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Monday, October 27, 2014

Chp 534. Separatist movements of North East India

My answer to a Quora question:

What does the world think about the separatist movement by the indigenous tribe of Northeast India?

Thank you for the A2A, but I must admit, this is a very generic question so I don’t think I’ll be able to give you a satisfactory answer. You'll have to understand that there are over 300+ different ethnic tribes and communities in the North East, all speaking different languages or dialects, and most of them have their own issues which may or may not be similar to the issues of other ethnic groups.

India had been, on many occasions, governed by the same ruler - like the Mauryan empire, Gupta kingdom, Chola dynasty, Pala empire, Tughlaq sultanate, Mughal dynasty, Maratha empire etc who ruled vast areas of present day India.

But as far as my knowledge on history goes, what is now “the North East” was never occupied by any of the large empires and dynasties (other than the British) that had ruled over what is now India in the past. Do correct me if I’m mistaken though.

At the western frontier, the Ahom Kingdom of Assam had successfully resisted the mighty Mughal expansion for many generations. Likewise, the once powerful Twipra Kingdom of Tripura too fought Islamic conquests relentlessly. And on the eastern frontier, the Kingdom of Manipur waged many wars with the Burmese Kingdom. The Ahom dynasty finally ended with the Burmese invasion of Assam in 1817, which was then subsequently annexed by the British East India Company. After that, it wasn’t difficult for the British to conquer the other Kingdoms that had grown weaker due to consistent wars, and the other smaller fiefdoms and chieftains of different tribes and communities scattered all across the nearby hills and valleys too fell under the Union Jack.

However, I don’t want to go too much into history as I am not a history buff, and many of us cannot trace back our heritage that further back. Like I said, I may be mistaken about some of the historical facts I’ve mentioned earlier too. Let’s deal with the present situation because that is what matters. The question is about the separatist movement by the indigenous tribe of Northeast India, and I’ll get right to that.

First of all, every Northeastern State has their own story to tell. In the case of Mizoram, the reason for the rise of insurgency was because of neglect from the Indian Government. You can read more about this in my Quora answer: What do people of Mizoram think about the rest of India? To keep a long story short, here is a gist of our insurgent history - After the British left, a terrible famine hit the region and no assistance was given by the Indian Govt and a lot of Mizos died, so everybody said they didn't want to be under a country that didn't care about its people and the entire region under the MNF rebelled, beating back the Indian army, so Indira Gandhi ordered the Air Force to bomb residential areas and then fighting between the MNF and the Indian army continued until the Peace Accord was finally signed in 1986, bringing in permanent peace to the State (*gasps for air*). For a more detailed answer, please do click on the link mentioned above.

Having said that, that was just the case with Mizoram. Other states have different reasons for rebelling. For example, leaders of the Mizo Union political party of Mizoram (which was known as the Lushai Hills district back then) agreed to become a part of Assam rather than Myanmar when the British said they were leaving and the Mizo insurgency happened only after the famine in 1958, but in the case of Nagaland, Naga Nationalism had been popular and growing strong even while the British were there. Many researchers attributed the Second World War to having a significant impact on Naga Nationalism because as we all know, the war was fought right on the doorsteps of Kohima, hence affecting many Naga tribes. The war and rehabilitation process further united many Naga tribes, especially when they came to possess many weapons left behind by the defeated Japanese army. Hence Naga insurgent groups had been fighting for a sovereign country right from day 1 of India’s Independence. Likewise, other States have different backgrounds and causes.

But the BIGGEST misconception people have about the violence in the North East is that, most people think all these insurgent groups are fighting for separation from India.

No they’re actually not.

Sure, some of them do, like how the various factions of the NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) are fighting for a sovereign Nagalim (Greater Nagaland) consisting of areas inhabited by Naga tribes (this includes Nagaland and large regions of Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and even Myanmar). Again it has to be mentioned that Naga insurgent groups are not only fighting against the Indian government but even among themselves due to different ideologies and at times because of inter-tribe/clan rivalry.

Also try to keep in mind that all the insurgent groups I’m mentioning here may claim to represent their particular community, but keep in mind that not every person from that particular community accepts it as their representative or believes in their ideologies. It is pretty much like the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS/ISIL) claiming to represent all Muslims when in fact many Muslims are against them.

Coming back to the topic of separation from India, if we take a look at Assam, we have ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) fighting for a sovereign Assam nation since the 70’s. But other groups in Assam are merely fighting for a separate State, like the KLO (Kamtapur Liberation Organisation) wants a separate State called Kamtapur carved out of regions in western Assam and northern West Bengal inhabited by the Koch Rajbongshi community, while the KLNLF (Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front) wants self-rule imposed in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam inhabited by the Karbi people.

Sometimes, the demand changes with time. Some of those who had earlier demanded a sovereign region, now demands a State within India. The NDFB (National Democratic Front of Bodoland) initially fought for a sovereign Bodoland but is now focused on a separate State of Bodoland at regions inhabited by the Bodo community. The GNLA (Garo National Liberation Army) initially pushed for a sovereign Garoland, now demands a separate Garoland State carved out of Meghalaya.

