Key Points

  • Inner Line Permit - Travel document required for Indian citizens to enter protected areas. Enforced in Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh
  • JCILPS is the main group demanding enforcement of ILP in Manipur
  • Regular protests have turned violent often leading to full state bandhs
  • During the bandhs the state ceases to function. Relief workers have not been able to reach flood hit areas due to the current bandh

Robinhood Sapam was 17-years-old when he died at the hands of the Manipur police during an agitation demanding Inner Line Permit (ILP) for the state. He was hit by a teargas shell on his left cheek. Robinhood was one of the hundreds of class XI and XII students who were on the road that day fighting for what they believed in.

Manipur has witnessed a number of these cases in the many months since the protests for ILP started. The state has been infested with violent protests, police brutality, regular bandhs and an indefinite curfew.

Women form human chain during the 48 hour bandh called by the Students Wing of Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS) in Manipur demanding Inner Line Permit System | Source: PTI

The Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS) is the core group behind these protests and all the violence. It is an umbrella organisation that is made up of 30 civil bodies in Manipur, including all valley student organisations. The JCILPS has no political affiliations and its volunteers are mostly students and student leaders. Manipuri tribals have largely kept away from the agitation, which has been concentrated in the Imphal valley.

Inner Line Permit

Checking migrant population and prohibiting non-Manipuris from acquiring land in the area form the core beliefs of the JCILPS. They plan to achieve this by demanding that the government enforce the Inner Line Permit in Manipur.

Inner Line Permit is a travel document for Indians, that is used to enter protected area in the country for limited periods of time. It was designed as an attempt by the government to regulate movement into bordering states. However, it was first used in 1873, during the period of British colonialism. It was used to discourage "British subjects" from entering the then undivided Assam region. This is primarily because the region was rich in natural resources such as tea. The British did not want others to start business ventures in these areas that would challenge the crown.

A policeman fires tear gas on the agitators demanding Inner Line Permit System, during the 48 hour band called by the Students Wing of Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS) in Manipur | Source: PTI

The Indian government now uses ILP to protect tribal communities in the North East. The states which currently require this documentation are Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram. For Manipur, Indians need a Nagaland issued ILP to enter by road from Dimapur or Kohima.

The people of Manipur are demanding that they be issued an independent ILP. There are various reasons for this, some deeply rooted in xenophobic fears. People feel the small indigenous populations are under threat of being pushed to the margins of their own land by settlers. They also fear they are headed the same way as Assam or Tripura, where regular infiltrations have resulted in major problems for the state including the loss of their indigenous identity.

With the Modi government’s Look East policy, the borders of the state will be opened up which will increase migration and immigration.

Strike, bandh , strike, bandh

By now a pattern seems to have emerged in the state. A peaceful protest will be organised by one group, a second group will turn violent making that peaceful protest into a violent strike, the police will come and people will be injured, eventually an all state bandh will be imposed.

During these bandhs the entire state is at a standstill, roads are closed, shops shut down, offices are empty, even hospitals and clinics have their gates tightly locked. The state ceases to function, at every turn agitators are present ready to create havoc and the security forces are powerless. What's more daunting is that the government cannot do anything about it, the bandhs are not organised by the government, they are imposed by the hardliners. Thus making the government look even weaker in the eyes of the public.

People try to retrieve a vehicle washed away by swirling flood waters following incessant rainfall in Thoubal district of Manipur | Source: PTI

During the most recent bandh (August 3 to 6), a young pregnant woman was forced to give birth inside the car as the agitators refused to let the car pass. Even if she managed to make it to the hospital it is highly likely she would not have been met by a doctor or even nurses.

Due to the bandh relief workers are unable to reach areas that have been affected by the terrible floods that have hit Manipur this year. Over 20 people have already died and several lakh been affected by the floods, yet the hardliners refuse to give in and allow relief workers to reach those most in need.

What can the government do?

Unfortunately for the state government and CM Okram Ibobi Singh, there is very little they can do to provide the protestors with their wishes. The onus for implementing ILP lies with the central government, the state government has no influence in this matter as it requires an amendment in the Indian constitution.

Okram Ibobi Singh, CM of Manipur | Source: PTI

Since Article (19)(1) (d) & (e) in the Constitution allows freedom of movement within the Indian state, only a constitutional amendment, which falls under the Centre’s purview, can restrict entry of non-Manipuris. There is also some discussion about the nature of the protests, some people believe they are not all apolitical. It is suspected that protests are being fuelled by defeated political candidates to destabilise the present government.

It has gone too far

Initially a very large portion of the state believed in the protests, they believed that Manipur should be treated with the same caution as Nagaland or Arunachal Pradesh. However, over time, with the increase of violent protests, the message has drifted away. The hardliners have taken over and made the entire thing an anti-establishment fight. Thus there are many people who once supported the cause, now look at it with disdain.

One such person spoke to ScoopWhoop about their thoughts on the matter, but decided to stay anonymous for fear of retaliation in Manipur.

Police charge one of the students during a protest for Inner Line Permit System in Manipur, in Imphal | Source: PTI

" I have no fear of what may happen to me, however, I do have concern and care for people who are associated with me ".

They told us how they feel about the protests, "The demand is justified however the way of demand is not. I don’t agree with violence." This is exact sentiment many people feel about the ongoing protests in Manipur. The government and mainstream media definitely needs to pay more attention to the situation there, as things are getting out of control.

Is it justified for the protestors to continue this line of agitation, after being ignored for so long?

Read more:

A Collapsing Dam, A Climate Of Fear And Manipur’s Lost Villages

In Pictures: Incessant Rains, Flash Floods Create Havoc In Manipur