After student outfits in Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, an influential civil society group in Manipur is now checking the citizenship papers of people from Assam.

The Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System – which has spearheaded a campaign for the introduction of an inner line permit system in Manipur for several years now – claimed to have rounded up 12 undocumented migrants of Bengali Muslim origin in Imphal on Monday and handed them over to the police for “proper verification”. They alleged the 12 individuals had failed to furnish any documents to prove their Indian citizenship.

The inner line permit is an official document required by outsiders to travel to places declared “protected areas” and is aimed at protecting “indigenous cultures”. Originally introduced by the British in several parts of the North East, the system remains in place in some states in the region.

The Manipur joint committee’s actions come in the wake of the release of the final draft of Assam’s 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.

Citizenship check

In the days following the release of the draft, student groups in several tribal-dominated states in the North East initiated vigilante action against travellers from Assam. They said they feared a mass exodus of those left out of the draft to their states.

In Meghalaya, the Khasi Students Union set up checkpoints along the border with Assam on August 1 to monitor travellers and claimed to have pushed back around 1,500 undocumented migrants. The student body has since called off its drive, but the anti-infiltration unit of the police still checks travellers to Meghalaya at various places along the border with Assam – an exercise the state administration calls “routine”.

In mid-August, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union launched “Operation Clean Drive” to evict people residing in the state without valid inner line permits.

Similarly, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl, a student body in Mizoram, claims to have pushed more than 400 people without citizenship documents back into Assam.

The Khasi Students Union set up checkpoints along Meghalaya's border with Assam to monitor travellers from the neighbouring state.

‘They are coming without any documents’

The Manipur joint committee provided a similar rationale for its actions. “They are not there in the NRC [National Register of Citizens],” Arjun Telheiba, an advisor to the committee, said of the 12 individuals they had handed over to the police. “They are coming to our state without any documents.”

It could not be verified if the 12 persons were indeed from Assam and missing from the final draft of its National Register of Citizens. The superintendent of Imphal West, where the incident took place, was not available for comment.

YK Dhiren, a member of the committee, said the 12 were daily-wage labourers working at a railway construction site in the state’s Noney district. “We picked them up from the bus station in Imphal; they were headed to Noney,” he said. “We handed them over to the police because they could not provide any documents.”

Telheiba said the committee was simply checking for “migrants” and that it was for the police to verify if they are foreigners. He added that there was no immediate plan to launch a large-scale checking drive.

Days before the release of the final draft of Assam’s National Register of Citizens, Manipur police chief LM Khaute had told that security had been stepped up in border areas, particularly in Jiribam district, to prevent the entry of those who fail to make it to the list.

Also in July, the Manipur Assembly had passed The People’s Protection Bill to introduce an inner line permit-like system in the state.