The press statement of the All Tribal Students Union of Manipur (ATSUM) that came out in the media on Oct 5, 2017 saying that “ it will fight to the end against the inclusion of the Meiteis in the ST list ” of the Indian Constitution, is stupid.
ATSUM’s reason for their stand is “The Meiteis have no criteria to be in the ST list”. They are also very worried that if the Meiteis are included in the ST list it would “bring more inequality in the State in all respects”.
Now, talking about the criteria for being a tribal – the fact that the social mores of the Meiteis such as the absence of respect or reverence for the leadership – political or otherwise which is so profound & natural within the Meitei community is an unmissable trait of any tribal community not only in India but in all the seven continents on the earth.
The myth and the reverence for natural objects such as stones, trees or a particular spot like a hilltop e.g Koubru, Khallong, Thangching or a water body e.g Poorook shoubi in the foothills of Nongmaiching hills etc., which the Meeteis, including the Meitei Hindus believe to be sacred, tell the stories of a tribal society.
Laiharaoba – the ceremony of genealogy for the Meiteis which is observed since time immemorial where the Maibee(s) – who in some way similar to the shaman of the Native Americans – take an essential part is a Meitei ritual that still connects man with the God who creates us even today. This Laiharaoba ritual is observed every year during a specific period of the year. During the ritual ceremony God will come among us and we can hear the voice of God through the mouth of the Maibee.
These are some of the important characters of a tribal community which are still found in the present day Meitei community, even though some among the Meitei Hindus do feel shy to admit it openly.
I believe the committee constituted by the Manipur government in this regard could have easily found these tribal characters of the Meiteis. Therefore the committee can unambiguously come to the conclusion that the Meeteis are no less tribal if not more, than any of the scheduled tribe groups of the northeast.
Regarding the fear of ATSUM that if Meeteis are included in the scheduled list it would “ bring more inequality in the state” is absurd. Because Meeteis’ asking for the ST status is to get a level playing field in the national context. Secondly, since Manipur becoming a part of India in 1949 the Meeteis, having a few lakhs population are competing in every field with the mainland Indians having an estimated population of 1.3 billion plus, without any protective gear. And lastly, Meeteis are not rightful citizens in their own home state. The Indian Constitution forbids the Meiteis to reside rightfully in ninety percent of the land areas of Manipur. On top of it, the remaining area where Meeteis can reside, that is the valley is flooded with unchecked influx of Bangladeshis, Nepalis and other non-indigenous migrants and threatened the indigenous population, particularly the Meiteis with extinction.
This is a very serious injustice done to the Meiteis by the Indian Constitution and the government of India. Any community would not tolerate such an injustice done to them. Come what may, the Meeteis should be fighting for their survival. The Meiteis’ asking the government of India to include them rightly, in the scheduled list is because it is the most effective means to protect themselves from complete annihilation in the face of unchecked and unhindered influx of migrants. Anybody including ATSUM should be doing the same if they are placed in the same position.
Therefore it would be in the best interests of all of us not to create any room for animosity among our people in the matter of the very survival of the Meiteis. Let there be no doubt in everyone’s mind that the Meeteis would take any move from any quarter that would help or assist or cause to threaten its existence lying down. We all know, divided we fall, so why should we go to fall.