Understanding ILP

Inner Line Permit is North East India’s sort of passport that one needs to possess to enter the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur. It is an official document issued by the respective state governments to allow travel of another Indian citizen for a limited period.

It grants entry to areas lying between the international boundary and the so-called “Inner Line” of the country.

It is important to note that the concept of ILP was introduced by the British, to separate the tribal populated land of North East India from mainland India. The origin can be traced back to Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act (BEFR), 1873, which came into force to regulate ‘British subject’, i.e. people from mainland India threating British political relations with the North East tribes. After Independence, ‘British subjects’ got replaced with ‘Citizens of India’ and the rationale for having this permit shifted to that of protecting the indigenous population of these regions.

Demand for ILP in Meghalaya

There have been ongoing demands for the introduction of ILP in Meghalaya to regulate the entry of outsiders into the state. The ILP was instituted mainly to protect the indigenous rights of the tribal communities. However a limited section of the population, particularly some students’ unions and social bodies have been very vocal about its implementation, probably fueled by political aspirations.  The ongoing demands are mainly focused on how the outsiders have oppressed or dominated the tribals in matters related to job and livelihood and how these students’ unions and social bodies will not rest till their demands are met.

Who are the outsiders?

  • The first of settlers in undivided Assam’s capital, Shillong were the European officers who were primarily responsible for building the ‘cosmopolitan’ Shillong. The people who have contributed to building Shillong were the Government officials from Assam, Bengal and from present day districts of Bangladesh, mainly Sylhet, Dacca etc. whom these British officers brought along for administration purposes.
  • Refugees from Bangladesh/East Pakistan who migrated to India when India was partitioned also settled in parts of undivided Assam. Of course, a section of the Hindus had decided to stay back in Bangladesh like how a section of the Muslim population stayed back in India.  It was not only the North East that the Hindus from East Pakistan migrated to, but they also migrated to Bengal and many other parts of India.
  • Nepalis who came to Shillong along with the movement of the colonial army and made Shillong their home.
  • Living in the state from ages are businessmen from Punjab, Rajasthan or Gujarat, daily wage earners from Punjab or Bihar who migrated to earn their livelihood just as they migrated and settled in any other part of the country.  
  • Also people who came to Meghalaya were those who were either posted or transferred on job requirements and stayed there for that limited number of years that their jobs require them to be.

Each of these communities made Assam/Meghalaya their home, contributed to the state’s growth, assimilated in the culture and contributed largely to the economy of the state. Reputed doctors, teachers, academicians, businessmen of yesteryears were mostly from the non-tribal community.  

Meghalaya was carved out as a separate state from Assam in 1972. From 1979 began a series of unrests, mostly ethnic in nature, that continue even to this day in varied degrees and nature. These unrests and violence resulted in loss of lives and property and is seldom spoken of in popular discourse. The nontribal population has declined from 19.5% in 1971 to 19.42% in 1981, 14.47% in 1991, 14.1% in 2001 and further to 13.9% in 2011.

Tricolor burnt, posters with ‘Refugees go back’ ‘We are Khasis by birth, Indians by accident’, ‘all Bengalis are Bangladeshis’ decorate the nook and corner of  the Meghalaya capital from time to time.

The most recent in the series of these ethnic violence was the murder of a taxi driver on Nov 26, 2020. Read here. While this may be disputed or dismissed as a personal conflict, the first pointer of doubt goes back to the warning by the students union saying “no rest”

Back in June 2020, Patricia Mukhim, editor of the Shillong Times had questioned the inaction of the authorities following an attack on the non tribals. Read here.

Going back to June 2018, there was this dispute between the Sikh community and the local Khasis which led to days of curfew, cutting down on internet services, deployment of para military forces etc. Read here

Reassessing the Current Socio-Political and Economic Situation

These issues need to be resolved; the justification and validity of these demands need to be evaluated. The agitations, the bold statements have raised doubt and fear in people’s minds not only in the North East but in the rest of the country too.

  • Though a valid part of the demand of KSU and other such bodies is to curb the illegal migration from Bangladesh, the authorities need to decide and chalk out a plan on how to distinguish illegal Bangladeshis from non-tribal population in Meghalaya.
  • Pressurizing the Central Government to get ILP implemented and CAA withdrawn is what the current agitation is all about. “No Rest till ILP” seems to be the buzzword today and posters on these lines are put up across the Shillong city.
  • Tribals from the North East are accepted in every part of India, have the privilege of studying in premier institutes, buying property and enjoying all other rights a citizen is entitled to, but the reverse in not true in most parts of North East.
  • Tribal society is well read, well educated today and doing exceedingly well in all walks of life. They enjoy the rights to not pay taxes, enjoy educational grants, then where does the insecurity of a few come from?
  • Meghalaya Government is dependent for Central Government funding. Their own revenue hardly meets 20% of their expenditure.
  • Whether ILP will help in preserving indigenous culture is a question that needs to be answered. How indigenous culture is on the verge of extinction in the entire North East is another story and totally unrelated to the “outsiders”
  • Whether ILP will help in solving illegal infiltration from Bangladesh which is a bigger demographic challenge than it appears to be, is another question to be asked.

Read more about the discriminations faced by the non-tribals

Last but not the least, the action points on this letter to the editor from a Bengaluru citizen may seem sarcastic, but it’s about time the right thinking people of North East, the State and the Central Governments ponder upon it.




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