Thursday, June 26, 2008

In defence of the Inner Line Permit system in Mizoram

The Shillong Times, 26 June 2008 (http://www.theshillongtimes.com/editorial.html)

By: Paritosh Chakma

This article is in defence of the Inner Line Permit regulations in Mizoram in the wake of the recent Gauhati High Court judgement that Mizoram government should not arrest or deport any body for not having valid inner line permit (ILP). I was aghast to hear the judgement. What are the police expected to do if not arrest an "illegal outsider"? The Court's order has definitely provided impunity to all those staying on in the state without the valid papers. Illegal outsiders can pose serious threats to the peace and security of the state.

The government of Mizoram has announced that it would challenge the High Court order "up to the Supreme Court".

If there is a law in place, all must abide by it and defaulters must be punished. The legal formalities under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act of 1873 require any Indian Citizen who is not a resident of Mizoram to have an Inner Line Pass to enter the state. Two other North Eastern states - Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh also have the ILP system.

Foreigners touring North East India are required to obtain Restricted Area Permit from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Most mainland Indians and non-tribals of the N-E region oppose the ILP system on the ground that restrictions violate the fundamental rights of the citizens of India including the right to free movement throughout the country and to take up employment. But everyone must understand that the Inner Line Permit is a "protective discrimination" for the indigenous populations of the states of Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, introduced by the British to protect the indigenous populations from the onslaught of "the outsiders" and has been retained in Independent India.

The ILP's aim is not to harass or prevent entry of non-Mizo Indian nationals per se but to secure the future of the natives by protecting the sanctity of their socio-cultural rights, preventing demographic upheaval leading to invasion of their political bastion by the "outsiders" which has been the case with Tripura. Due to the large-scale influx from Bangladesh, the indigenous peoples of Tripura have been reduced to minority. The defeat of another North Eastern state - Assam - in identifying and deporting millions of illegal Bangladeshis is also known to all of us.

The guidelines for enforcement of the Inner Line Regulation in Mizoram notified on 8.9.2006 clearly state that the visitors must not be harassed at the check gates: "Therefore, the method of checking should be as simple as possible, yet effective so that no one who is required to possess an Inner Line Pass, enters without a pass".

Protecting the natives from influx and demographic invasion by "outsiders" was one of the top priorities in the minds of the Mizo leaders when they demanded statehood. Thus, the Mizoram Accord of 1986 between the Mizo National Front and the government of India provides that "The Inner Line Regulation, now in force in Mizoram, will not be amended or repealed without consulting the State Government." It would have been far better had MNF supremo Mr Laldenga stressed for insertion of the word "consent" in place of "consulting", for "consultation" is not always equal to obtaining "consent" of a party. "Consent" requires the approval of the concerned party who has the right to say "no".

Issuing of ILPs is "subject to availability of a sponsor who is a bonafide indigenous resident (of Mizoram)" and their renewal or extension is allowed "subject to the good conduct of the ILP holder that he/she is not involved in any criminal activity". Hence, it is clear that the system seeks to be an effective mechanism to check illegal infiltration of "outsiders" and their illegal activities in Mizoram.

The ILP's aim is not to harass or prevent entry of non-Mizo Indian nationals per se but to secure the future of the natives by protecting the sanctity of their socio-cultural rights, preventing demographic upheaval leading to invasion of their political bastion by the "outsiders" which has been the case with Tripura. Due to the large-scale influx from Bangladesh, the indigenous peoples of Tripura have been reduced to minority. The defeat of another North Eastern state - Assam - in identifying and deporting millions of illegal Bangladeshis is also known to all of us.

Land is the most important source of livelihood and critical for our survival. Yet, the tribals have been losing their lands to the non-tribals across the country despite presence of various legal safeguards. The Constitution of India under the 5th Schedule protects the land rights of the tribals in mainland India. In the North East India, the 6th Schedule of the Constitution authorizes the Autonomous District Councils to make appropriate laws against land alienation. In addition, at the state level, there are numerous laws prohibiting transfer of lands from indigenous/ tribal peoples to "non-tribals". But the non-tribals have been successful in taking control of the lands belonging to the tribals by adopting various tricks including fraudulent means, marrying tribal women, harassment through police and goons, in addition to purchasing although transfer of tribal lands to non-tribals is illegal.

According to the 2007-2008 Annual Report of the Ministry of Rural Development, a total of 506,307 cases of tribal land alienation have been registered (involving 902,417 acres of land) in India so far. The statistics provided in the report further proves that the tribals have been losing their legal battles in the Courts to recover their lands. Out of the total of 430,450 cases (involving 851,372 acres of land) disposed of by the Courts in the country, 46.1% (198,674 cases involving 410,587 acres of land) were decided against the tribals which means the tribal victims could not get back their lands. Lack of proper legal documents proving ownership of the land and inability to hire good lawyers to fight the cases in Court often acted against the tribals while seeking to restore the alienated land.