And sometimes, it is about demanding an autonomous region, like the HPC(D) (Hmar People’s Conference (Democratic)) demanding a separate administrative unit under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India (Articles 244(2) and 275(1) - Provisions for the administration of tribal areas) at regions largely populated by Hmars within Mizoram, Assam and Manipur.

Again, some of these insurgent groups were created not for the purpose of demanding a separate region, State or Country, but sometimes to protect or defend their respective communities. For example, in Tripura, the NLFT (National Liberation Front of Tripura) and ATTF (All Tripura Tiger Force) were formed by the indigenous tribes of Tripura to combat the growing Bengali population within the State. In retaliation, the UBLF (United Bengali Liberation Front) group was formed to strike back at the tribes. Similarly, in lower Assam, the ACF (Adivasi Cobra Force) and AANLA (All Adivasi National Liberation Army) too were formed for the sole purpose of protecting the tribal people and tribal culture and they did not have any agenda to separate from India, though they were active in attacking migrant workers. In Meghalaya, the LAEF (Liberation of Achik Elite Force) demanded a separate Garo state so the HNLC (Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council) was formed by the Khasi tribes to combat the LAEF and GNLA.

Similarly, in Manipur, it is not just about secession but also about protecting one’s ethnic group. Manipur is inhabited by a vast number of different ethnic groups - You have the Meiteis mainly in the plains, and around 30 major tribes in the hills. The Naga group consists of Zeliangrong, Tangkhul, Mao, Maram, Maring and Tarao while the Chin-Kuki group consists of Gangte, Hmar, Paite, Thadou, Vaiphei, Zou, Aimol, Chiru, Koireng, Kom (yes this is the tribe that Mary Kom belongs to), Chothe, Lamgang, Koirao, Anal, Thangal, Moyon and Monsang (Source: The People of Manipur). Again, there are many debates about which tribe belongs to which ethnic group and some may disagree with what I’ve written here. According to the United Naga Council (UNC), the Naga tribes of Manipur are Anal, Maring, Moyon, Monsang, Lamkang, Chothe, Tarao, Chiru, Kharam, Inpui, Tangkhul, Zeliangrong, Mao, Poumai, Maram and Thangal. I hope we can avoid having this particular discussion on this post. If you’re interested, you can read this article on why there is a debate on which tribe belongs to which ethnic group - Politics of Ethnic Conflict in Manipur.

Hence due to the vast number of different ethnic groups, Manipur is no stranger to inter-ethnic clashes, with some of the prominent ones in the recent past being the Meitei-Pangan clash, the Thadou-Maring clash that escalated into a larger Kuki-Naga clash, the Kuki-Paite clash and the Meitei-Tangkhul clash with some of these clashes even seeing casualties of more than a thousand. Hence some of these ethnic groups have their own insurgent groups that run parallel governments in their respective regions of dominion. 

Even though the presence of insurgent groups prevented ethnic clashes in some cases, in other cases, it was the rivalry between such insurgent groups that resulted in wide-scale ethnic conflict. For example, the KNF (Kuki National Front) and the KNO (Kuki National Organization) demanded a separate State of Kukiland to be carved out of the five hill districts of Manipur – Ukrul, Senapati, Churachandpur, Chandel and Tamenglong as there is a large Kuki population living in these districts. However, this sent out a direct challenge to the NSCN-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak-Muivah faction) who had plans of “Greater Nagaland” (mentioned earlier) whose proposed plan included the four districts of Ukrul, Senapati, Chandel and Tamenglong as they also have a large Naga population. This led to a long ethnic war between the NSCN-IM and KNF/KNO of Manipur.

And to make matters more complicated, the Meiteis of Manipur were dead set against the creation of either Kukiland or Nagalim from Manipur. UNLF (United National Liberation Front), the oldest and most prominent Meitei insurgent group in Manipur promised retaliation if NSCN-IM or KNF/KNO carried on with their agenda. Meanwhile, this situation became awkward for the PLA (People’s Liberation Army), another prominent Meitei insurgent group whose aim was to liberate Manipur by uniting the Meiteis, Kukis and Nagas of Manipur. PREPAK (People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak) is also another such muti-ethnic insurgent group of Manipur recruiting members from the Meitei, Naga and Kuki communities. Now you understand how complex the whole situation is. There had also been cases of the KNF clashing with the ZRO (Zomi Revolutionary Army) due to a dispute in taxation of their respective ethnic members, hence leading to the Kuki-Paite ethnic clash of 1997-98.

You’ll have to read a lot in order to understand or even know about the situations at these places, hence the reason why I initially mentioned that this is quite a generic Quora question. Plus it is not something even most of us Northeasterners ourselves have much of an in-depth knowledge on - we usually tend to know the history of our own respective State/community and the insurgent groups within that State only (like how I am well versed about Mizoram) and knowing about each and every ethnic group and conflict in the North East usually involves months or years of research and doctoral studies done by academicians, defense personnel and media groups. I won’t be surprised if I too am mistaken about some of the different ethnic clashes and insurgent groups I have mentioned in this answer because there are so many different sources of information.

