June 23, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether reactions from Manipur’s civil society organisations regarding Chin refugees from Myanmar are justified. We also look at the anti-drug campaign in Mizoram, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Manipur’s Mixed Feelings: The Impact Of A Refugee Crisis
On 1 February 2021, Myanmar went through a gruesome change. The empty streets and heavy display of armoured tanks could only mean one thing – democracy has fallen. The Tatmadaw, the country’s military, deposed the democratically elected National League for Democracy, and things just took off from there.
Since then, the influx of pro-democracy refugees from Myanmar in the Northeast of India has been a striking reality. While Mizoram accepted the refugees with open arms, the Manipur government chose a more passive approach to dealing with the humanitarian crisis. So the people stepped in.
A year later, refugees are still coming in, the Manipur government denies their existence and civic groups have started worrying about demographic changes in the state. So let’s talk about it.
On 5 June, two opposing civil society groups in Manipur came together to weed out a common enemy: illegal migrants from Myanmar. A civil society collective called Coordination Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) and the Unified Naga Council (UNC) sent a memorandum to the CM demanding immediate action against the foreigners.
According to them, the illegal migrants have merged with the Kuki tribe and are “eating away” their resources. Khuraijam Athouba, an executive member of COCOMI, even accused them of “taking over land in the hills.” They want the government to use exercises similar to Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Manipur to rid themselves of refugees.
Here’s the thing, though, the state government believes that there is no inrush of refugees in Manipur at all. There isn’t any data about the number of Myanmarese people in the state, and Manipur does not have a single refugee camp. The state government had initially even directed authorities to ‘politely turn away’ those seeking asylum.
This order was backed by the Centre’s reluctance to host asylum seekers. They even discouraged Northeastern states from allowing the refugees to settle in the country. Of course, this was easier said than done as the shared border allows free movement up to 16 km on either side. Certain tribes in that region even share common ethnicity and have both trade and family relations set up amongst themselves.
Right now, refugees are still sufficiently open about their status in the hill state, but this might soon call for a change. Anti-refugee sentiments have steadily been rising as resources get harder to come by. Is this just the scapegoating of a vulnerable group, or is Manipur truly headed towards an intense cultural and demographic change?
VIEW: Gearing up for monumental shifts
Most of the refugees India sees are from Myanmar’s Chin state. Certain tribes and ethnic groups of Mizoram and Manipur share various similarities with those of Myanmar, especially the Chins and Kuki groups. The political borders are simply a result of the British drawing political lines on a map rather than ethnic ones.
Because of this, people from both sides managed to build deep familial and trade ties despite the international border. So much so that maintaining a closed Indo-Myanmar border became a logistical nightmare. This led to the Free Movement Regime (FMR), which allows people on either side to live within 16 km of the border for 14 days.
This ease of access has gotten a few groups paranoid. COCOMI member Athouba believes that “illegal immigrants are bribing officials, taking land in the hills and getting themselves on the electoral rolls. They are taking away our rights over government schemes and resources.” The fear is that the refugees will register as voters in Manipur and dominate the polls. The lack of data about Myanmarese refugees in the state also does not help calm the civil society groups.
According to the UNC and COCOMI, when the census data from 1950 to 2011 are compared, the five hill districts of Manipur show a substantial increase in the number of unmarked villages. A recent list that has been allegedly leaked from the State Department showed around 1,000 villages applied for recognition. As per non-Kuki groups, they are all occupied by illegal immigrants.
Even CM N Biren Singh reiterated their fears when he spoke about strengthening their foreigners’ office this February. He said that the state has a population that barely reaches 3 million, and 2.5 million are indigenous. According to him, the state’s goal should be to preserve the cultural specificities of each group. And letting people in willy-nilly can adversely affect that.
COUNTERVIEW: Honouring ties and human rights
If we are to believe the old adage “history repeats itself”, Manipur’s acceptance of Myanmarese nationals should be of no surprise. The aftermath of the 2007 Saffron Revolution and the 8.8.88 Uprising against the then-ruling Burma Socialist Programme Party saw several people cross the border for asylum. Since people tend to be creatures of habit, turning away their ethnically similar friends as the military junta hunts them didn’t feel like a natural response.
From a geopolitical perspective, sending the Chin refugees back to their home country could hurt the goodwill India has picked up on global forums. Despite not signing the Refugee Convention of 1951 or the Optional Protocol of 1967, the former Congress-led Centre hosted asylum seekers with no problem. Reversing this policy all of a sudden could hurt our position at the international level. Plus, the Chin state is extremely important for India’s Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP), an inland river terminal.
