Presentation by Achan Mungleng
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The Identity project emerged as a result of our dissatisfaction at the nature of the debate that was emerging on the area of digital governance in India.
Over the past three years we have conducted numerous field visits in seven Indian states.These visits include numerous video-conversations, some short and others very long, with a diverse number of those who were involved with this entire process of participating in the emergence of a digital ecosystem of governance. These are interviews with people being enrolled into the Aadhaar programme, with district-level Panchayat and other officials, with numerous State government bureaucrats, with private enrollment representatives, representatives of various governmental services, with operators and other members of this digital workforce. Conversations are often long, spontaneous and deliberately unstructured: and the focus is mainly on a vérité style using amateur video.
Some key issues that we shortlisted for detailed inquiry were issues of migrants, both domestic and across international borders, homelessness in cities, and the financially excluded. Each of these areas was discussed in considerable detail at major public consultations held in Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore, in partnership with the CSDS, the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, and the Urban Research and Policy Programme Initiative of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. All videos of all presentations made at these events are also available here.
CSCS also has an extensive text archives of material on the field as a whole, available on http://eprints.cscsarchives.org
Achan Mungleng, Coordinator of South Asian Euro Burma Office, and well known human rights activist, speaks of the identity issues that face people in the Manipur region that sees, on the one side a Burmese state and on the other, various kinds of legal and political issues on the Indian side. Given that the border cuts right through neighbourhoods and even people's homes, she speculates on both the expectations people there could have with the Aadhaar card and their possible apprehensions.
....... This might not be a good idea especially in terms of the refugee population and also for people like us from the Northeast where are our whole lives revolve around our movements and struggles. I really didn’t go in depth into the issue until I met Shahana (Basavapatna). We discussed the issue and she asked me weather I would like to come.
I never thought about it because I was supposed to be on leave from my office work for the past two months. I will go back to Imphal rather than going back to Delhi. I wanted to bring in the point of how difficult it has been for me to go back to the Northeast and live there for the past two months after having stayed in Delhi for 15 years and suddenly getting used to the facilities out there and suddenly coming back to Delhi.
I didn’t respond to the email that was sent out. I really did not know what the discussion was all about to be very honest. It’s only when I came here yesterday and attended the inaugural that I came to realise some of the discussions that we were talking about. This morning, I managed to put down some thoughts that came to me really in terms of the issues that we have at the border. I wanted to share on my thoughts on this and I hope the experts here will help me in putting together meaning to some of the experiences to see how the impact of the UID will be at the border areas.
When the UID came the first thing that I have to say is in terms of the refugee population and also the people in the Northeast. The first that came to my mind is that the Burmese refugees will never agree to the whole concept of UID. They have the very strong concept of nationality; they are too much into the whole idea of being Burmese. They don’t want anything to do with being an Indian. So the whole question of Indian citizenship is out of question.
So for them to have a document, especially in the context of the Burmese refugees living in Delhi is totally out of the question. They would not like to be involved in any part of it unless the UNHCR fool them on the pretext of something else. Like if you have this kind of card you will have easy access to residency permits for which they have to go to the FRO office every six months for renewal.
The refugee population has lot of problems getting the renewal because they have to bribe the police they have to bribe the person who comes to get information. This is one serious problem that the refugee population is facing in Delhi. In case the intelligentsia fools them saying that if they have this kind of card you will have access to these things, I am sure they may be convinced. Otherwise if you really come to the issue of identity I don’t think that they are going to compromise at all. Being a Burmese and having documents from India.
I think this may be relatively different if you look at the refugee population in Mizoram. In Mizoram 10% of the total population are actually Burmese refugees. This is a huge population, more than hundred thousand. So many of them - if I may divert a little bit here - have been used by different political parties as a vote bank, whether it’s the Congress or the MNF; they use it for different purpose to get votes. They are the Burmese refugees otherwise known as the Chakmas.