I really hope I didn’t make this answer sound like the North East is a terrible and violent place to visit, especially after one of my recent Quora answers What are the things to remember before visiting the Northeastern States? started seeing a lot of traction and upvotes. It is not! The North East is a beautiful place to visit and most of the areas are extremely peaceful today. Many of the ethnic clashes I have mentioned in this answer happened years ago, and today, many ethnic groups co-exist peacefully. Yes, there may still be an occasional incident here and there, but I frankly believe it will not escalate like before because most of us are sick and tired of living in violence and apprehension.

Also remember that many of the insurgent groups I have mentioned are no longer active too, while some of them have just 10-50 active “soldiers”. Yes, there may still be districts and pockets here and there where some of the outfits run parallel government (taxation and protection) but it is definitely not as bad as it used to be.

To come together as one and co-exist peacefully, we usually don’t talk about our past. I am one of the elected representatives of our recently set up “North East Helpline Mumbai” here in Mumbai, and none of us (representatives from all eight States) talk about any of the past conflicts back home or publish posts on our forums that may cause division between different Northeastern communities. This was the banner we used at the recent NorthEast United FC versus Mumbai City FC match.

It’s like how I asked some of my friends from Rwanda who studied at my college (PSG Tech, Coimbatore) about the Tutsi-Hutu conflict. Their first reaction was, “How the hell do you know about that?” and I was like, “Hotel Rwanda is one of my all-time favorite movies and I have seen it more than 20 times”, and then they told me that they never discuss that incident among themselves, and even among their batch of around 80 exchange students, nobody identified himself as a Tutsi or a Hutu. I totally agree. The past is the past. We move past it.

If you really want to understand the complexity of the insurgency in the North East, it is pretty much like the current conflict in the Middle East.  Quoting from the source – “Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad! Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi. But Gulf states are pro-Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood! Iran is pro-Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood! Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the U.S.! Gulf states are pro-U.S. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro-Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states! Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.”

Yup, sometimes it is more or less as complicated as that.

EDIT: Lolz, I thought this was an A2A, but I could not find it anywhere at the bottom (you usually see that “Asked to answer by xxx” at the end of an answer). So I went through my long list of old notifications and finally found this. Lolz, this was never an A2A, I’m such a Quora noobie!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Chp 533. The Silence that we all missed

Last night, a lot of people watched NorthEast United FC and FC Goa battle it out at the ongoing Indian Super League. The match ended in a draw, with veterans like ex-Arsenal players Robert Pires and Andre Santos unable to take advantage of a much younger home side. Those of us who saw the match would definitely have an opinion about the game or how the players performed.

However, what none of us who were watching the match on TV or online Live-streaming noticed was this.

Yes, a 30 seconds moment of silence was held by the players of NEUFC and FC Goa before the kick-off.

We never saw this on TV or Live stream because it went into commercials at this time. Only those who were at the stadium witnessed this, and the whole stadium came down to a complete silence for 30 seconds.

What was the reason for this?

A moment of silence before a match in football is usually honored to mourn the death of a fellow football player, as a way of showing respect or tribute to the dearly departed. It is a professional etiquette football players show to each other, although it doesn’t always have to involve a player, like for instance how Newcastle United recently held a minute of silence before their match, in remembrance of their two fans who were among the victims of the unfortunate Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

In yesterday’s case, it was because of this football player.

Peter Biaksangzuala.

Peter was an MPL player. MPL stands for Mizoram Premier League, and it is the highest state-level association football league in Mizoram. And for a State crazy about football, the turnout for any MPL match is always huge, with fans screaming out slogans and cheers and jeers that echoes across the entire valley.

He played for the team BVFC (Bethlehem Vengthlang FC) and just last week, they had a match against CWFC (Chanmari West FC). The atmosphere was highly intense, with CWFC leading by one goal, when in the 60th minute, Peter scored an absolute stunner to put the scoreline at 1-1. BVFC fans erupted in joy and Peter went on to celebrate his goal with a series of somersault.

Unfortunately, he landed badly on his back.

[Pic source: ZoFooty]

What felt like one of the most momentous occasions, took a complete turn in a matter of seconds. He had to be substituted and was rushed to the hospital.

Most people thought the injury wouldn’t be serious, and everybody continued watching the match.

It was only later that friends and family of Peter learnt that the injury had affected his spinal cord and he had to be put on a ventilator!

And yesterday, Sunday 7:00 AM, the devastating news that Peter had succumbed to his injury in spite of the best efforts from doctors to save him, sent shockwaves across the tiny State of Mizoram. Peter breathed his last, but not before donating his eyes and other vital organs.

It was such a tragedy for such a talented young player to die that way – for celebrating a goal.

Many of my Facebook friends too changed their profile pictures to his, in order to honor him. Condolences messages were posted everywhere. His funeral in Mizoram saw a HUGE turnout, especially from football fans and players of other football clubs in Mizoram. People from all walks of life turned up to accompany his body till the grave. His club BVFC announced that they were going to retire his jersey number (the highest honor a club can give to a player, meaning no other players playing for the club can ever have that jersey number as it now permanently belongs to Peter).

And last night, this tribute crossed State-lines as NorthEast United FC and FC Goa observed a 30 seconds moment of silence in memory of Peter.

