Dr. Thangjam Ranjit
The demand for Scheduled Tribe status by Meetei Community for the last five years or so is purely for constitutional safeguard of Meetei Community and Imphal valley in the way ST People in the hills are doing. Meetei is one of the principal indigenous people/tribes of the state and North East India is a foregone conclusion. None can challenge this hard fact about Meetei.
Those objecting to the inclusion of Meetei in the ST list are none other than un-educated persons, pseudo leaders, hypocrites, non- natives, egoists, rumour mongers, besides being ill –informed, biased, obsessed with greed and jealousy of Meetei to the core.
The Supreme Court of India, the highest Court of the country in one of its land mark judgments, in connection with a criminal case No. 10367, on 5th January, 2011, it has been stated that the present Scheduled Tribes are the descendents of the original inhabitants, indigenous people or Adivasis and constitute 8% of the total population of the country, and also one of the most marginalized and vulnerable communities, characterized by high level of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, disease, landlessness, etc.
Meetei community, being indigenous people of the state having the above characteristics, justifies to be included in the scheduled tribe list of the country like other indigenous people, who are 34 plus in the state , 200 plus in North East and 720 plus communities in the country.
Further, Meetei qualifies to be a permanent Tribal Society as per the ILO, a specialized agency of UNO. According to ILO convention No. 169, dated 27th June 1989, it was resolved that the community which follows the old traditions, cultures and way of life of their forefathers would be treated as permanent tribal society, as opposed to ILO convention No. 107 of 1957, which is based on temporary tribal society but obsolete now. Though, the majority of the Meetei population embrace Hinduism they have been following the age-old, religion, traditions and cultures of their fore-fathers.
This is again confirmed by the Census of India, 1931; Vol-I, page 320. It records Manipuri as wholly Hindu Tribe but retaining their distinctive culture and language. Besides this, followers of Sanamahism/Meeteism which constitutes over 3 lakhs population also strictly following the old traditions, way of life and cultures of their fore-fathers till date.
Contrary to this, our kins in the hills who have embraced Christianity have given up the old traditions and cultures of their forefathers and leading lives in the way the true Christians of the West are, except few thousands Zeliangrong. In fact , Meetei bears more tribal characters among the indigenous communities of the state.
The very fact that Meetei is a tribe/indigenous people of the state is authenticated by many official government records, gazetteers, memoirs, publications, books, articles etc. Mention may be made of the Census of India 1891, 1901 and 1931; Imperial gazetteer of Bengal and Assam 1909; Linguistic Survey of India, survey carried out in 1894-1928 by G.A. Grierson, who claimed that Naga , Kuki-chin and Meetei are within the same linguistic family and hence constitute the same and single ethnic entity.
Account of the valley of Munnipore and of the Hill Tribes by W. Mc Cullah writes that the Manipuris are a tribe. Prof. N. Joykumar Singh in his “The Ethnic Relation Among the People of North East India” mentions Meetei as a Tribe; and Gazetteer of Manipur by Captain E.W. Dunn (1886) and Statistical Accounts of the native state of Manipur and Hill Territory under its rule by Dr. R. Brown, FRCS, a political agent in Manipur (1873) mentions Meetei as principal tribe of Manipur. According to Prof B.K. Roy Burman, a tribe from Tripura who was chairman of Minority Commission of India, more than once popularly known as “Walking Encyclopaedia” and a renowned anthropologist and social scientist of the country also termed indigenous people as scheduled tribe and that Meetei as one principal tribe in North East India. In “History of Manipur” written by Prof. Gangumei Kabui mentions Meetei as one of the tribes of Manipur; in history of Tangkhul Naga written by ASW Shimray, mentions the Tangkhul and Meetei are descendants of the same progenitor in the distant past. Oral tradition of Tangkhul says that the ancestor of the Tangkhul and Meetei are brothers. An ethnography of Meetei people in Manipur,- a Pre-evangelistic case study by Wungnaoting Konghar mentions the entire people of the state belong to the same ethnic group and trace their origin more or less to the Sino-Tibetan group of human species. And, Meetei and other indigenous communities living in the state, under the banner of the league of the Fourth World People, Kangleipak has been conducting every year “Indigenous Brothers’ Meet” since 2000 to foster peaceful coexistence among the indigenous people of the state, except in the last 3-4 years, and the members of the League who are ethnic tribes of the state, wholeheartedly accept Meetei as a tribe/indigene.