Some of them have voter ID cards and some of them have bank accounts. Somehow they have managed to get such documents. And I think 10% of the population after having stayed in Mizoram for very long time perhaps they would like to have more documents. In that way the percentage of Burmese refugees living in Delhi and Mizoram will differ, depending on the situation. So I think that this is something that the community might respond in that context.
We all know that India borders with Burma. The states of Arunachal, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram share a 1643km long border. I asked some of my Chin friends about what was happening in Mizoram. They say that they have already submitted the information. They have already filled up the forms for the UID. But they actually have provided information about which village or town they belong to in Burma. Which means that they have recorded that these persons have come from Burma.
Now I think that if we look at the kind of situation that we have seen in Mizoram, if we go back a little bit further, to 2003. There was a massive crack down on the Chin refugees or Burmese refugees living in Mizoram. Because a young Mizo girl was raped by men from Burma. There was a massive crackdown that followed. Sahana knows about this incident.
Many of our Mizo friends, they look at Chin people in a different context. They think that these are the people who bring in drugs, who bring in all those kinds of what you call it, social evils and elements.
They also think that their population is more than 10%. Many of the Chin people live in villages where they don’t go and get themselves registered with anyone. It’s a porous border so they can just cross. If you look at the Chine state (Burma), I mean apart from the refugees living in the country because of the situation there. I think we cannot deny the fact that many of them left the Chin state because of poverty.
The state is so poor that it is not possible for them to live there even if they haven’t face persecution from the military directly. But the administration is such out there that there is absolutely nothing for them to stay on in the Chin state. So they have to cross the border and live in Mizoram. Many of them will go and tend to the paddy fields of the Mizo families. They don’t need to go and register themselves with anyone.
We can assume that their percentage could be even more and many of them would not like their identity to be known. The person that I spoke to said that they came to get information from us saying that it is mandatory for everyone living in Mizoram.
It doesn’t matter whether I am from Burma or whether I am from Mizoram. On the other hand in a state like Mizoram where the ethnic identity is looked in two ways unlike in the Manipur state. In Manipur, if you are not from the plains and from the hills the plains people really don’t care whether you are a Naga or a Kuki. The Nagas on the other hand will not even bother whether you are a Kuki from Burma or a Kuki from Mizoram because if you are a Kuki you are a Kuki! It doesn’t matter. Same goes for the Kuki, if you are not a Meitei then you are a Naga it doesn’t matter if you are a Naga from Burma or India.
In that sense at least there is a space for people. They can move around in Manipur state. That’s not the situation in Mizoram. I still remember a conversation. I visited Aizawl with a Chin friend and we were standing on the third floor. She asked me to look at women walking and I looked at her. She was far away and I could not see her face.
But just by looking at her my friend said that this girl is a Chin. I asked her how she say that because her face was not visible. She said look at the way she is walking. So this is because in Mizoram if you are not a Mizo then you are a chine and if you are not a chin you are Mizo.
So the distinction is so clear that such a system will create more problems for our Chin friends living in Mizoram. I really don’t know how we are going to put it together but I am just sharing my thoughts so that the experts can make things more meaningful.
If you look at the whole Northeast region. If you were to look at Arunachal, we see that the Sengopo that is recognised as a Scheduled Tribe in Arunachal is Kaching in Burma which is also Zengpo in China. So these groups are divided between 3 countries. So the Mannawo festival that is celebrated by the Kaching is celebrated in Arunachal by the Sengpos.
We know them as Singpos but they are Kaching in Burma. In that sense this is the kind of relationships the communities have because of the border. When the border was created it divided not only the land, the people and homes, but even houses. For e.g. if we go back to Nagaland we all know what is their Nungwa or village. The house of the chiefs he sleeps is in India but he eats in Burma because the border divides his house into two.