I just wished the telecast never went into commercials right then. But since it did, here is me telling you about the unseen story, the silence that we all missed. About the 23 years old defensive midfielder whom most of us have never heard of, but as football lovers, fans and enthusiasts alike, we all share the pain of losing someone in such a bizarre manner. All because he celebrated his goal. Only if you’re crazy and passionate enough about football will you understand the adrenalin rush of scoring a goal and celebrating it. And in the end, it was indeed a deserving tribute to a fallen player, especially with former legends like Robert Pires and others paying their last respects.

RIP Peter.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Chp 532. Things to remember before visiting NE

This is my answer to a Quora question:

What are the "things to remember" before I start off to travel the most of Northeast India?

If you like this post and you are a member of Quora, please do upvote my answer :D In case I got any info wrong or missed out any important point, please do let me know in the comment section.


Ok here are 20 points that I think one should remember before traveling across the North East:

1. Keep in mind that every Northeastern state is different from the other. First and foremost, some of the States require a permit just to visit, depending on who you are. Since you didn’t specify your background, I’m just giving you three categories of visitors -

a) In case you are a foreigner, you no longer need to get an RAP (Restricted Area Permit) or PAP (Protected Area Permit) to visit Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland. You just have to register yourself at the Foreigners Registration Office (FRO) of the particular State within 24 hours of arrival. Don't forget to take your passport, visa and other documents as well (my brother-in-law is English, so we usually go directly to the FRO straight from the airport whenever they visit). However, to visit Arunachal Pradesh, you still require a PAP.

b) But if you are a foreigner from Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and Afghanistan, then you need a clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs to visit the four Northeastern States of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland.

c) If you are an Indian citizen, then you need an ILP (Inner Line Permit) to visit the three Northeastern States of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram. You don't require any permit to visit the other five Northeastern States (Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura and Sikkim). Even people from other Northeastern States have to apply for an ILP to visit these three mentioned States. In case you want to read up more about this ILP, you can refer to my Quora answer regarding the same.

2. If you can afford it, I would advise you to carry at least two mobile phones (or a dual sim phone) with different service providers and roaming activated on both, because due to the mountainous region, sometimes a particular network is available at a particular location only and vice-versa, and unlike other telecom circles, it is very difficult to use the network of different service providers on roaming over there. I recommend Vodafone / Airtel / Idea.

3. If you are travelling towards any of the capitals or main cities, make sure you take time to enjoy the journey to your destination. Enjoy the view, stop frequently, take photos of the hills, waterfalls and mist covered mountains, or the hilariously cute BRO road signs you'll find in abundance. Trust me, the cities aren't that great compared to the tranquil serenity in the outskirts, especially if you yourself are from an urban area.

[Pic source: indiatoursandtravelsdotcom]

4. As others have already mentioned, try to avoid the entire region during the monsoon! You'll face floods in the plains and landslides in the hills. Yes one of the most beautiful moments in the hilly sections of the North East is that moment right after a rain, but you also run the risk of being delayed/stuck due to landslides.

5. Be nice to the locals :) Smile, be polite, and don't be loud! Northeasterners are usually very quiet, shy and soft-spoken. Most people are extremely helpful in assisting tourists when approached politely.

6. I'm sure this must be obvious, but I think it needs to be mentioned. Be aware of the vast racial and cultural differences of the NE people from that of the rest of India. Don't express shock or surprise when you see them or even try to imitate their language mockingly, we'll find that gravely insulting. At the same time if you take a genuine attempt to speak in the local language (maybe through a translation app on your smartphone) they'll quickly bond with you. Also, do not be surprised if you see many indigenous people who aren't of the mongoloid race. Not everybody from the NE has mongoloid features, so don’t ever ask them questions such as, “How come you don’t look like a Northeasterner?” That is as offensive as asking the ones with Mongoloid features, “How come you look like a Chinese?” No matter how we look, all of us are extremely proud and protective of our respective heritages.

7. Again, regarding the language, do take an attempt to read up a bit about the particular Northeastern State you're planning to visit. Most of the States are inhabited by a group of different tribes or communities with completely different language or dialect, so sometimes the person may find it insulting if you ask him how come he doesn't speak x language just because another person from the same State does. Overall, at most places, you can manage with English or Hindi.

8. Keep in mind that there is Total/Partial Prohibition in the three States of Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland (though Mizoram has amended this act recently, it will be enforced only when the next assembly session starts). This means you won’t find alcohol (that easily) at these places, and you are not allowed to carry booze with you while entering these three States. I mean, you can of course, but if you get caught, it’s not going to be a very pleasant experience for you. And yes, the security at some of the check-gates are extremely vigilant due to the insurgency issue in some regions.

[Translation: An alcohol check-gate in Mizoram, aptly nicknamed “The Gate Of All Regrets” because if you were carrying booze and you’re checked, you regretted, and at the same time if you didn’t carry alcohol for fear of being caught and there was nobody on duty at the check-gate, it led to regret again!]

9. Depending on what time of the year you're planning to visit and which State you're planning to visit, plan your clothing carefully. Some places are extremely cold in winter while others are horribly hot and humid in summer.