There has been no report of any alienation of tribal lands in Mizoram and the state government too has not released any such data. The Inner Line Permit regulation has been instrumental in averting such illegal activities by non-locals. On 1 April 2008, Mizoram Home Minister Mr Tawnluia informed the State Assembly that 22 Bangladeshis who entered the state illegally were arrested and deported to Bangladesh during 2007-2008.

In order to protect the interests of the indigenous peoples of Mizoram, it is extremely necessary that the Inner Line Permit system is strictly enforced. But ILP is not enforced strictly. For example, every non-Mizo resident passenger is asked to produce ILP during entry at the check gate at Vairangte, but I have not seen the law enforcement personnel checking the validity of the ILP of the persons during exit. If police do not check the ILP validity during exit, it means any ILP holder can overstay in the state without the fear of being caught and prosecuted for the crime. At the same time, it is equally important that no bonafide citizen of India, irrespective of caste, creed, sex, colour or religion, or any foreigner having entered the state for valid purposes with valid papers should be harassed in any way. In order to detect illegal outsiders, the police have been entrusted with the duty to conduct "surprise checks" in every district at least once in a month. However, due to the failure of the police to do so, there have been reports of raids conducted by non-state actors to identify the alleged illegal outsiders. Such acts, though done while keeping in mind the interests of the state, are absolutely illegal and uncalled for. This will further create a deep sense of fear among the non-locals including tourists which is not in the wholesome interest of the state.

It is everyone's duty to uphold the human rights of ALL while enforcing the laws of the land.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Rights, violence and Indian democracy

(The Hindu, Open Page, 22 June 2008, http://www.hindu.com/op/2008/06/22/stories/2008062250011600.htm)


PARITOSH CHAKMA
Has non-violence lost ground to violent protests in the land of Mahatma Gandhi?


In India everyone has the right to protest peacefully. But such protests often turn violent. The recent violent protest by Gujjars in Rajasthan demanding tribal status is one example. The protests hit the headlines of very national newspapers and the electronic media in particular the TV news channels were covering almost every bit of the news of Gujjars.

The Justice Jasraj Chopra Committee set up by the Rajasthan government and the Union Law Ministry have stated that Gujjars of Rajasthan do not qualify for inclusion as a Scheduled Tribe. Yet, the government of Rajasthan has recommended to the Centre for providing “4 to 6 per cent reservation” to the Gujjars under the category of denotified tribe. The Gujjar leaders have been almost immediately invited for talks.

The Gujjars are fortunate enough to be residing in states which are bordering New Delhi. They are at strategic advantage to be able to block all roads to Delhi and can trouble the government at the Centre. Else, if the Gujjars were, for example in the far away North East India, New Delhi would not have cared so much about them despite all their efforts to create instability and unrest. They would have never got the limelight that they are getting.

More brutal protests
Many ethnic communities in the North East have been trying unsuccessfully to draw the attention of the Centre towards their miserable plight, injustice, and underdevelopment due to the policies of the Central government. Many other minority communities are opposing their respective state governments’ discriminatory policies. Many communities have taken up arms against the government of India. Thousands have died, fighting goes on regularly; yet, who cares? It requires the demonstration of some brutality in the North East for the incident to find a small place in the front page of newspapers in mainland India.

In the land of Mahatma Gandhi the method of non-violence is fast losing grounds and support. Gandhigiri may have become a fashionable concept, but it certainly does not work on the street. Our political leaders and rulers swear by Gandhi, exhort the people to follow Gandhian principles and export Gandhism but do not care for considering the demands, if raised through non-violent ways. The government has often responded to the peaceful protests led by social activist Medha Patkar by arresting her and restricting her rights. The conditions of the poor and displaced people for whom Ms Patkar/ Narmada Bachao Andolan is fighting for, continue to remain grim.

Non-violent methods
Irom Sharmila of Manipur can rightly be called the greatest living Gandhian. She has been fasting for more than seven years seeking repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act from Manipur. Even the colonial British Empire shook when Gandhiji fasted to protest British government’s policies. But the government of India has responded by detaining the “iron lady” of Manipur while throwing the recommendations of the Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy Committee, appointed by the Prime Minister himself to review the AFSPA, out of the window. The committee recommended for repeal of the Act. If you do not implement the recommendations of a commission/ committee why do you set up that commission/committee in the first place and waste so much of tax payers’ money?