Turning our backs on the people of Myanmar will also hurt the country’s insistence on the Act East Policy (AEP). India needs to maintain its narrative of public diplomacy in the country to work with the people of Myanmar after the military eventually loses its hold. Considering that most see the military junta’s rule as unsustainable, schmoozing with a peeved-off public after retrieving our helping hand is sure to hurt us in the long run.
Finally, even if the ethnic ties and geopolitical gains are ignored, politely turning away Chin refugees from Manipur violates the principle of non-refoulement. Basically, international law prohibits the forcible return of refugees to a place where they face persecution. And asylum seekers from Myanmar definitely face persecution under military rule. India doesn’t need to ratify the UN’s refugee conventions to be held accountable for putting people’s lives in imminent danger.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The reactions from Manipur’s civil society organisations regarding Chin refugees are justified.
b) The reactions from Manipur’s civil society organisations regarding Chin refugees are not justified.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
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For the Left:
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🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Unauthorised leave by doctors (Jammu & Kashmir) – The J&K administration sacked 112 doctors for taking unauthorised leaves. They included medical officers, consultant surgeons, and B-grade specialists. They’ve been absent from duty at different points between 2005 and 2020. Some of them have been sacked for remaining absent for five years. The administration has been tough on the workforce as three dozen employees were suspended for alleged anti-national activities.
Why it matters: Previously, the health department issued notices to absentee doctors. The doctors didn’t respond nor show up for duty. They are liable to be discharged for unauthorised absence for more than five years. The rules state wilful absence after the expiry of leave makes them liable to disciplinary action.
Advancing paddy procurement (Tamil Nadu) – The Tamil Nadu government has asked the Centre to advance the paddy procurement date by a month to September 1 instead of October 1. Normally, the paddy harvesting season coincides with the southwest and northeast monsoons. It results in crop damage and a loss in yield due to heavy rainfall and possible cyclones. This year, farmers are confident of harvesting from the last week of August.
Why it matters: The state believes it has had a favourable agricultural season this year. Advancing the procurement date would help farmers get the best out of the increased MSP for the 2022 Kharif marketing season. The new MSP will be applicable from October 1. The Mettur reservoir was opened for paddy cultivation on May 24, ahead of the usual date of June 12.
Ban on tobacco products (Jharkhand) – A PIL was filed in the high court demanding strict implementation of the complete ban on the sale, purchase, and distribution of tobacco products. The petitioner said the current rules aren’t being followed as the existing ban has been repeatedly violated. He alleged the police haven’t taken action against distributors and manufacturers. He said despite a ban on pan masala, the police are unable to act against big companies.
Why it matters: In 2019, a PIL was filed on the ban of pan masala. The court directed the state to take legal action including filing FIRs and making arrests for those who broke the law. Last May, the state government extended a ban on the production, sale, and distribution of 11 brands of packaged and unpackaged pan masala. In 2020, the state imposed a ban on all tobacco products.
Mariculture policy (Goa) – The Goa government announced a relaxation of its mariculture (marine farming) policy. A delegation from the Goa Forward Party (GFP) met with the deputy director of fisheries Chandrakant Velip. They demanded the withdrawal of the revised policy that permitted non-Goans to carry out off-shore cage fishing. There are concerns that investors from outside the state will take over the coastal waters and stop local fishermen.
Why it matters: According to the government, the relaxations in the policy were introduced due to a lack of interest among local fishermen. The delegation asked if the government conducted any awareness programs during the time the scheme was modified. They allege the government made up its mind even before they notified the policy in August 2020.
Anti-drug campaign (Mizoram) – The final phase of a two-week anti-drug campaign concluded. The campaign was undertaken by the 23 Sector Assam Rifles under the aegis of Inspector General Assam Rifles (East). Despite the government’s efforts, the Assam Rifles took up the issue to assist the civil administration in helping youngsters to avoid drug use. Part of the campaign involved roadshows and participation of school students on the importance of a drug-free society.
Why it matters: The Assam Rifles launched the first phase of the campaign in January. Since 1984, more than 1,600 people have died from drug abuse. In 2020, the number of deaths was 66. The state has a problem with the wide availability of drugs and has a high addiction rate. In a few months of last year alone, officials seized narcotics worth ₹25 crores. In 2020, 190 smugglers were apprehended.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$10.4 billion – The estimated cost of last year’s Tokyo Olympics. It’s nearly double the amount quoted in the city’s bid per a final budget report. Costs increased as the National Stadium was rebuilt and the year-long delay due to the pandemic.