I would like to use the esteemed columns of your daily to express my views regarding the demand of granting Scheduled Tribe status to the Meities of Manipur. The Meties are one of the most ancient population groups of northeastern India spread over a large tract in the Imphal Valley besides smaller pockets of Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya. Besides being the single largest group of Manipur their language is considered as official language in Manipur and is accepted by different communities of the state as lingua franca. The demand for scheduling as a tribe by the Meities and its opposition by sections of the Schedule Tribes organisation of the state which has caused uproar in the print as well as electronic media is a matter having serious future outcome. This has already fermented mistrust and public outcry of altercations between the organisers placing the demand and the others opposing it.
Having closely observed similar demands in the state of Assam by six ethnic communities of the state and its pending resolution in the face of the opposition by the Tribal Sangha of Assam, I would like to advise the all concerned in the state of Manipur to move cautiously in this regard. A press statement was issued by the All Assam Tribal Sangha in the month of January opposing the demand. The first thing that the agitating Meities should do is to sit for a series of dialogue with the Schedule Tribe communities of the state for carrying their demand forward. The discussion should logically terminate in evolving a blueprint for reservation policy which should not harm the interest of the exiting Schedule Tribes of the state. Then only the demand should be placed at the appropriate level of the state government to be submitted to the concerned department of the union government with proper justification in the form of a dossier. Otherwise this demand of the Meities which can open up the road to declaring Manipur as a tribal state for protecting the rights of the indigenous population of the state would end up creating bitter conflict among different communities in the state.
Dr Dwipen Bezbaruah
Department of Anthropology, Gauhati University