North-East India: How many arms, how many foreigners?

The Assam government conceded in Gauhati High Court that 85 per cent of people initially declared to be ‘foreigners’ were eventually found to be Indians

Mass burial of 87 Kuki-Zo victims of ethnic violence in Manipur on 20 December (photo: @zoo_bear/X)
Mass burial of 87 Kuki-Zo victims of ethnic violence in Manipur on 20 December (photo: @zoo_bear/X)
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Uttam Sengupta

Arms and the men

Lieutenant-general Rana Pratap Kalita reiterated on 16 December that availability of large number of firearms with warring groups in Manipur had grave implications; while the army has restored a semblance of normalcy, there has been no end to sporadic violence in the state. It promises to be a sombre Christmas this year in the Manipur Hills, and apprehension of renewed attacks is growing.

Although the Manipur government had informed the Supreme Court in August about the recovery of 197 ‘stolen arms’, 70 bombs and 2,196 rounds of ammunition, the figures have evoked scepticism. Significantly, the state government also conceded that 121 arms, 40 bombs and 2092 rounds of the ammunition were recovered from the Imphal Valley.

Doubts have been expressed about the figures because chief minister N Biren Singh had told The Hindu on 20 July that 1,600 weapons had been recovered. Earlier in a press note on 3 June, Kuldiep Singh, security adviser to the Manipur government, had claimed that “a total of 1,040 arms, 13,601 ammunition and 230 bombs” had been recovered.

Union home minister Amit Shah had informed an all-party meeting, also in June, that 1,800 looted weapons had been returned. The right hand of the government clearly does not know what the left hand is doing. Which figure is to be taken as authentic?

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State-backed terrorism

Video footage of Meitei Leepun chief Pramot Singh brandishing a pistol and seemingly firing at someone, and his armed cadre pointing firearms and kicking someone not visible in the frame, has gone viral. The video, apparently obtained from a CCTV footage (camera 5) somewhere in Imphal, shows armed men strutting around with firearms, while one of them is seen kicking someone on the ground.

A police jeep is seen entering the deserted lane and stop for some time before leaving. The cops do not bother to get off the vehicle. The same footage then shows Pramot Singh striding into the frame from the left, pointing his pistol in the direction of someone on the ground who was being kicked, and firing two shots. It is not clear whether anyone was injured or whether he was firing warning shots. A few words spoken in Hindi give the impression that the men were browbeating a Hindi-speaking man or men.

Local media reported that when asked about the viral video, Pramot Singh nonchalantly replied that a temple set up by non-Meiteis was encroaching on the land of a Meitei temple; and hence he did what was necessary. The militant group enjoys state patronage and has the blessings of chief minister Biren Singh. That is why, though police have booked Singh following a public outcry, no serious action is expected to be taken.

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Roadside market in Sumsuih, Mizoram (photo: MizoramInsta/FB)
Roadside market in Sumsuih, Mizoram (photo: MizoramInsta/FB)

Challenges for Lalduhoma

The first action of the new Mizoram government has been to fix the minimum support prices of ginger, turmeric, chilli and broomsticks. The state has undertaken to procure the produce from farmers directly, and nobody will be allowed to buy them at lower prices. While farmers were encouraged to cultivate these products, in the absence of proper access to markets and pricing mechanisms, they were upset.

The minimum support price is one of the 12 priorities spelled out by the new Zoram Peoples Movement (ZPM) government, the party being just four years old. The new government has an uphill task to grapple with poor fiscals, an influx of refugees, and rampant unemployment.

While road infrastructure has improved in other northeastern states, Mizoram still has poor roads and the unemployment rate is as high as 23 per cent. In addition, it has a growing drug problem among the youth, with official statistics showing 58 deaths this year from substance abuse.

For the first time since Mizoram attained statehood in 1987, the electorate has voted a party other than the Mizo National Front or the Congress to power. This election has also been the first time that more than one woman has been elected to the 40-member assembly. Among the three women who won of the 16 who contested, two belong to ZPM and one to MNF.

The newly elected MLAs include former radio jockey Vanneihsangi and former India footballer Jeje Lalpekhlua. The BJP won two seats this time against one in the last election, but its vote share dipped from 8.09 per cent in 2018 to 5.06 per cent. New chief minister Lalduhoma (73) has ruled out joining either the NDA or the INDIA bloc for the time being.

