Revival of RIIN and its implications in Nagaland

Mumeninaz Zaman

The Nagaland Government has been in consultation with various stakeholders as it is planning to revive the Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN), a register similar to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that was initiated in Assam, with an objective to prevent outsiders from obtaining fake indigenous certificates for seeking jobs and benefits of government schemes. Various organisations have raised their concern to protect the rights of indigenous people of Nagaland and demanded the implementation of the RIIN with datelines. However, the Naga Hohos has cautioned the Government in the exercise of the same fearing exclusion of Nagas who have come from beyond the boundaries of Nagaland.

Revival of RIIN

A consultative meeting of the Nagaland government with tribal bodies and civil societies of the state on April 16 decided to form a Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) to work out modalities to achieve the objective of the RIIN.

The state government in June 2019 had launched the RIIN exercise to streamline the system of issuance of indigenous inhabitant certificates (IIC). It would also help maintain a record of indigenous inhabitants, who settled in Nagaland before December 1, 1963, the day it became a full-fledged state, the Nagaland government had said.

The Consultative meeting with Civil Society Organisations and Tribal Hohos on RIIN was held at the Chief Minister’s Residential Complex.

What is RIIN?

In line with the NRC, which documents all the legal citizens of India so that the illegal immigrants can be identified and deported from Assam, the Nagaland Government initiated the preparation of a register of all the indigenous inhabitants of the state in 2019, with an objective to prevent outsiders from obtaining fake indigenous certificates for seeking jobs and benefits of government schemes.

The RIIN was constituted following the demand for the extension of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) in Dimapur. The step was taken to exempt the entire district from the purview of the then Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). Dimapur was the only place in Nagaland which was not under the ILP system because the district is a commercial hub and has a mixed population. Nevertheless, the entire district of Dimapur was brought under the ILP in December 2019.

Nagaland had earlier constituted a committee on Inner Line Permit (ILP) which recommended the development of a master list known as RIIN.

Accordingly, the State government had formed a three-member committee, headed by retired IAS officer Banuo Z. Jamir in 2019 for studying, examining, and recommending the implementation of RIIN. The committee was tasked to recommend (i) modalities of creating RIIN (ii) eligibility criteria to be an indigenous inhabitant, (iii) documents to be acceptable as proof for being an indigenous inhabitant, (iv) manner in which the exercise is to be carried out and (v) any other issue relating to implementation of the RIIN.

As per the norms, the main purpose of preparing RIIN is to identify the citizens who settled in Nagaland prior to December 1, 1963. Once the process is completed, persons whose names are figured in the RIIN would be issued indigenous inhabitant certificates and will also prevent the issuance of the certificates to ineligible persons.

Demand for RIIN raised in Nagaland

Earlier in March this year, various organisations have raised their concern to protect the rights of indigenous people of Nagaland and demanded the implementation of the RIIN with datelines.

Irked over the delay in implementation of the recommendations of the Banuo Z Jamir Commission on RIIN, which was reportedly submitted to the government in October 2020, the Joint Committee for Prevention of Illegal Immigrants (JCPI) held several rallies in various districts of the state. It has further urged Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio to pass a legislation to make RIIN an Act and fix December 1, 1963, as the cut-off date. The proposal was supported by various organisations.

Raising concern over the illegal influx of immigrants in other parts of the Northeast, the tribal communities feared that the indigenous people would be reduced to a minority in their own state.

Moreover, to protect the rights of the indigenous people, the organisations demanded the implementation of both the RIIN and ILP. While asserting that Nagaland is a land of unique culture and history, the organisations maintained that it is of utmost importance for the implementation of the same. They also demand a proper mechanism and documentation of the ILP for the non-Nagas.

During the consultative meeting of April 16, CM Neiphiu Rio while speaking on the ILP asserted that it should be introduced in Dimapur district after considering the difficulties and problems of the district as it is a metropolitan city. In this regard, he mooted the idea of formulating a law which protects not only the Nagas but also the citizens of other states. “We cannot harass the citizens of any other Indian while working on the system of RIIN or implementing the Act”, he clearly stated.

Fear of exclusion

As the government steps up its measures to prepare the RIIN, an apex body of the Naga tribes, known as Naga Hoho has cautioned the Government in the exercise of the RIIN fearing exclusion of Nagas who have come from beyond the boundaries of Nagaland.

The Nagas are not a single tribe, but an ethnic community that comprises several tribes who live in the state of Nagaland and its neighbourhood including the Indian states of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and along the international boundary Myanmar who have a legitimate claim to their ancestral homeland.

In a caveat to the State Government, the Naga Hoho was of the view that the implementation of the RIIN should be “handled with utmost care as it could have unforeseen and dangerous implications for the Nagas as a people.”

The Naga Hoho said it was apprehensive of “dreadful consequences” if the “advocates of RIIN” implement the identification process with December 1, 1963 – the day Nagaland attained statehood – as the cut-off date for determining the “permanent residents” of the State. This date is likely to exclude Nagas who have come from beyond the boundaries of Nagaland.

“There are thousands of Nagas who have bought lands, built houses and settled down in Nagaland for several decades. In the absence of records such as land pattas, house taxes paid or enrolment in electoral rolls prior to December 1, 1963, many procedural anomalies will crop up even within the so-called pure Nagas of Nagaland,” the apex body said.

The Naga Hoho also feared that the non-indigenous Nagas could be treated as “illegal immigrants” and their lands and property confiscated. “The idea of the Nagas as a people to live together and their aspiration to live with self-determination will be irreparably damaged,” it said.

While it considered the extension of the ILP in Dimapur as a genuine cause, but the entangling of ILP and RIIN as synonymous seems to be a ‘gambit’ to create a division in the Nagas’ aspiration for integration of Naga ancestral homeland, the Hoho claimed.

Being a tensed region where the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 is routinely extended along with occasional border tensions with neighbouring states Nagaland must proceed cautiously in proceeding forward with RIIM. Moreover, the NRC exercise of Assam that has witnessed social and political contours now remains in limbo without any concrete solution. Hence, taking heed from NRC, Nagaland needs to exercise constraint in identifying the indigenous people of the state. Moreover, being a sensitive issue, the Nagaland Government needs to move forward in consultation with all the stakeholders of the state to decide on the appropriate modalities and structures to achieve the RIIN’s objective.

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