Dr Th Suresh
ST demand Committee has taken an interview of me and I have expressed my firm opinion of the topic. The same was covered in newspaper, ISTV/Impact news channels. However, I thought it fit to keep a substance of it in my Opinion Maker article for wide coverage and as a follow up.
Origin: In order to know who Meities and other tribes are, one must know its origin. To know origin we have to open our history, and to know history, one has to search Geography and its Archaeological finds. According to various Archaeological finds (many books/written materials are available), Manipur Hills are 80-90 million yr. old from now and the valley is 43-48 million yr. old BP( Before Present). During Ice Age, the valley had many U-shaped lakes and the same was converted to an elongated oval-shaped lake. The lake was filled by debris carried down mainly by Imphal River and its 9 tributaries and thus made the present valley. The beautiful Loktak and other lakes are the remnants of the previous mind-boggling lake.
Various Archaeological finds also established that Human settlers were also found in various caves around 30-40,000 BP (again published books/journals etc. are available). Examples are Nongpok Keithelmanbi(Senapati dist.), Sangbu(chandel dist.), Khangkui(Ukhrul dist.), Tharon (Tamenglong dist.)Capes etc. These ancient people gradually moved to the valley and settled there. These are proved by our folk tells, legends, traditions, cultural heritage and various other hand written Purans. Hence, it is logical that hilly and valley people belonged to the same origin and are brothers. Christians and Hindus came much later and has nothing to do with ST/SC/General Category etc.
Historical facts: If we open our historical pages, one finds that integration of the hilly people to the Kangla Kingdom started around 500 AD and completed in mid 1,300 AD. With the integration of Moirang Kingdom in mid-1,400 AD by king Ninthoukhomba, the process of integration was completed and the present geographical boundary was stabilised. This is a hard historical fact and nobody can challenge it. It is also a historical fact that Gambhir Singh’s 9wk. famous Khepumei(present Kohima) campain starting 28/12/1832 had captured kohima and surrounding areas and Doyang and Dhansiri river was Manipur’s boundary. Though Gambhir Singh wanted to capture the whole Nagahills, the British did not allow him for fear that it would hurt their commercial interest. These are on records of various British writers and our Royal Chronicles. The same boundary continued for another 42yr. till Chandrakirti handed over our Kohima and surrounding areas to British Viceroy Lord North-Brook on 11/08/1874 at that famous Jila Darbar meeting held at the Viceroy’s Yacht. Had he not handed over the same, the Naga brethren up to the southern slope of Nagahills would have remained as brothers peacefully with the present Manipuri brethren. How unfortunate we are, how foolish and innocent Chandrkirti was seeing the present Naga integration Problem!
Hence, what is a tribe? It means original people, original inhabitants or native people. It is also known as indigenous people, aboriginal people, primordial people, primitive tribes, tribal people, Adivasis etc. One Thangjam Ranjit in an article in this paper on 10/01/2018 has given Supreme Court and ILO definition of the same. Supreme Court judgement dt. 5/01/2011 and stated that “ the present scheduled Tribes of India are the descendents of the original inhabitants, indigenous people or Adivasis of the country and constitute 8.6% of the total population of the country, and one of the most marginalised and vulnerable communities…” According to him, ILO convention No.169 of 27/06/1989 “ community which follows the old traditions, cultures and way of life of their forefathers would be treated as permanent tribal society”. Various survey reports, pre and post independent, refers Meeteis as tribes. Various gazetteers and books written by Britishers (including Manipur’s Political Agents) also refer Meeteis as tribes. In all Govt. of Manipur/India publications, It is mentioned that Manipur is inhabited by 33/34/35 etc. tribes.
Hence, unmistakably, Meiteis are one of the original /tribal people is proved by the following : i) Our history backed by geography + Archaeological finds supplemented by our folktales, traditions, costumes as cited above ii) Various gazetteers and books written by Britishers, Indians and Manipuris (pre & post independent) iii) Various census reports iv) Supreme Court ruling cited above vi) ILO declaration cited above vii) Various GOI/GOM publications.
Who declared Meetei as General category? I have asked this question to many intellectuals including EC members of STDC. The only reply I got is that there was a 2/3 member committee constituted for the same and recommended as General Category for Meiteis post independence. There is no official record of declaring Meiteis as General category. Even if this so-called committee recommended the same, it cannot be taken as gospel truth. It has no mandate from the people and never discussed it with the people/its representatives.
Article VIII(3) of Merger Agreement of 1949 also clearly states that “… They (meaning Dominion of India) also undertake to preserve various laws, customs sand conventions prevailing in the state pertaining to social, economic and religious life of the people”.
Hence, including Meetei/Meitei as General Catagory without any document/basis is constitutionally wrong; it is also against Article VIII(3) of Merger Agreement as noted above. All Manipuris (all tribes/castes etc. of the present lot) were casteless society, pre-merger and pre-independence. We all belong to the same origin and tribe.
What STDC should do? 1st, It should clearly state that all 35-37 indigenous tribes belong to same origin. Pre-merger and pre-independence, we were casteless society. Proof is sl no.i) given above. 2ndly, it should state that treating a section of Meiteis as General category without any basis is constitutionally wrong, there is no legal document. 3rdly, it should state that it is against Article VIII(3) of Merger Agreement as noted above. These 3 should be the primary reasons. ii)-vii) given above be presented as secondary reasons. The Committee should not worry about ST criteria etc. It is not needed. We should not swim into unfavourable tide and be caught in an unfavourable terrain. Manipuris are bad negotiators. We don’t present a topic with historical facts and legal history. We only know halve truths and don’t have the habit of in-depth reading, analysis and writing. Because of this, we lost Kabaw Valley; we lost internal autonomy and subsequent freedom. Because of our sere incompetence, we consign our valuable legal history to the dustbin. Your Opinion Maker hopes STDC will be an exception. These facts be brought to our legislstures/political parties, PM Office and other National party leaders at Delhi. Even, it can consider legal options. Best of luck. Declaring a section of the society as ST/SC etc. is to bring disunity and is bringing disunity. Independent GOI is following British “divide and rule” policy. We should fight for the pre-merger castless society and through it all the benefits conferred to the original tribe. We should fight for it, It is our constitutional right. The writer is Ex-Director,Health & WHO Fellow.
Dr Th Suresh