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Residents queue up to submit documents during the Assam NRC exercise (photo: National Herald archives)
Residents queue up to submit documents during the Assam NRC exercise (photo: National Herald archives)

How many foreigners?

Bongaigaon resident Forhad Ali was declared a foreigner in 2019 owing to a mismatch in the spelling of his father’s name in official documents (Habi Rahman and Habibar Rahman). Gauhati High Court has referred the case back for review even as an affidavit filed by the Assam government in the HC conceded that 85 per cent of the people initially declared to be ‘foreigners’ were eventually found to be Indians.

The Union government, meanwhile, informed the Supreme Court that between 2017 and 2022, as many as 14,346 foreigners were deported from the country. The government revealed that 100 foreigners’ tribunals are presently working in Assam and as of 31 October 2023, more than 3.34 lakh cases had been disposed of, while 97,714 cases were still pending.

Responding to the Supreme Court’s query posed on 7 December, the government claimed that 32,381 people who had settled in India between 1966 and 1971 were detected as foreigners under the orders of the foreigner's tribunal. The court had enquired about the estimated inflow of illegal immigrants into India, including but not confined to Assam after 25 March 1971.

"The detection, detention and deportation of such illegally staying foreign nationals is a complex ongoing process. Since entry of such foreign nationals into the country is clandestine and surreptitious, it is not possible to collect accurate data of such illegal immigrants living in various parts of the country," the government said. Details of the working of the Assam Police, fencing of borders, border patrols and other mechanisms adopted to dissuade infiltration were also shared with the court.

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud is hearing a batch of pleas on the validity of section 6A of the Citizenship Act, which relates to illegal immigrants in Assam.

The provision was inserted into the Citizenship Act as a special provision to deal with the citizenship of people covered under the Assam Accord. It says those who came to Assam on or after 1 January 1966, but before 25 March 1971, from specified territories including Bangladesh, per the Citizenship Act amended in 1985, and since then are residents of the northeastern state, must register themselves under section 18 to acquire Indian citizenship.

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Murder in Arunachal

The assassination of unarmed and unescorted former Congress MLA Yumsem Matey has sent shockwaves through the state's political circles. While the Congress condemned the killing and blamed the state government, it has called for an inquiry and adequate protection to candidates in the Tirap, Changlang and Longding (TCL) districts. APCC general secretary Zirgi Kadu blamed the state government for failing to protect citizens from insurgents.

Kadu referred to a series of recent abductions of, among others, a village ‘king’ and a gaon burah (village elder) by insurgents. “The failure to secure their release underscores the state government’s incapacity to protect the people, particularly in the TCL districts,” he said, and wondered why the state and Central governments are unable to put down insurgency in the TCL area. Incidents of murder and theft had increased even in the state capital of Itanagar, he pointed out.

Even insurgent group NSCN-R issued a statement condemning the killing, adding that Matey was kind, generous and humble and his death was a big loss to the Nagas in Tirap, Changlang and Longding. “Whoever committed the crime not only killed him but has also killed the future of a community.  It will take generations to have a leader like him who represented one of the most backward and remote corners of Eastern Arunachal bordering Myanmar,” the group said.

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Ade for Rotterdam

A short film Ade (On A Sunday) from Kohima, Nagaland has been selected for screening at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The film is a collaborative venture between writer-director Theja Rio, Dan Pusa and Nancy Nisa Beso.

The movie features a talented cast of first-time actors, including Visalie Kuotsu, Kedo Kuotsu, Neithongunuo Sorhie, and Razouselhou Rio, and promises fresh and engaging performances. 

Ade (On A Sunday) has a narrative set in 2002 and follows the adventures of eight-year-old Ade and his older friend Abu, who skip Sunday school for a day of adventures. The day gradually leads them to have a brush with the complexities of adulthood. 

The short film has seen a multi-national effort with Natdanai Ham Naksuwan (Thailand) handling the cinematography, Yiwei Pu (China) doing the editing, besides composer Nir Perlman (Israel) and sound designer Liam Sharpe (United Kingdom) lending a hand.

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