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Why Meghalaya’s non-tribals think new visitor permit rule is ‘organised’ way to dispel them

Meghalaya govt has brought in an ordinance amending a 2016 Act making it mandatory for visitors to register before entering the state.

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New Delhi: A trip to Meghalaya will soon require a little more preparation than just making a travel plan and booking tickets and hotel accommodation. According to a new rule, visitors will now have to register with the Meghalaya government prior to setting foot in the scenic hill state.

Much like the inner line permit (ILP), which is operational in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram, visitors to Meghalaya will have to inform the government if they wish to stay beyond 24 hours in the state.

To enforce the change, the National People’s Party-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government Friday brought in an ordinance to amend the Meghalaya Residents, Safety and Security Act, 2016 (MRSSA). The cabinet insisted it was “in the interest of the government and people of Meghalaya”.

Many non-tribals in this predominantly tribal state, however, believe the new law is just another way of discouraging them from being here. The awareness of being a non-Khasi, in a state that has seen attacks on Bengalis, Nepalis and Biharis, is still acutely felt by its non-tribal permanent residents.

While the first phase of the anti-foreigner agitation was still on in neighbouring Assam in 1979, tribals in Meghalaya, led by the powerful Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), had attacked domicile Bengalis, resenting their dominance in jobs and businesses. Nearly 20,000 Bengalis were displaced from the state in 1979. In 1987 again, they targeted both Nepalis and Biharis in the state.


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Rule doesn’t apply to permanent residents

The MRSSA, which has now been amended, had been introduced by the previous Congress-led government.

The new rule, however, does not apply to Meghalaya’s permanent residents staying outside the state, and visiting central and state government employees.

Coming only two months after the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, the ordinance is also seen as a long-standing objective of tribals to check influx of illegal immigrants into Meghalaya.

Talking to ThePrint, state Home Minister James Sangma said, “There has been unease among the public regarding the illegal influx and a demand was raised for a system such as the ILP. We wanted to ensure these concerns were addressed and hence have amended the earlier Act.”

The Conrad Sangma-led government has, however, been critical of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Demands for an ILP have been raised for several decades now by the KSU and a number of other tribal bodies.

“Even though the MRSSA Act came into force in 2016, it wasn’t implemented in its true spirit till recently,” Donald V. Thabah, general secretary of the KSU central executive council, told ThePrint. “We have been demanding an ILP in Meghalaya for a long time. We are not against any amendment to the MRSSA Act but if any changes are made to protect the rights of tribals, these should be enforced immediately.”

Ruben, another KSU member, said, “The ordinance is to tackle influx into the state. There would be no restrictions on Indian citizens. This is just to keep a record of people entering Meghalaya.”

Patricia Mukhim, editor of Shillong Times, told ThePrint that the government was under pressure from local groups. “The ordinance came about since everybody is in a panic,” she said. “The government is under pressure too from various local bodies to curb illegal influx in Meghalaya.”


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Outsider-native clash’

The fight for land, identity and space in this tiny state has been ongoing. Only last year, a minor tiff between a Sikh woman and a Khasi bus driver had escalated into violence. A curfew had to be imposed in Shillong for several hours to prevent further trouble.

Poet and novelist Anjum Hasan from Shillong puts in succinctly in her poem Small Town on what it means to be a dhkar (outsider) in Meghalaya: “When a man is killed in the afternoon/knifed and left to die with his face down in a drain.”

“The anxiety of being a dhkar is still felt strongly. There is no problem with the ordinance but with the bodies under whose insistence it has been brought in — such as the KSU and the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC),” said a non-tribal Bengali journalist, who was born and brought up in Shillong. “It is being used by them to prevent the entry of outsiders. KSU, for example, has a say in almost everything. There has always been fear among non-tribals in the state.”

An IT professional, born and educated in the Meghalaya capital, said, “Angst against non-tribals has never lessened, especially against the Bengalis. Those who could afford to leave the state did so at the earliest.

“It’s not a good memory to revisit your childhood in Shillong when you are a non-tribal. With the ordinance, the government now is only trying to force the non-tribals out in a more organised fashion.”

The KHADC had, last week, evicted non-tribal hawkers from several areas of the state. It carried out the move after issuing a public notice on 4 October stating that the United-Khasi Jaintia Hills (Trading by Non-Tribals) Regulation, 1954, prohibits non-tribals from carrying out any trade or business without a valid license issued by the KHADC.

