. Since the ILP is mandatory for Indians and the Protected Area Permit for foreigners, the fact that the labourers ejected from Arunachal Pradesh did not possess the permit put their nationality under a cloud.

Where does NRC fit in?

Two days after the first draft of the NRC was published on December 31, 2017, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said those who were identified as foreigners after failing to make it to the list would be barred from all constitutional rights. Political commentators have said the NRC may leave 5 to 10 lakh people, mostly those with the ‘Bangladeshi’ tag, stateless. Assam’s neighbours fear some of those declared non-citizens may relocate to their territories to cash in on the demand for cheap labour. On January 4, Aruanchal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu ordered the police to strengthen vigil along the border with Assam. Around the same time, the former Nagaland Home Minister, Kuzholuzo Nienu, wanted to bring the State’s commercial hub Dimapur under the purview of the ILP because “illegal migrants sneak into Nagaland through the city.” The ILP is not applicable in Dimapur.

Where will they go?

The sister States often blame Assam for their problems with “illegal migrants” who are ironically indispensable as skilled and unskilled workers. Nagaland even has a term for them — IBI, which expands to Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrant. Organisations such as the Naga Students’ Federation conduct a ‘census’ to keep a record on the number of non-Nagas as well as IBIs. In 2008, several Bengali-speaking Muslims were driven out of Nagaland’s Mokokchung town, and this triggered vigilantism against “demography-changing” migrants. A similar drive happened in 2015, while in October 2017, residents of Chumukedima town adopted a resolution to keep IBIs out. Social scientists in Assam say the movement of flood- and erosion-displaced people to urban spaces usually trigger doomsday theories about illegal migrants outnumbering the indigenous people in the near future. The bulk of such people live on impermanent chars or sandbars on the Brahmaputra river system. There are more than 3,500 sandbars in Assam, though the official count, according to the last census by the State’s Char Areas Development Authority 14 years ago, is 2,089. These chars had 24.9 lakh people then, 9.35% of Assam’s population. It is believed the ‘ILP violators’ or ‘IBIs’ or the stateless-to-be will disappear — allegedly to the chars that often fall off the radar of the administration — until their need to survive meets the demand for labour.

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 11:13:21 PM |

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