For the unfamiliar, the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regulation is a British colonial legacy, resulting from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR), 1873. A regulation enacted unbeknownst to most of the indigenous communities, at the time, in the present day north-eastern region of India.
As a side note, north-eastern, in this context is not the geographical north-east as far as the sub-continent is concerned. It is geographically the easternmost region of India, east of West Bengal state.
The BEFR enactment virtually drew an imaginary line delineating the indigenous communities in the hills bordering the Brahmaputra River plains. It was, in essence, a geopolitical means to protect British colonial interests in the then Eastern Bengal, which included the present day state of Assam.
It was inherited by the Government of India and by default, the states, including Nagaland, in the region, where ‘tribal’ communities are the dominant population. For all intents and purposes, the ILP was a buffer line and continues to serve as a travel document (or like a visa) for Indian citizens, who are not indigenous to states where the BEFR is in effect.
In Nagaland, the ILP requirement is operative in the entire state with the state government bringing the then undivided district of Dimapur within its purview in December 2019.
Despite, the ILP issue remains a festering point of contention, especially in relation to enforcement or the lack thereof. It rears every now and then with the controversy largely pivoting around non-existent enforcement by the government agencies and patronage of supposed illegal migrants by the indigenous locals.
Unfortunately, the controversy more often than not is found to be racially prejudiced, at the cost of dehumanising a community, predominantly from the Barak valley in lower Assam.
The most recent would be a series of events that occurred in April that had the Dimapur district administration issuing a kneejerk ‘Notification’ on April 19, instructing non-indigenous persons, who have settled or have entered the area of Dimapur district after November 21, 1979 and are yet to obtain the ILP to compulsorily procure the permit within 30 days.
It was preceded by a fire incident during which fire and emergency service personnel were accosted by angry victims. The victims, tenants of the block of thatch dwellings that was razed, happened to be mostly Bengali Muslim migrant workers.
The purported show of boldness by non-native migrants had egos hurt of the locals. It was followed by what appeared to be fire and emergency service personnel catching hold and assaulting one of the migrant workers, who accosted them during the fire incident. Not only did the act defy the law, it was dehumanising. The higher-ups ignoring the clearly arbitrary action were evident, too.
Eid al-Fitr followed right after the ILP notification, which had devotees in Dimapur and Chümoukedima assembling for prayer. The sight of scores of people in ‘kufis’ assembling in one place further triggered what was, by definition, xenophobic anxiety.
The native worldview may justify such a fear, yet, it conflicts with the very idea of a global community and more importantly, the fundamental values of human rights.
The writer is a Principal Correspondent at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to [email protected]