The Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN) has caught the attention of mainstream media more on the lines of the exercise to be yet another version of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) being updated in neighbouring Assam. The fact is that RIIN and NRC stand in contrast to each other. While NRC deals with citizenry, RIIN is an exercise to identify the indigenous people of Nagaland; even if one gets excluded from the RIIN, the person shall be still a citizen of India, unlike NRC.
One must take into account that Nagaland has Inner Line Permit (ILP) and Article 371A in place from before to protect its people, land and resources, and culture. These provisions are far from perfect but it gives Nagaland’s people a sense of trust in the system, to an extent. In the face of decadal demography change in neighbouring states and rapid urbanisation and development, there is a growing sense of looking within to re-orient themselves, for safeguarding their interests and rights.
The threat as such is not merely an abstraction from speculation but rather an outcome of demography being exposed to gradual subjugation under process over the years. One can see such process in the recent case of ILP in Nagaland where it was challenged through Public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court by Ashwini Kumar Upadhya, a BJP leader. The Supreme Court, however, rejected the PIL stating that they were not inclined to entertain it.
The fear of becoming an outsider in their own lands is being reverberated in the minds of people by regularly referring to the situation in Tripura where tribals are facing a similar situation. On June 29, the government of Nagaland issued a notification on setting up the RIIN. The register is said to identify genuine indigenous inhabitants of Nagaland and withhold issuance of fake indigenous inhabitant’s certificates. Here, indigenous inhabitants include all the tribes and communities falling even outside the fold of Naga tribes as well, like Kuki, Kachari, Nepali, etc.
Currently, Nagaland comprises of 16 recognised tribes — Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Dimasa Kachari, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Kuki, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sumi, Yimchungrü and Zeliang. Of these, the Kachari and Kuki are non-Naga tribes. The cut-off date, December 1, 1963, is the day when Nagaland attained statehood. As it stands now, this date will serve as the base year for identifying indigenous status of people in Nagaland. The state government said that one of the reasons behind RIIN is to address cases of fake indigenous inhabitant certificates being used for seeking jobs and availing of access to government schemes. It aims to prepare a list of all indigenous inhabitants of Nagaland, after extensive survey by working closely at village and ward levels on the basis of official records, under the supervision of the district administration. The list is slated to complete within 60 days starting from July 10.
Since the notification was out, many civil societies from various quarters voiced their concerns and reservations on RIIN. To these, the Nagaland government responded that the guidelines for implementing an RIIN would be conducted by consultation with civil societies and tribal bodies. The state government made a statement, “The concerns and observations expressed by different sections is a welcome development, as such type of approach is the basis of any democratic society.” The statement also ensures that the interest and rights of all citizens will be protected.
This clarification came in the wake of statements from organisations like the Naga Hoho, the tribal apex body of Nagaland; the Naga Students’ Federation; the Naga Mother’s Association (NMA); NSCN-IM, etc, in which they expressed that the RIIN could have unintended consequences and asked for reconsiderations with proper consultation process.
The NMA stressed that a mechanism to protect the younger generation for their future must be in place but cautioned that the move for it must not overlook the significance of public discourse and consultations. They maintained that for any policy concerning indigenous people, the state must not override the democratic process of consultation which is one of the cores of the right of indigenous people. NSCN-IM has criticised the Nagaland government’s move to implement RIIN as a tactic to sow divide among the Nagas and compromise the rights of the Nagas, apart from its attempt in diluting the peace process which is said to be inching towards final settlement.
The Nagaland government held a consultative meeting on RIIN with all legislators and representatives of Naga tribal bodies for a consultative meeting on RIIN in Kohima on July 17. A unanimous resolution was agreed upon to support and extend cooperation for implementation of RIIN. However, it maintained that there must be consultations with all stakeholders until agreement is arrived upon the final modalities and guidelines in carrying out RIIN.
The Nagaland government in its bid to reach out to non-Naga tribes in Nagaland, came out with another consultative meeting on RIIN held in Dimapur on July 20. It invited four tribal bodies — Garo Tribal Council Nagaland, Kachari Tribal Council, Nagaland, Karbi Union, Nagaland and Kuki Inpi, Nagaland — to attend the meeting. However, all the four tribal bodies issued statements separately that they would not be attending the meeting citing that they were not invited for the July 17 consultative meeting, and all the important decisions were already being taken and made public.
The government went ahead with the second consultative meeting with various non Naga tribal bodies and non-tribal communities on July 20 in Dimapur, by assuring that the RIIN exercise is to check illegal immigrants and to protect the interest of permanent settlers in the state. Meanwhile, Zeliangrond Baudi-Nagaland (ZB-N)’s president CR Zeliang and secretary Aluibe Iheilung pointed out that they were not invited for the July 17 consultative meeting convened by the state government. They accused the government of playing divisive politics particularly towards the Zeliangrong people and also in diverting the ILP issue in Dimapur. They appealed that the government must implement RIIN only after proper modalities or guidelines are agreed upon.
On July 27, the Nagaland government came out with a notification on constituting a commission to frame the modalities of creating RIIN. The setting up of commission on RIIN happened after the state government organised two consultative meetings with various civil societies and bodies. The notification added that the commission would come out with modalities on determining eligibility criteria to be an indigenous inhabitant of Nagaland, identifying documents for proof as indigenous inhabitant of Nagaland, the way how RIIN will be implemented and any other matter related to RIIN. The commission has been given three months to come out with its report on RIIN.
These reactions from various quarters and responses from the state suggest that the exercise is going to be challenging and requires sensible handling so that the unity among Nagas, irrespective of their geographical locations, are not compromised. If RIIN got implemented, the communitarian factor tied with Naga society must be adhered to in enlisting the Naga people as per the guidelines of RIIN by giving authority to village chiefs to prepare a list from its village.
This exercise must not give inconvenience to Naga people in proving that they are indigenous people of Nagaland. For indigenous people other than the Naga tribes, in Nagaland, a proper modality must be arrived at to implement RIIN, by keeping them on board for consultation. In spite of all these, the larger question remains on how the RIIN may affect the Nagas from states like Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and even those from Myanmar, who have settled down in Nagaland over the years.
(Richard Kamei is a PhD candidate at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He can be reached at email@example.com. Views expressed are his own)