Nagaland’s list for indigenous people, explained

Following in the footsteps of Assam, the Nagaland government has decided to prepare a register of all the indigenous inhabitants of the state, a notification from the Home Commissioner on Saturday said.

The exercise to prepare the Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN) will start from July 10. Touted as a variant of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is currently being updated in Assam, survey for the RIIN will be completed within 60 days, and provisional lists will be published on September 11.

A final list will be prepared by December 10.

Why is this needed?

According to Home Commissioner R Ramakrishnan, the RIIN seeks to check fake indigenous inhabitant certificates (IICs) and prevent them from being issued to illegal immigrants and other ineligible persons.

Once the process is complete, i.e., all genuine indigenous inhabitants are issued barcoded and numbered certificates and RIIN is notified, all existing IICs issued by any authority will become invalid, a Nagaland government official told PTI.

Fresh ones will be issued only to those whose names figure on the new RIIN.

The counting process

The list will be prepared on the basis of an extensive survey to formulate a village-wise and ward-wise list of indigenous inhabitants, based on official records, under the supervision of district administration.

The government has instructed district deputy commissioners to constitute teams that will conduct the exercise, and inform villages and tribal councils. Information about the teams should also be made public and communicated to authorities concerned at the earliest. This includes village council chairman, VDB secretary, ward authorities, tribal hohos, church authorities, NGOs as well as the general public.

The survey teams will visit each home and make a list of indigenous inhabitants actually living there. Each family member will be listed against the village of his/her original residence; the names of family members living elsewhere will also be noted.

Aadhaar numbers will be recorded wherever available. But it won’t come as a surprise if the Aadhaar database is accessed to record those excluded from the provisional lists, just as the Assam government harnessed the Unique Identification Authority of India to create biometric profiles of 40 lakh individuals left out of the final NRC draft “to keep a tab on foreigners and debar them from enrolling for Aadhaar in other states”.

Claims and objections

The provisional lists prepared by the teams will be published in the villages and wards as well as on the website of the district and the state government on September 11. It will be authenticated by village and ward authorities under the district administration’s supervision.

Claims and objections can be filed for a period of 30 days starting September 11 till October 10. Anyone who thinks their name has been missed out but belongs on the RIIN can submit a claim, while those who think someone has been wrongly included in the list can file an objection.

The officials will adjudicate on claims and objections based on official records and evidence produced. Each indigenous inhabitant will be given a unique ID and the list of indigenous inhabitants finalised for publication on or before December 10.

The notification has stressed upon a complete ban on the issuance of fresh indigenous inhabitant certificates, except for newborns who will be issued said certificate and their names updated in the RIIN.

In case there is anyone who is left out of the RIIN, they will need to file an application before the home commissioner, who will get the matter verified and take necessary action for updating the RIIN, if needed. Deputy commissioners or any official found to generate IICs in violation of the guidelines will attract disciplinary action.

The RIIN database would be updated with the latest photographs and other details every five years.

Why this matters

In Assam, the process to identify and expel illegal immigrants is currently underway with a major update to the NRC, which was first prepared in 1951.

Nagaland, which was still a part of Assam and only became a separate state in 1962, has also witnessed a voluminous influx of migrants, especially from Bangladesh, over the subsequent decades. The matter of illegal and undocumented immigration has been a pressing one for nearly all north-eastern states. But Nagaland is now doubly wary of the fact that the stringent NRC process will result in a spillover of people whose names don’t feature on the Assam list.

With this in mind, the state government’s detailed plan was affixed on Wednesday.

In case of Assam’s NRC, only those people who were included in the 1951 NRC or were part of subsequent voter lists till March 1971 and their direct descendants are being included in the soon-to-be-published list. The final draft of the NRC released in July last year had excluded 40 lakh of the total 3.23 crore applicants, inciting great controversy for being biased against certain communities.

Another 1 lakh names were excluded this month after inaccuracies were found in their records. The final list, which is being monitored by the Supreme Court, will be published on July 31 this year.

The controversy in northeastern states over identity and security is rife, with frequent violence and outcry over the Citizenship Amendment Bill that grants all but Muslim migrants natural citizenship, the granting of special PRC status to six Arunachal tribes, who have long sought the recognition as residents of the state, and atrocities committed in the name of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and border tensions.

Last week, AFSPA was extended in conflict-torn Nagaland border that has been plagued with illegal immigration and smuggling. According to NSSO’s recently released labour survey, Nagaland has also recorded the highest unemployment rate in the country. Meanwhile, an Observer Research Foundation survey reveals that the state has the poorest children’s and maternal healthcare indicators.

The RIIN announcement comes a few days after reports emerged that Nagaland would get a separate official flag. Under the final accord that the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) will likely sign soon, Naga people will also get a separate passport.

Critics, however, claim that this is a smokescreen for the impending RIIN survey and a means to placate the predominantly indigenous population of Nagaland, which now faces an uphill battle to retain their citizenship in a nation that already ignores the region and its peoples’ issues.

Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius

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