In yet another recent incident recently, a KSU district president had assaulted two police officers, including an Assamese personnel, inside the Umiam Police Station under Ri Bhoi District of Meghalaya.


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5 COMMENTS

  1. Attacks against non-tribals ( a term used to describe people from outside the North East) as the writer correctly points out have been going on in Shillong since 1979. This is despite the fact that once Meghalaya became a separate state in 1972, they introduced 85% reservation in jobs, education for tribals. There is almost 100% reservation on land. Khasis are exempted from paying Income Tax or any other kind of taxes. But Central government provides huge financial subsidies to that state. Meghalaya is a massive ECONOMIC SINK HOLE. They barely make any contribution to India’s GDP and yet the massive investment that the Center has to make in Meghalaya bleeds the rest of the country dry.

  2. By the way theres no attacks on bengalis Nepalis and Other non tribals… it’s a retaliation….all the messed up shit in shillong was not caused by the tribals. You don’t know the people there so don’t write about something which you don’t know…

  3. We dont want meghalaya to be the next tripura…. Hope this answer all your question. We are as much indian as every indian in india we are as patriotic as every indian but before that we are khasis and we love our way of life . We must protect our tradition and identity without hurting the sentiment of others ,this act Mrssa is not only for the protection of the khasis but also for the safety and security of our fellow indians. Kudos to the govt of meghalaya

  4. Im not an elite that I’ll b able to debate much on this. But just as apart of the general population who visits Arunachal Pradesh often. I would like to let you know that even I as a tribal from Meghalaya myself have to go through the ILP form filling procedure each time i visit my sister in Arunachal. I dnt understand why this rather simple check into influx is creating such uneasiness.

    Lastly, i wrote this so any of us feeling upset about the new rule implementation in Meghalaya wont feel alienated as they come to know even us as a tribal have to go through the same ILP requirements and procedures as any Indian going into other states having such rules. Breathe…

  5. The Dilemma of (non resident) Indians

    A close friend of mine has expressed his anger as a reaction to the proposed Ordinance on registration at the Meghalaya border for all tourists staying more than 24 hours and who is not a permanent resident of Shillong.

    His reaction I felt is genuinely justified. Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya which is one of the States in India .How can the State govt. restrict another Indian tourists or residents of another states from entering the state without so called valid documents of permission or registration.

    As if on the borders of Meghalaya, suddenly the status of Indian is changed to that of foreigners who are required to register in the foreign registration Office of the govt of India.
    This is ridiculous and severely anti Indian and anti Constitutional.

    In the name of exemption the Ordinance it appears, provided that employees of the Central and State govts. are exempted from the application of the provisions of the said Ordinance. But that does not take away the harassment and humiliation of the employees to show at the time of entry his valid documents as Central or State Govt. employees.

    The black ordinance does not elaborate whether a person visiting his or her relative who may be a permanent resident of Meghalaya, will also have to go through the mental harassment and physical whisking. There are many many families who have marriages done on inter-caste, inter-caste ties and inter-state social mingle. They will find themselves on one morning ,unwanted.

    There will be sheer chaos,outcry and court cases against this heinously created Ordinance which needs to be opposed and public opinion caused for awareness of human rights and constitutional rights as well.

    I wonder what would be repercussions on the tourist businesses in the state which is perhaps thriving in the inflow of tourists from the rest of India.

    This is such a bad thinking on the part of politicians without realising that such ordinances would put the indigenous tribes in jeopardy regarding their visit or movements or stay in the remaining parts of India.

    The north east is geographically connected through the chicken neck in the North Bengal and surrounded by hostile China and not to speak of Bangladesh which country is a sore in the voice of the North East ,less said is better.

    In the above scenario of geo political strategies,the NE States are not only integral part of the country but will do well to strengthen it’s socio political demographic map not by remaining isolated and marooned by its own political interests and narrow ethnic vision.

    The indigenous tribes are well protected and subsidized by Constitutional provisions already. Besides, after the statehood the state govt. have enacted numerous laws and legal bindings safeguarding the local tribes from the exploitation and deprivation from the non tribals in businesses, employment and similar opportunities. So why again new rule or law supposedly against illegal influx into the state?? So where is the black hole of fear?? Or it is justified??

    The political dispensation should show maturity and statesmanship by making all efforts for assimilation, integration and unity. Till the corrective measures are initiated, the dilemma will stress across the country . Time to wake up is now ,clock is ticking.

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