10. Also read up on the seasonal festivals of the different States, those are the best times for tourists to visit. Some of the popular ones are the Hornbill festival of Nagaland, Bihu festival of Assam, Autumn festival of Meghalaya, Athurium festival and Chapchar kut festival of Mizoram, the occasional rock concert and music festivals in vibrant Shillong and so on. And in the case of Mizoram, I personally know a few tourists who unfortunately visited Aizawl during Christmas season :) Bad timing indeed, because everything shuts down during this period for 2-3 weeks. Traffic is closed throughout the city during the day (no vehicles allowed on the roads) as the entire city comes out to do their Christmas/New Year shopping or celebrate Christmas with carols and parades. Visit Mizoram during this period only if you want to experience this unique feature.

[Hornbill festival in Nagaland]

11. Although I don’t need to tell you about the different food cuisine you’ll find in the North East because that is an obvious situation at any new place, I just want to mention about the timing/frequency that most people are usually not aware of. In many Northeastern places like Mizoram, we do not have a concept of “lunch”. We eat just two main meals a day - breakfast and dinner, which are both extremely heavy. “Lunch” consists of just a simple tea break and maybe light snacks. So brace yourself not just for a cuisine change but a timing change as well.

12. Moreover, brace yourself for a contrast time difference. Keep in mind that the Northeast lies on the eastern side of Bangladesh which itself is 30 minutes ahead of India. It’s fair enough to say that the Northeast is at least 1 hour ahead of IST, but since we follow IST, sun rises and sets very early. A large majority of the population would be well asleep by 7-8 PM and the streets dead quiet, even in the center of the city. Get ready for that.

13. It is better to book your hotels or accommodations in advance. Also, I’d like to warn you that the quality of hotels aren’t as great as in the Indian metros. And I feel the service industry kinda lacks behind in the North East. So don’t be surprised if waiters or bellboys don’t exactly do their jobs up to your expectations.

14. Always try to get a local guide wherever you go.

15. Don’t rely much on credit cards. In fact you can leave them at home if you want. Take plenty of cash with you, along with your debit cards that you can use to withdraw from the ATMs.

16. And as is a golden rule in any place you’re visiting for the first time, always ask your host or the hotel attendant about the cost of taxi fare from x to y location you want to visit.

17. Never hesitate to take a fresh morning walk from your place of accommodation. Observe the early morning life around you or the idyllic sunrise amidst the sprawling hills. Let the chirpings of morning swallows or crickets transport you to a heavenly abode of new delight.

18. Another important point to remember - The North East is known for its rich cultural and traditional attire, with beautiful woven cloths, shawls, dresses and headgears. However, don’t be surprised if you don’t see people wearing such traditional clothes when you reach there! We usually wear them only on important functions and occasions :)

[Pic: Nagaland’s talented Tetseo Sisters]

19. Last but not the least, try to keep in touch with the local news. Most people think the North East is one entity, but actually, we too have a lot of our own internal issues and inter-ethnic clashes now and then between different tribes and communities. Though such disturbances don’t escalate, it can lead to some unrests and usually 2-3 days bandh, hence preventing you from moving around. While this occurs rarely, it does happen now and then, so I’m just giving you a heads-up on this. Keep a track of the local news as you move around. Small disturbances like that shouldn’t hamper your visit, especially if you are not worried about the fact that most of these Northeastern States you’re planning to visit are under the draconian AFSPA law :)

20. Bonus pointer :) - If you know the right people at the right places, it may be possible for you to slip into Myanmar. That’s right, I’m talking about crossing the International border here. But of course this may not be legal and I am in no way encouraging anyone to break the law, but I’m just saying sometimes one can visit Myanmar due to the porous border with some of the Northeastern States bordering Myanmar, where one can walk into foreign territory, drink Burmese brewed beer, swim at the pristine Rih Dil lake, and pay for your food using Burmese Kyat and then come back to the Indian side at the end of the day, giving you that cheap satisfaction of having “travelled abroad” :) :P

[Rih Dil, Myanmar]

So hope these 20 points help. Do enjoy your trip to the North East. Cheers (except of course in some States :P )

Monday, October 13, 2014

Chp 531. Mizoram and ILP

This is my answer to a Quora question:

What is your view on the issue of inner line permit in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland?-

Comment from asker:

Some people say that it is a violation of fundamental right of a citizen to move freely in the country and it alienates a part of the country economically and culturally (cultural and economic exchanges get slowed down).

While others say it's a necessary step to protect the pristine and fragile culture and population of these states. The inward flow of outside people will marginalize and destroy the culture of these regions making the natives a minority in their own regions.

What is your view? What do you think is the impact of IPL ? Should it be removed immediately, or it should be removed after a certain period of time or it should exist forever?

My answer:

A very interesting question indeed.

TL;DR version - Inner Line Permit may hamper economic growth, but it serves as a means to protect the indigenous tribes from exploitation and preserve their fragile cultures and traditions. Removing ILP can lead to a mass influx of non-residents, especially from neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar (due to the porous border) which will greatly change the demography and the practices of the local indigenous tribes who had been co-existing there for many decades..


