Meitei’s does not fit the ST criteria
Sir,Heikrujam Nabashyam had branded ATSUM as ‘stupid’ and the STCDM tagged it as a ‘nondescript student body’ sans intellectual capacity and the editor Sangai Express articulated that ATSUM has no say over the issue. Here’s a pointer- You can’t start a debate by calling your opponents opinion stupid. And to call an organization that has stakes over a million people, nondescript is carrying the thing too far. Again, Let us agree to differ on this very issue germane to the STCDM ill-conceived and ill-timed demand for inclusion of the meiteis/meeteis into the ST category. Acknowledging the sensitivity of the demand vis-à-vis the tribals of Manipur and the attempt to construe our silence as a sign of weakness and tacit consent, thus, had necessitated and goaded us to once again re-iterate our unequivocal and irrevocable stance against the said demand.We don’t claim legitimacy in this matter nor do we claim that it is our job to decide whether one or the other community should be included or excluded from the ST list. Yes, the issue under discussion is within the prerogative of the Home Ministry, registrar general, national ST commission and task force to decide and examine whether the Meiteis fulfil the underlined criteria or not. And no organization has the Locus standi to decide your tribal status but as the apex student organization of all the tribals of Manipur and having been mandated to fight and protect the right of the tribals, ATSUM took the liberty of expressing its stance as the writing on the wall exhibits that, the demand in the event of its concurrence, does not portend well for the future of the tribals of India in general and Manipur, in particular.If one has the audacity to question ATSUM’s legitimacy in this regard, then our riposte shall be why was UCM so vocal in its demand for the scrapping of article 371 (c) which was in spirit frame to safeguard and protect the interest of the marginalised tribals of Manipur.The constitution of India does not define schedule tribe, per se but taking into account the definition in the 1931 census and the report of the ‘First Backward classes commission 1955’, the advisory committee on the ST/SC 1965 and the joint committee of the parliament on the ST/SC order amendment bill 1967 and also basing on article 342 of the constitution, the following criteria are considered for the allusion of a community in the Schedule Tribes:-(i) Indication of primitive traits; (ii) Distinctive culture; (iii) Geographical isolation; (iv) Shy of contact with community at large and (v) Economic backwardness, etc.According to article 342, the schedule tribes are the tribes or tribal communities as a part of groups within these tribes and tribal communities which have been declared as such by the President of India through a public notification. It is noteworthy that schedule tribes are spread across the country mainly having the abode in the forest and hilly regions and who are segregated from the rest of the world socially and culturally.It is worth mentioning that during a debate in the constituent assembly, Dr Ambedkar, the chairman of the drafting committee was very particular about the word ‘scheduled’ to be used before the tribe/caste to mean selected or chosen ones. Thus, in the context of India, schedule tribes mean the selected tribes for protection against discrimination which is to be valid for a period of ten years after the promulgation of the constitution of India but since the schedule groups could not be up at par with the rest of the citizens in all spheres of life, protective discrimination continues even after 70 years of independence.It is quite obvious that during 1952 the meiteis/meeteis in their own volition and choice opted for general category as they have superseded the essential characteristics of a tribe. As per the guidelines, the habitation of the meiteisis is not geographically isolated. They inhabit a very fertile valley connected with the outside world by three national highways and one international airport. They have a rich cultural heritage and well developed sense of hygiene. Their main occupation are wetland paddy cultivation, fishery, sericulture, horticulture, etc and service sectors. They have a very well developed culture of weaving and cottage industries, since primordial. Their society is much more dictated by caste in its hierarchy rather than by clan. Their language has a well developed script (Meitei mayek) and has been included in the eight schedule of the constitution.In terms of shyness of contact with the community at large, the Meitei people are the most advance and dominant community in Manipur with a literacy rate between 76- 87% and a significant diaspora living in other parts of India and outside the country. History dictates that Meitei’s were very much exposed with the outside world. For example, the Meitei’s had established trade and political relations with the Burmese, Ahoms, Cacharis, Tripuris, Chinese, Muslims and British. The Meitei kings had led expeditions and conquered parts of Burma, Southern portion of China and extended their tentacles to as far as Bangladesh. Though, the first officially recorded treaty was with the mighty British signed between Raja Jai Singh and Henry Verelst, the chief of Chittagong factory on behalf of the East India Company in the year 1762 and Manipur history is replete with examples. And to think insinuate that Meiteis are introvert or geographically isolated people is like taking the thing to insanity.Thus, such data should inter alia, include the data on the representation of the community in the government/public sectors, political institutions like parliament, state assemblies and other local bodies. Despite the fact that the valley constitutes only 8% of the total geographical area of Manipur out of 22,327 sq km 90% share of developmental funds are concentrated in the valley availing to the 40 assembly seats they possessed thus, leaving the tribals to languish in misery.The socio-economic divide between the hill people of Manipur and valley based Meiteis are well known to all. The derogatory name tag given to the tribals of Manipur by the Meiteis as HAOS and socially segregated them as untouchables is an established fact. Seventy years down the line of fattening at the expense of the tribal people living in the sporadic hill districts of Manipur is enough to testify that the tribal had been suppressed, oppressed, discriminated and exploited beyond repairs. The assertion of the government of Manipur that valley people are not permitted to purchase or own land in the tribal area (Hills) of Manipur speak volumes of the ill-conceived and ulterior motive to grab land in the hill areas owned by the tribals. It is understandable that the rampant influx of immigrants from outside the state has seriously slanted the demographic scale against the indigenous people but this should not be made the pretext for foraying into the hills. The tribals have no qualms in rendering support for the protection of the indigenous people of the state in line with the implementation of the ‘Inner Line Permit’ with a rider, that, the motive should be noble and free from insidious hidden-agenda. If the seven clans who are now clubbed together as Meiteis should persists with the demand for inclusion in the list of the ST, it will be pertinent to ask distinctly the identity as to who constitutes the OBC, SC and the general and which sections of the Meiteis are to be included in the ST list? There is no denying to the fact that all the ethnic communities of Manipur originated from the hills and civilization started at the bed of rivers. Even the most ancient civilized community and race of the world today (the Greeks, Romans, Teutonics and Aryans) had their tribal roots. However, claiming this roots in 2017 after a continuous process of civilization for over a period of 2000 years dating back from 33 AD and the attempt to descend from civilized to uncivilized, urban to rural, literate to illiterate, light to darkness, etc. seems to be the most regressive step ever taken in the history of mankind. If the amendment of article 371 (c) should take place against the interest of the tribals as demanded by the UCM and if ST status should be granted to the Meiteis then here’s our message- It would be better to bifurcate the Manipur hill and valley into two separate political units. And ATSUM will have no qualms in expediting it!
Yours sincerely,Marankhai Awungshi & Henkhokai (Kakai) Singsit