So then this is the way the border is being created in the Northeast. In Mizoram we look at it and we put it in one category as being Chin and Mizo. But if we look further and deep into it we see that they have a group of people which they identify themselves as being Laie or Mara. In Mizo we have the Laie autonomous region, but both the Laies and the Mara people are on both side of the borders in Mizoram as well as Burma. Even in Manipur we have Kukis living on both sides of the border. In Sadning region in Burma and also in various areas in many parts of Manipur we have the Zo, which is there in Tedimenthonzang area of Chin state which is also there in Churachandpur in Manipur.
So it’s a little difficult for us to differentiate where is it going, how is it going when we think in terms of the border. And we also have these agreements. I don’t know whether it really works, but we have an understanding that we can cross the border and move around certain kilometres on both sides of the border.
I myself have actually travelled a little bit and across the border and stayed overnight illegally in some of the areas. But we were able to do it because the people who live on the other side of the borders are relatives of the persons who live on this side of the border. So we have to take some written documents from maybe the village chief or the chairperson that the person who is coming is a relative. It’s acceptable, which means that we in fact live across the border and that it is easy for us to move around.
Even in Arunachal the Tangsta, the community that we talk about, they cross the border and come to Arunachal area for marketing goods, medical treatment and to buy basic needs. If you look at Burma, the western part of Burma is one of the least developed areas and it is very difficult to travel because it is mountainous. They don’t want to go to these areas. There is nothing in the western part of Burma. So the only way for them to have some access, to buy basic food or to access health and education is to cross the border on the Indian side i.e. Arunachal, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland.
I also observed that when I was in Tamu just a few weeks ago that children are coming to study in Moring because in Burma, English is taught as a subject but not really the medium for teaching.
So the parents want to send the children to an English school and the only way is to send them across to the border to Moring and they come to attend school every day. It’s not only once in a while movement but an everyday event of them cycling all the way from Tamu to come to Mori to come to study.
And then if we look at the border trade and we have people crossing the border. Of course unless you have permissions we cannot stay overnight in Tamu. You can go in the morning and come back in the evening. So in the border areas, how is UID going to impact this movement and how this will impact our relationship. It’s actually dividing the people.
What will happen if this kind of a system comes into place in our area? What will happen to our families who live across the border and do not have these documents?
Because for them to have access to health and education I don’t think it will be possible from them to go all the way to Mandalay or Yangon. Because that’s so far away compared to the kind of access that they can have in Aizwl or Imphal or Kohima or Dimapur.
Because these distances are much closer, and we share the same border and we are the same people. But if you have to go to Mandalay, Yangon or Naypiydaw then you are going to deal with the Burmese. And if we look at it and then we see that all the borders, the 1643 km that we are talking about are actually the ethnic areas where we have the Kachin, the Chin, the Nagas and the Kukis and of course the Godauns and Arakans.
For them to come to this side of the border is far more easy because many of the Chins can speak Mizo, many of the Nagas living across the border can communicate with us in our own dialects or Nagamese. And then it is also the same with the Kachin or also with the Tangsa.
Then for them to go to Mandalay and Yangon they have to speak in Burmese and deal with the same group of people whether in uniform or without uniforms, that has been for the past 50 years discriminating against them and their survival. It is going to be extremely difficult for them to go there and deal with them although it is a different country from us. I don’t know how UID will impact this relationship that we have established at the border areas and this is something for us to look at.
Apart from the issues relating to survival and livelihoods and medical facilitates, one of the interesting thing is also that we have our own tribal council or tribal meetings. It doesn’t matter whether you are from this side of the border or that side of the border. You have to come for the meetings. Then what happens when this system comes into place?
The situation in Burma is changing. Many people are hopeful that it is going to be for the better. When the new government was formed it encouraged all the Burmese people living across the border or those who sought refuge in other countries to come back.
But the whole question was majority of the people who flee are not Burmans they are ethnic people. So for them to come back will depend a lot on the kind of relationship the ethnic people have with the military government.