Now for those of you who might be interested in a bit more detailed answer, please feel free to continue reading -

Since the answer you seek is more of a personal opinion rather than the usual factual or informative answer we see here in Quora, I just want to explain a little bit more about the ILP as I answer your question. From your comment, it is obvious you definitely know what the ILP is, but hope you don’t mind me taking this opportunity to explain what the ILP is to other Quorans who may not have heard of it?

The reason why I want to do that is because of the number of comments and sentiments I have read online from people who may have a wrong notion about the ILP.

So, what exactly is an ILP?

If you’re an Indian citizen who is not a resident of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram and would like to visit any of these three mentioned states, then you need to get an ILP (Inner Line Permit) from the respective State Governments. And earlier, if you’re a foreigner, you had to get the more complicated RAP (Restricted Area Permit) or PAP (Protected Area Permit) to visit these three states.

However, today, in order to boost tourism at these states, the Indian Government no longer makes it mandatory for foreigners to get an RAP/PAP, they only need to register themselves at the Foreigners Registration Office (FRO) within 24 hours upon arrival at any of the three states.

But if you’re an Indian citizen, you still need to get an ILP to visit Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram, which raised many eyebrows because currently, it sounds like it is easier for foreigners to visit these three states rather than Indian citizens!

I’m from Mizoram, brought up outside the state, and the first time I told any of my friends about the ILP, their immediate reaction was always, “Whaaaat? Why do I need a special permit to go to a part of our country? Isn’t that against my fundamental rights?”

 So let me just try to explain this whole thing in detail.

As mentioned above, I have met a lot of people who are unaware of the ILP. Even those who have visited the North East, usually visit just Meghalaya (beautiful Shillong, wet Cherrapunji, Tura peak, and the serene view of the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo hills), Assam (60% of the NE population, Kaziranga National Park, Bihu festival, the land of Bhupen Hazarika and Arnab Goswami) and Manipur (Dzukou valley, Loktak “floating” lake, Shri Govindjee temple, land of “Iron lady” Irom Sharmila and NE sporting giants such as Renedy Singh, Thoiba Singh, Devendro Singh, Bombayla Devi, Mary Kom, Sarita Devi, Kunjarani Devi, Renubala Chanu, Dingko Singh etc). Tripura and Sikkim too have their own enchanting charm as well. None of these five Northeastern states requires an ILP, so as an Indian citizen, you are free to roam around at such places.

Indian citizens require an ILP to visit the other three North Eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram. They too are also great tourist destinations.

Arunachal Pradesh is famous for its orchids, Buddhist temples and breathtaking scenic views like Ziro, Bomdila, Tawang and Roing. If you haven’t been to those places, it should definitely be on your bucket list.

[image source: Roing river]

Nagaland can boast of the tranquil Dzukou valley, which is currently sort of a disputed area (Naga tribe not ot allow Manipuris to enter Dzukou) with Manipur regarding ownership as it lies in the border separating the two states, with a lot of Angami Naga tribesmen settling in the Manipur side. This dispute may sound frivolous to some, but remember, we’re talking about the ILP here. Technically, according to this law, if you’re visiting the Dzukou valley from Nagaland, you require an ILP, whereas if you’re visiting the valley from Manipur, you don’t. Funny huh… :)

We Northeasterners too have our own quota of internal complexities and differences. If you are interested in visiting the beautiful Dzukou valley, here is a good travelogue you must read (travelspeak: The Enchanting Dzukou Valley). Nagaland also has their famous Hornbill festival, not to mention the heritage villages of Mokokchung, Mon, Wokha etc and the renowned Kohima War Memorial. Here’s a list of places to visit in Nagaland -  (goindia: Five Popular Nagaland Tourist Destinations)

[image source:]

Mizoram too has the recently popularized Anthurium festival as one of our annual tourist attractions.

[image source:]

Apart from that, we have a few tourist destinations like Phawngpui hills, Tam dil, Sibuta lung, Vantawng khawhthla etc., but frankly speaking, I think our tourist attraction kinda pales compared to the other North Eastern states (or maybe I just feel that way because I’m from there).

All in all, if you are not a resident of Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, then you require an ILP to visit these places, and many people assume this hampers tourism. It shouldn’t, actually.

What is the origin of ILP? How did it come into being?

Back when we were under the British, there was the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations Act passed in 1873 which prohibited non-indigenous people from settling in certain areas in what is now currently North East India, so as to preserve the cultural heritage of the much more regressive tribes and protect them from exploitation. ILP is nothing but an off-shoot of this act.

Now I have read quite a few comments from people saying that their states too should implement ILP like how some of the North Eastern states have done. As far as I know, getting an ILP status is not that easy, and the Indian Union is very likely to reject any such proposal. There was even that recent push from student activists in Meghalaya and Manipur for an ILP status which was denied – (MHA denies ILP to Meghalaya and Manipur). Changing the status of an ILP for a state requires complex legal and constitutional amendments, pretty much like Article 370 of our Constitution that grants special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir. I really don’t know how ILP was introduced in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, but in the case of Mizoram, ILP was one of the points included in the “Mizoram Accord”, a landmark peace agreement signed between the Indian Government and Pu Laldenga (you can read more about this in my Quora answer to the question Quora: What do people of Mizoram think about rest of India)

You can even download this important memorandum from the United Nations official website here (UNO: Memorandum of Settlement - The Mizoram Accord) as it made an interesting case study, being one of the few instances across the world where insurgency in a conflict zone was successfully ended with the stroke of a pen. Mizoram today is one of the most peaceful states in India.

