Since August 16, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl, Mizoram’s most influential student body, has been on a round-the-clock vigil at several places along the state’s border with Assam – on the lookout for undocumented migrants. It claims to have “pushed back” to Assam over 400 people without citizenship documents.

The vigil came in the wake of Assam publishing the final draft of its National Register of Citizens on July 30. The register, being updated for the first time since 1951, is meant to be a list of genuine Indian citizens in Assam, separating them from those defined as “illegal immigrants”. Over 40 lakh of the 3.29 crore people who had applied to be listed failed to find their names in the draft.

The Mizo Zirlai Pawl said it fears an exodus to Mizoram of people who did not find their names in the NRC. “We are asking for their NRC details,” said the student body’s general secretary Lalnunmawia Pautu. “We ask them for their application number and then check online if their names are in the NRC. If it is not there we ask them to go back.”

Mizoram’s Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl districts share a 64.6 km border with the South Assam districts of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj.

Pautu said they have set up several “check gates” at Bairbai, Vairengte and Saiphai, all in Kolasib. “We have for now shut down the gates at Saiphai, but checking at the other two places will go on till the end of the month,” he added.

He said they are checking travellers not only for their NRC application status but also Inner Line Permits, which outsiders require to visit places declared “protected areas”. Originally introduced by the British in parts of the North East and aimed at protecting “indigenous cultures”, the permit system still exists in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and most of Nagaland.

Vehicles from Assam are stopped at a checkpoint set up by the Mizo Zirlai Pawl in Kolasib. Photo by special arrangement
Vehicles from Assam are stopped at a checkpoint set up by the Mizo Zirlai Pawl in Kolasib. Photo by special arrangement

Unchecked vigilantism

The authorities appear reluctant to check the student group’s vigilantism. A senior official in Mizoram’s home department said several requests to the Mizo Zirlai Pawl to stop its activities have fallen on deaf ears. “I suppose there is lack of political will since it is being allowed to continue,” said the bureaucrat who did not want to be identified.

Asked why the student body has been allowed to put up checkpoints, a senior district official in Kolasib said there are “apprehensions that many infiltrators would settle in Mizoram because of the NRC”. “We have reached out to various NGOs, including MZP, to allay their apprehensions,” he added. “We have had a series of meetings, hopefully they will understand and it will stop soon.”

Pautu said the police have not tried to interfere in his group’s activities. Kolasib’s superintendent of police, Abhisek Dhania, was not available for comment.

A leader of the ruling Congress party said the government “does not want to provoke the powerful NGOs as there are going to be elections in next two-three months”. The state is scheduled to hold the next Assembly election later this year.

‘Pushing them back’

Mizoram is not the only North Eastern state where student bodies have participated in vigilante action against supposed undocumented migrants fleeing Assam after the release of the final NRC draft. In Meghalaya, the Khasi Students Union had set up checkpoints to monitor travellers and claimed to have pushed back around 1,500 undocumented migrants into Assam. The student body has since called off its drive, but the police’s anti-infiltration unit checks travellers to the state at various places along its border with Assam – an exercise the state administration calls “routine”.

The All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union had launched “Operation Clean Drive” to evict people residing in the state without valid Inner Line Permits after the NRC was released. The drive has been temporarily suspended, said Tatung Taga, the convener of the student union’s Inner Line Permit enforcing chapter. He, however, insisted the drive has nothing to do with Assam’s NRC and will resume soon.