With reference to the letter “Demand for granting ST status to Meiteis” by Dr. Dwipen Bezbaruah dated 3 March 2018, I would like to express my gratitude for the concerns he had expressed. He has mentioned the need to evolve a blue-print that this Demand should not harm the interest of the existing STs in the State.
Reservation policies within Manipur: To the best of best of my knowledge, the organizations (demanding ST Status) have repeatedly made it clear that the existing reservation policies in the State will not be affected. Like in Nagaland, a quota within quota, where four tribes are treated as General Category within Nagaland. Thus, within Manipur, there is no change of the status quo.
Competition at All India Level: The population of STs of Manipur to that at all India is in the ratio of about 1:125, which means our STs are already competing with 125 other STs. With Meiteis, this may increase to 126. This would hardly be a game changer situation for anybody. If this is the ground of opposition, our STs should also oppose ST status for Ahoms, Kochs etc. whose population is greater than the Meiteis.
Apprehension regarding Land: It is also expressed that Meiteis are demanding ST status to grab land. This may be unfounded.
First, there are bigger tribes like the Thadous, Thangkhuls etc. & much smaller tribes like Koireng, Thangal etc in Manipur. Grabbing of land by bigger tribes has not occurred and will not happen with Meiteis as STs. It is a presumptive ground to oppose the demand.
Secondly, with the decreasing Meitei population, they comprise about 50 % of the population. Assuming the Meiteis & existing STs are re-habitated randomly in every corner of the State, rest assured they can never be in majority and nor will the existing STs be, neither in the Hills districts nor in the Valley districts. What an ideal situation this would be.
Thirdly but most importantly, migration pattern strongly indicates that population moves to cities/towns rather than vice versa. Imphal is densely populated not only from the internal population growth but also migration from other districts, including that from the Hills. ST or no ST, it is unlikely that those who have made Imphal their home will migrate out to somewhere else; however pathetic the conditions of civil amenities are in this town.
Reason for the Demand: Experts have expressed that Meiteis are demanding ST status to be bracketed in the same categorization as other communities with no constitutional divide amongst any community. There are also records to prove that Meities, like the existing STs, were considered as tribes in British period, census after census.
Secondly, there is strong apprehension amongst the Meiteis that they have no constitutional safeguards and facilitation. With the upcoming train-lines and south-east Asia policies, the minuscule Meitei population feels threatened.
Thirdly, regarding jobs, any result of all India examination suffices to comprehend where the Meiteis stand. The Meiteis feel they deserve the same playing field as given to a comparable community.
Way forward: Mr. Bezbaruah rightly advised for discussion & dialogue. Those opposing ST need to clearly express how they feel threaten and how much the Meiteis can lean forward in mitigating such apprehension. Those demanding ST status need to voice the present situation in which the Meiteis are now and the threats they feel and the measures they have taken to safeguard the interest of the existing STs.
Discussion and dialogue is after all better than confrontation. In a conducive situation, both parties can come to an amicable solution.
Given the background the Meiteis were in the past, there nothing much in this demand that plays a spoil card to any other community.
ST Singh, Imhal