According to the Memorandum of Settlement (Mizoram Accord) mentioned above, the Indian Government had invoked ILP on Mizoram as a part of the agreement. And so, that is how Mizoram till today continues to be under the ILP.

The reason why I need to clear the air about the ILP is because of the numerous comments I have read online. One such popular sentiment was - "Northeasterners often complain about being racially abused and discriminated when they come to Delhi, and yet we need a special permit to visit their states which is a part of our country. Isn’t that hypocrisy?”

First of all, this is not a Northeastern versus Non-Northeastern issue. To enter Mizoram, if you’re a resident of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand or any non-Northeastern state, you do require an ILP, just as how a person from Assam, Manipur, Sikkim or any other Northeastern state requires an ILP to enter Mizoram. Likewise, if I want to visit Arunachal Pradesh or Nagaland, I too have to apply for an ILP as well. Similarly, there is a large Naga population residing in Manipur, Assam and some parts of Arunachal Pradesh, and even they have to apply for an ILP to visit Nagaland. Only those Nagas residing within Nagaland (including a significant Gurkha community living in the state) don’t require an ILP to enter Nagaland. So there is no such thing as a Northeast-Mainland division here. Secondly, only three NE states require ILP, there are five other beautiful Northeastern states out there that you can visit freely, so I really think it is unfair to compare or equate that to the discrimination Northeasterners face in Delhi or other places.

Thirdly, the ILP is not as bad as it sounds! I’m sure most of those who criticize Mizoram because of the ILP are people who haven’t even been there or have no intention of going there. Ask any Indian tourist who has actually visited Mizoram and they will tell you how easy it is to procure one. If you’re travelling by road into Mizoram, you can easily get the permit from the Liaison Officer of Mizoram House in Guwahati, Silchar, Kolkata, Delhi or Shillong, and then show that piece of paper to the security guards at Vairengte check-gate. Thadaaa, welcome to Mizoram. And if you’re entering Mizoram by air, upon arrival at Lengpui airport, you just have to fill in the same form from the officer-in-charge at the airport and once he/she stamps your paper, you’re good to pass through. It is just a formality procedure. No officials will ever harass you or search you or refuse your entry.

For more information on how to get an ILP in Mizoram and the different type of ILP durations, here’s a link from webpage (How to get an Inner Line Permit in Mizoram)

The aim of the ILP is not to curb tourism or prevent other Indians from visiting the state (you are always welcome to visit my home-state) but rather to keep a record of the number of non-residents within the state. This can later be used for security reasons, and to ensure that the local occupation, demography and cottage industry is not disturbed. The ILP enables the state government to keep a check on the number of non-resident laborers, business owners and other employees/employers residing within the state.

I have been asked a lot of uncomfortable questions regarding this issue, which can be summarized as, “Kima, do you find it fair that you can come to Maharashtra and work as a copywriter in an ad agency freely whereas to do the same in Mizoram we need to get a permit first?” (This was before I moved into mobile games development).

Yes, if you think that way, it does sound unfair. After all, this is India right? But there’s more to this than meets the eye.

First of all, armed personnel posted in Mizoram like the BRO (Border Roads Organization), AMC (Army Medical Corps), Assam Rifles and CRPF do not require an ILP. Secondly, Central and State Government employees too do not require an ILP. There are many non-resident Government employees posted in Mizoram who do not have to apply for an ILP. Thirdly, Mizoram falls behind when it comes to the private sector, so I’m sure even if you were allowed to work as a copywriter in an ad agency in Mizoram without an ILP, you still wouldn’t want to do that. That’s the whole reason why I’m here in Mumbai. Hell, if there was a good ad agency in Mizoram, I’d rather work there than here in Mumbai as it would be a lot more convenient and cheaper for me.

What you should know about Mizoram is that, it is one of the smallest states in India, and area-wise there are quite a few districts alone in India that are bigger than the state of Mizoram. And the entire population is just around a million, which means there are more people living here in Andheri West in Mumbai than the entire population of Mizoram! Hence, an influx of people from outside the state can easily change the demography and customary traditions of such a tiny population that didn’t even have a written script or knew how to read or write barely a 100 years ago.

In Tripura, the rulers of the Tripuri dynasty allowed open immigration so as to improve their administrative and economic conditions, and in 1875, indigenous people of Tripura constituted around 64% of the population due to a large influx of Bengalis. Even after India’s independence, the migration of Bengalis from East Pakistan and later Bangladesh continued, and in the 2001 census, the indigenous people of Tripura were reduced to 30%, with Bengalis constituting 69% of the population of Tripura. The language Bengali has also become one of the official languages of Tripura, along with Kokbokri, the language of the indigenous people. Some may consider the addition of a more advanced culture as enriching to the existing one, but one cannot brush aside the decadent growth of the indigenous population and the decline in the number of people who now speak Kokbokri.

