Guwahati: In what has led to serious embarrassment for the Manipur government, it has been compelled to withdraw an administrative order barring district administrations and civil society organisations from opening shelters or providing food to refugees from Myanmar who may have crossed the border following the ongoing military action against the agitating civil society protesters against the coup.
The state home department, in an order signed by Mr Gyan Prakash on March 26, had stated that only medical attention could be provided in case of “grievous injuries” on “humanitarian considerations”. The notice was addressed to the deputy commissioners of the border districts –Chandel, Tengnoupal, Kamjong, Ukhrul and Churachandpur — adjoining the international border with Myanmar.
“People trying to enter or seek refuge should be politely turned away,” the order said. “Aadhaar enrollment should be stopped immediately and Aadhaar enrolment kits to be kept in safe custody,” it added.
This order was issued on March 26 — when large-scale violence by the security forces that led to the deaths of 114 protesters was reported in Myanmar. The same day, the Indian government decided to send representatives to attend a military parade organised by the coup leaders. The pro-democracy movement in Myanmar had then asked why “one of the greatest democracies in the world” sent a representative to “shake hands with the generals whose hands are soaked with our blood”.
Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, who is supporting the government-in-exile and has broken off with the military junta, has appealed to all border states in India to provide shelter to all those fleeing Myanmar while reminding them: “The two countries have a long history, let’s never forget that.”
The situation along the international border with Myanmar in Manipur and Mizoram still remains very fluid, amid reports that a large number of people are continuing to cross over into India for shelter.
The first Manipur government order was criticised by various quarters on the social media, including from former national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, who called the order “beyond shame”. In the wake of widespread criticism, the Manipur government on March 29 withdrew the earlier order. Issuing a fresh notification, the government said the “contents of the [earlier] letter have been misconstrued” and the “state government continues to provide all aid”.
India’s former ambassador to Myanmar, Gautam Mukhopadhyay, said that the earlier circular gave a “very wrong message” to the Myanmar people fighting for democracy. “The main concern seems to be to prevent a flood of refugees, but it is against sentiments, especially tribal sentiments, in the Northeast, which are in favour of victims of repression and conscientious objectors and sends a very wrong message to the Myanmar people who are fighting for freedom and democracy,” he said.
Mr Mukhopadhyay expressed relief that the Manipur government had realised its mistake and withdrawn the March 26 notice.
Though the earlier order has been withdrawn, a section of civil society leaders supporting the democratic movement in Myanmar pointed out that the border is still being heavily guarded by the Assam Rifles, making it difficult for refugees to cross over.
It is significant that the Mizoram government had also issued guidelines directing officials to provide shelter to those coming from Myanmar after the violence. However, guidelines were withdrawn after the intervention of the Union home ministry.