In the wake of the demand for establishment of a state population commission and National Register of Citizens (NRC) by several civil society organisations, including students organisations, we would like to place a few perspectives. Why do we need a Census or NRC? Since early times, this exercise has always been a part of statecraft, administration and governance. Every state needs to keep to keep track of its citizens, more so during the time of kingdoms where rebellions were always cropping up as a result of feuding princes.
Among the Puyas or ancient chronicles, mention may be made of ‘Langthaballon’ and ‘Sanggai Phamang’ wherein the state tries to keep track of the whereabouts of its citizens. It is an official document prepared by palace officials after summoning all the clan heads known as Sagei Piba. These Sagei Pibas are quizzed on the whereabouts of their clansmen, whether they are in residing in the state and if so at which place or they had gone out of the state in the west ‘Nongchup Haram’ or in the east ‘Nongpok Haram’ if so at which location. The details are noted down in the official chronicle.
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It is a must for the reigning monarch to know which of his siblings or relatives and their supporters are taking refuge in places other than inside the state, so that he may prepare himself for any eventuality. Our history is also replete with princes invading the state by taking the help of neighbouring kingdoms.
In modern times, a proper census and National Register of Citizens (NRC) has become all the more essential so as to protect the indigenous population from the overwhelming rush of foreigners and illegal immigrants in the state. Those coming from the west, one can easily detect by way of the different facial structures and features. But then, Jiribam constituency has already been overwhelmed by these foreigners.
It is difficult to detect those coming from the east as most of them have racial or cultural affinity with the people already settled in the state. Sometime ago, 80 Myanmar refugees were arrested in Churachandpur district by police.
Clearly, this is not the first case of illegal migrants from across the Indo-Myanmar border. It has been going on for years and in fact, this migration was one major concern of anti-foreigners movement in the 80s. The discourse in those days were mainly focused on Bangladeshi infiltration and Nepali influx. And everyone ignored the steady illegal migration of cognate tribes from Myanmar’s Chin Hills in Churachandpur then.
Now, with steady increase these newcomers have taken over the political space after usurping the indigenous Kuki-Chin-Mizo groups already settled in the state. Therein lies the genesis of the violent objection to the three bills and the rejection of 1951 as base year for implementation of ILP.
When the government brought three bills to address the issue of illegal migration, people in the hills more particularly in Churachandpur district rose against the three bills when they were passed by the Manipur Legislative Assembly and shut off all communications with the state government for nearly three long years.
Census or NRC is not only about analysing abnormal growth of population in some hill districts or detecting illegal migrants, but also of accurate population data which are linked with development indicators or strategies and benefit schemes. And there is always room for misconceptions and wrong interpretations which often causes unwanted tension among the various communities inhabiting the state.
The issue of constituting a State Population Commission had been put on the backburner for quite some time. Taking exception to the proposed delimitation exercise in 2020, several civil society organisations have come up with a demand for setting up a State Population Commission to resolve the issue of abnormal population growths and for finding accurate Census data. Now, as many as six student bodies of Manipur has come up with a demand for amendment in National Register of Citizens (NRC) and establishment of a Population Commission to detect and deport illegal immigrants and initiate necessary legal action. This needs to be expedited.