While assimilation is a good thing, the problem with assimilation is that people often mistaken assimilation with hegemony. As a Mizo, much as I adapt to the broader Indian cultural tradition, it does not mean I should let go of my Mizo cultural practices. It is a part of who I am and where I’ve come from. But when the population of a tribal group diminishes due to the increasing influences of a much more superior society, then that usually leads to either linguicide and disintegration of the customary tribal practices, or a struggle for survival, usually marred with violence.

Tripura too witnessed many troubled years due to the change in demography, with insurgent groups such as the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) formed by the indigenous tribes to combat the growing Bengali majority population in Tripura. In retaliation, counter-militant group such as the United Bengali Liberation Front (UBLF) was created to protect the Bengali population from the NLFT and the ATTF, and they were active in attacking the indigenous tribes. South Asia Terrorism Portal described UBLF as, “The modus operandi of UBLF was to throw bombs at a group of tribes from a distance. Their operation strategy is also different from that of the NLFT or the ATTF in the sense that UBLF terrorists move about in small groups and single out their victims at isolated spots. Their target could be a moving vehicle or a small conglomeration of tribes away from their settlement.” (SATP: United Bengali Liberation Front)

Yes, the North East is definitely no stranger to inter-ethnic clashes.

I’m sure most of us are aware of the mass exodus of Northeastern people from various Indian cities back in August 2012. Thousands of Northeasterners fled Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad two years ago after being threatened by certain anti-social elements from the Muslim community, and the Indian Government even had to arrange special trains to handle the mass exodus, rather than handle the threats (Refer my answer to a Quora question - Quora: What was the reason for the panic and exodus of the North East Indians living in Southern Metros in 2012).

All that started because of the clash between the Bodo community of Assam (one of the earliest inhabitants of the Brahmaputra valley) and the Muslim community (who were painted as being illegal Bangladeshi immigrants). Tensions have always been high between indigenous people and immigrants in the North East, especially since we have a very porous border with Bangladesh. Though words fail me as to how that eventually affected every other North Eastern community because of the Bodo-Muslim clash, the writing on the wall is simple – mi casa is not su casa.

And that is one of the many reasons why I think Mizoram is now one of the most peaceful states in India - because it keeps a check on the number of non-residents living in the state because of the ILP. Since you asked for a personal opinion, I guess this is my personal opinion, though rather a tad long one. Feel free to disagree.

I think it may be unfair to compare the situation in the North East to that in the rest of the country. We have to take into account the various complexities and numerous inter-ethnic rivalries and clashes that we don’t read about in our mainstream Indian news media, but if you’re from that region, you’ll come across such news almost every day.

And of course, my personal opinion is that the ILP does hamper economic growth and development. That is a no-brainer. But case in point, you’ll also need to consider what happened in other places where preservation was sacrificed for development, which really didn’t work out well for the indigenous people of that place.

I can also admit that there had been many times when we Mizos ourselves had been frustrated with the ILP. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Some of these may sound trivial, but nonetheless, it is happening because of the ILP. In our Mizo society, consumption of betelnut (paan) is extremely popular. The “Mizo Kuhva Zuar Association” (Association of Mizos who sells betelnut/paan) has a complete monopoly on the price of paan sold in Mizoram and they have the habit of increasing the cost of paan at their own whims and fancies, since paans do not come with an MRP tag. Now a lot of business traders from Assam and Bangladesh like paanwallas come to Mizoram without an ILP, offering a much cheaper (and sometimes better quality) paan that a lot of us love. When Mizo paan sellers realized people stopped going to them, they reported all those “outsiders” to the police and YMA, and the law agencies had no other option but to follow the written law and deport them from Mizoram since they didn’t have an ILP. Now in a way, it makes sense because the “outsiders” threatened the livelihood of the local market. But one could argue that it wouldn’t have led to many consumers going to the “outsiders” instead of them in the first place had the Mizo paan sellers association been reasonable with the price. See, the line between protecting local business and exploiting consumers is extremely blurry here.

Similarly, people who own contractual businesses where manual laborers are required often curse the ILP, because a lot of Mizos prefer not to do such menial work or are not proficient enough for the given tasks. And a lot of people prefer migrant mistiris (masons) rather than our own because they are usually more hard working and devoted to the given job. As the saying goes, “As you make your bed, so must you lie on it”, I guess this is something we’ll all have to live with if we support such a law all in the name of preserving one’s culture.

At the end of the day, it all depends on how you look at it. If you take a macroscopic view, calling a spade a spade and demanding equal treatment for each and every Indian citizen, then yes, it is unfair to have a state under the Indian Government where non residents of that place need to get a special permission to visit or work. On the other hand, if you consider their historical backgrounds and all the complexities involved within the North East, including the fragile nature of the inhabitants and their decadent growth rate, you might think it may be better if things work differently at such places in order to preserve their culture and heritage.

In a way, I think it all boils down to an “Ayn Rand situation”. Many intellectuals adore and worship Ayn Rand for her philosophical books on objectivity, and when it comes to her opinion about Native Americans and the “Trail of tears” incident, she infamously expressed, “I do not think they (Native Americans) have any right to live in a country merely because they were born here and acted and lived like savages”.

And yes, a lot of people agreed with her.

Feel free to have your own opinion.