In “Hao Lairik” by G. Soihem Haomei, President of Haomei Hao Union, N.E. India, mentions Meitei/ Taimei as indigenous people / Hao, like Kabui, Thangal, Tangkhul, etc. Similarly, Mr. R.V. Mingthing, Ex- Minister and a Tangkhul Naga, also claims Meetei is an indigenous people and that the Tangkhul and Meetei have close blood relation. According to Y.L. Roland Shimmi, the author of “Origin, land and language of Meeteis”, it is mentioned “ At one time R. Suisa, a Member of parliament, an intellectual Tangkhul, advised a Meetei MP, that it would be better for the Meeteis to accept Schedule Tribe status. On hearing his words as having proposed to categorise the Meetei in the ST status, the Meetei, MP. of the time, is said to have become emotional. He did not realize that Meeteis are indigenous people. Mr. Suisa, MP was giving the best advice a kinsman should give”. In fact he wanted a harmonious co-existence amongst the indigenous ethnic communities in the state.
The historic resolution of Congress Govt. led by Shri Rishang Keishing, the wisest, ablest and oldest parliamentarian Manipur has ever produced, for recommending inclusion of Meetei community in the scheduled tribe list in 1981 through a cabinet decision, is enough proof of fulfilling the criteria of inclusion of Meetei in the ST list of the country, and his strong desire to live in ethnic equality for a harmonious and progressive Manipur State.
Meetei’s demand for ST status is purely to save and protect the fertile Imphal valley and its people from possible extinction in the hands of more skilled, more organized, more hardworking, more advanced, more healthy, more powerful and more financially sound people who are coming in large numbers, like a tsunami wave into this hilly backward state, for establishing their permanent business centres, settlements, job centres, etc; more so when Indian Railway reaches Imphal and Trans-Asian Highway passes through Imphal and Moreh in the next few years. The lands belonging to poor Meetei in the valley will be in the hands of big business sharks, when they want to establish warehouses, godowns, office buildings, hotels, etc.
The poverty striken and money starved, unskilled and lethargic Meeteis will sale their lands in great numbers and thereby will result in shrinkage of arable land and settlement area in the valley, as well as scarcity of locally available tasty and favourite vegetables, fishes, etc, of indigenous people in particular and the people in the state in general. In order to save our fertile and productive valley areas for increasing agricultural yields and to save the land from buying by rich businessmen, to stop possible migration of Meeteis to hills and other places, to shelve demographic imbalance, to meet food grain scarcity, to enable Meetei to compete their counterparts in other states in the country, for jobs, education and other facilities, as guaranteed by India constitution for backward people/classes., Therefore, the valley districts of the state should be protected at any cost under Article 342 (1) of the India constitution.
Again, Meetei fulfills, in totality, the criteria laid down by Ministry of Tribal affairs, Govt. of India. The criteria are –
a) Indication of primitive traits
b) Distinctive culture
c) Shyness of contact with the community at large.
d) Geographical isolation.
In fine, all concerned should note the gravity of situation that may follow after the arrival of trains upto Imphal and Trans-Asia High way passes through Imphal-Moreh, in the next five years, possible pressure on land in the Imphal valley in the name of urbanization and consequent shrinkage of arable land possible scarcity of food grain production, non availability of jobs in the fields and cultivable lands by our farmers and indigenous people, the fertile Imphal valley districts which are the granary of the state should be protected and also to save Meetei in particular, and other communities in general. This can be achieved by enlisting Meetei Communities in the ST list under the article 342 (1) of the Indian constitution.
Government should not delay, hesitate or remain beating about the bush in sending recommendation of Meetei Community for inclusion in the ST list on flimsy and unreasonable grounds raised by a handful of pseudo leaders in the media. As the demand is under the provision of Indian constitution and also a popular and genuine demand of majority Meetei population for saving its threatened identity, culture and ancestral land, Government should contemplate deeply to initiate for a dialogue with the STDCM and prepare to recommend Meetei community for inclusion in the ST list of the country at the earliest. Delay in this regard may invite many unwanted and unexpected happenings in the state, which has already engulfed with a numerous and serious problems for a long time. Government should act tactfully and speedily to soothe the heat of discontent, deprivation and marginalization coming from the major community of the state, before any ugly incident takes place after dead line, 15th September, 2018 expires.
The writer is from Sinam Leikai, Thangmeiband
Dr. Thangjam Ranjit