The government, the military or the non-military people are all Burmans. So then when you go back, what kind of a relationship, what kind of a conducive situation are they creating to bring the refugees back?
In Chin state if you look at the context of the Indo-Burma border they recently signed a ceasefire agreement but they haven’t started the peace talks yet.
I don’t think it will be possible for them to go back and cross the border till the time the peace talks are successful or till the time there is a genuine peaceful process.
I don’t think it will be possible. And so is the same with the Naga areas. For the first time we actually had the NSCN-K signing an agreement with the military government. So perhaps that is something for us to look at.
And the other thing is that the Kachin who had the ceasefire for a long time broke down and now it’s there is no ceasefire agreement. In this situation especially for us if you look at the border I don’t know how the Kachin or the Nagas or the Kukis will be able to cross the borders and live there.
When they go back they are going be going back to the ethnic areas and the kind of relationship that the ethnic people have with the central government is something for us to look at because they have been under repressive regimes for the past 50 years.
Just to share some of my conversations with our friends because I came from Imphal. When I was there I asked some of my friends about the UID. The only thing they talk about is Usha ( Ramanathan) coming and speaking in Manipur. That’s the only all the discussion they have had so far.
I don’t think they have had any follow up on the discussion on UID. Because everybody there that I talk to will refer to your discussion. I was quite surprised because I felt that this is a very important issue and for them not to look at it...
My observation would be that everybody is too engrossed with their own movement and struggles and they don't want to look beyond that. But i think that it is extremely important especially in the Manipur since I came from there. So I just wanted to share what I saw.
I asked some people and it seems to be very selective the way they have gathered information. Some villages they have started getting the card. In Imphal some of them have started getting this.
But it seems to be - either nobody will create a problem for you to get the information, or otherwise nbecause you know that thjis particular region or this particular locality quite a lot of people are a member of that particular group, you. And therefore you want to start doing it from there. So people are so confused about which pocket they have started.
When they don’t know where it has started there is no consultation among them. Because it starts in one area people will then start talking about it. Now people are not even aware in which pocket it has started. What is being done? Also because I think that the MGNREGS has a lot to do with this because after coming back to Manipur after three years I found that the situation has changed a lot with the MGNREGS. Its ironical that we have used the Mahatma Gandhi’s name. He is supposed to be non-violent and peaceful. The impact of the scheme is such that the people are and villages are divided.
People are not looking eye to eye. We have so many instances where the villages, the chief and the other people are divided. They have actually had to be brought in different ways because people were beaten up in certain areas in relation to the MNREGS. But on the other has this scheme has also given them fast money, easy money. I mean in our context.
So what happened is that with this easy money life becomes easy. They becoming more lazy. If we can get this amount of money through the scheme then why work for 8 hours just to get Rs.200.
So these also have created a space for them to accept UID more easily because they felt that they will get more benefits. This is also something that people who are doing this project are telling the people that if you have this kind of card you will get more benefits.
But on the other hand some of you must be already be aware that in one of the poster that was put up in Imphal. There was this military guy saying that 'Sir do you have your ID card'? Because if anyone of you are going to Ukhrul then you are going to be checked in two areas at least. So you have to show your identity and have to prove that you are from here and tell them where you are travelling.
So this advertisement had ' Sir do you have your UID card? Then you may go'. What happens if you don’t have your UID card. And then in a region where draconian laws exists. I think these UID cards are really going to categorise people and then put them into different boxes and I think it is going to lead to more and more militarization in conflict zones like the Northeast. I think this is something that we should look at.
And also whether we like it or not we really can’t put boxes on civil society groups and the army groups in different boxes, we are related. We are brothers or sisters or uncles.
We are related. What happens when some of us have UID and some of them don’t have UID? I think this is a concern especially in a region that has conflicts. Also where we have a porous border. And also where the borders have divided people and homes and we continue to have relationships in spite of having the border. How are these going to be impacted with this project? I want to hear from all of you also and thank you so much for your patience.