While India and Indians may criticize the military junta of Burma for continued detention of Nobel peace prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the non-violent movement for human rights and democracy in Burma, how is the Indian government different?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mr Gyanendra: From the Vishnu avator to a commoner

So, the monarchy has been abolished in Nepal. The socalled last Hindu king of the world has to vacate his palace and hand over his crown to the government to live as a plain citizen. He will have to learn to live in a political system where the rulers are no longer considered “the God in the Flesh” or “Vishnu avatar” but their fate are decided through the ballots.

Nepal is now a secular democratic republic. I feel good for the Nepali people. Gyanendra, the King, had become an absolute despot and had no interest in the welfare of the ruled. The future of the Nepalis was to be more frightening and insecure under crown prince Paras who was a drug addict, alcoholic, womanizer and had all qualities which are not befitting a king. He had beaten innocent people on the streets.

The people of Nepal must be commended for their unity and valour during the Peoples Movement II to overthrow the absolute despotic ruler. They have succeeded.

Apart from victory of the democratic spirit of the Nepalis, the socalled Bishnu avator stands exposed to the people. King Gyanendra, once considered the God in the Flesh, has become plain old Mr Gyanendra.

We must understand that in the modern world, it is not God’s divine policy but politics and diplomacy that make, remake and sustain governments in whatever forms they are. Vir Sanghvi has rightly pointed out - “But all this Vishnu avatar stuff hides a seamier reality. In many ways, the modern Nepal monarchy is not a creation of Brahma, Vishnu or Mahesh at all. It is a creation of New Delhi’s South Block.”

With the fall of the last Hindu king, the worst losers are the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) who took immense pride in Nepal as a model Hindu rashtra. Now, the former King of Nepal will have to fight it out in the streets – with folded hands to the people he ruled with brutal hands and merciless heart, if he wants to remain a ruler or a player in the government. This is what he is most unlike to do. Ramchandra Guha, eminent Historian suggests a strange formula to give respect the last king of Nepal deserves from the Hindus. He says ".............the now homeless, jobless, commoner carrying the name of Gyanendra can be invited to Nagpur to assume a honoured place among the men who presume to lead the Hindus of the world.”

Nepal has taught many other societies of the world - where rulers assume divine roles to rule the people for ever - to rethink whether such rulers do really have the sanction of God to rule the people the way they like to. If not, why should we allow them to fool us and rob us?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mizoram Chakmas demand political rights and right to development: Joint Memorandum submitted to Ms Sonia Gandhi

[Note: This press release has been issued by the Mizoram Chakma Welfare Committee]
Mizoram Chakma Welfare Committee
Marpara “S”, BPO- Marpara, Lunglei district, Mizoram-796431

Press Release
14 June 2008

Mizoram Chakmas demand Sixth Schedule status

Marpara [Mizoram]: Today, a conglomerate of Chakma civil society groups namely, Mizoram Chakma Welfare Committee (MCWC), Young Chakma Association (YCA), Mizoram Chakma Students Union (MSCU), Chakma Mahila Samitti and Sajek Valley Chakma Youth Forum (SVCYF) submitted a joint representation to Smt. Sonia Gandhi when she visited Chakma–dominated Marpara village near the India-Bangladesh border, seeking that all the Chakma dominated areas of Mizoram be brought under the Sixth Schedule provisions of the Indian Constitution or be put under a “Single Administrative Unit”. The Chakmas who are the most backward tribal community in the state feel such a step by the Central government is necessary for their speedy development as they are discriminated under the Mizo rule.

Presently there is a Chakma Autonomous District Council, but the Joint Memorandum pointed out that nearly fifty percent of the Chakmas of Mizoram have been left out of the Chakma ADC and they are the most deprived lot. Justifying the demand, Chakmas alleged that successive governments at Aizawl did nothing to improve their living conditions in areas falling outside the CADC.

Issues of non-implementation of welfare and development schemes in Chakma areas, mass deletion of Chakma voters from electoral rolls in the 1990s, discrimination under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), mass displacement due to ongoing Indo-Bangladesh border fencing, lack of relief to Chakma villagers affected by the bamboo famine, denial of benefits of the Border Area Development Programmes although Chakmas live on the border, denial of forest rights, non-existence of medical facilities, lack of reservations in government jobs, and lack of alternate source of livelihood at a time when the Forest Department has been busy declaring all forests as Reserved Forests around the Chakma habitations, among others, have been highlighted before Ms Gandhi.

Smt. Sonia Gandhi is on a tour to West and South Mizoram to take stock of the impacts of “Mautam” on the people. [Ends]