Mr Heikrujam Naba-shyam has naively posited in his letter to the editor under the banner “Imprudence of ATSUM” that the stance taken by ATSUM on the controversial demand of inclusion by the Meitei community into the Schedule Tribe of the constitution as ‘STUPID’. The semantic use of the word stupid to a monumental organization like ATSUM which holds sway over the whole tribal community residing in Manipur is rather callous and insensitive on the part of the writer who should have been more prudent before writing articles based on fallacious polemics.
For your information, the acronym ATSUM (All tribal Students’ Union Manipur) has been mandated by 1.3 million tribal population of Manipur covering 90% of the total geographical expanses of Manipur encompassing 10 districts, 20 MLA constituencies and more than 35 recognised or unrecognised tribal community hinging on its shoulders. In turn, every member of ATSUM has been sworn to protect and safeguard the rights and ethos of the tribals from inimical elements- apparent or real.
ATSUM’s stance on the STDCM demand for inclusion of Meitei community in the ST category is based on solid foundations and after critical appraisal of the prospects and implications that this demand will have on the Tribals, in the days to come.
First, the polemic leitmotif of the STDCM is that inclusion of Meitei into the ST category will enhance unity and understanding between the hill and the valley. Ironically, the interpretation of the word UNITY by the tribals and the Meiteis is diametrically opposite and opposed in contexts and contours. The Meitei’s interpretation of Unity whose raison d’être is geographical unity or territorial integrity but it is a paradox that the Tribals have no qualms either for the integrity or dis-integrity of Manipur. This fact has been substantiated by the raging political demands for separation from Manipur which manifested in the form of the demand for statehood launched by both the Kukis and Nagas.
Secondly, historically the Manipur hill and valley were never a united entity and the writ of the Meitei king was confined to the seven Principality or the Salai taret and does not percolate to the hill, except few intermittent raids and forays conducted by the Meitei kings. Succinctly put, the Manipur hill was an independent entity free from the valley kings. It was the British who clubbed both the hill and valley to one single political entity for reasons best known to them. But many British writers had serious misgivings to the expediency of uniting this ill-assorted entity.
Thirdly, during the days of colonial rule, the onus of Manipur’s administration was deputed to the Manipur State Durbar working under the strict vigil of European officials but the administration of both the hill and the valley was dichotomised to such an extent that the hill administration was invariably placed directly under the Political Agent or an European officer deputed for the same purpose. At no point of time was the administration of the Manipur hill entrusted to the Meitei king or the valley officials. This clearly indicated that the hill and valley were totally different entities.
Fourthly, the departure of the British consequent to India’s independence in the year 1947 placed both the hill and valley of Manipur under an awkward situation as the British did not spell out the political status of the Manipur hill and valley and the type of administrative apparatus they should effect their administration. The hill areas reverted to their pre-colonial rule status, ie, independenceof every village comparable to the Greek City-states whereas the valley continued to persist with the Durbar system with perfunctory independence only to be subjugated by the Indian juggernauts on October 15, 1949. The Manipur hill did not sign any instrument of accession with the Government of India and technically it won’t be far fetched to claim that the Hill area is still independent.
Fifthly, it is hard reality that both the hill and valley had been forced to resign to their fate in 1949 from the marauding Indians. And there was nothing we could do, so we have to willy-nilly accept India’s sovereignty which continues till today.
Sixth, ATSUM’s reticence or opposition to the inclusion of Meiteis in the ST category is the outcome of hard lessons learnt from the past 68 years of cohabitation with the valley people whose interpretation of justice, oneness and unity is starkly characterised by marginalisation, infringement of rights, intent to grab our ancestral lands, economic disparity, political marginalisation, manipulation of reservation policies in jobs, and the lists is endless.
The cliché that has been assiduously articulated by valley organizations and individuals, putting the onus of economic stagnation in the Hill- Districts to the elected representatives of the hill and few rapacious tribal residents of Imphal, might have partial truth but the real truth is the lethargy on the part of the State government which is basically valley based government.
When it comes to development works, the hill are given in trickle whereas, the valley in floods. Even if few projects are being launched in the hill-districts the contractors invariably belonged to the valley people thus taking back with their left hand what was given in the right. To cite few examples- Why is all the big development works amounting to hundred crores of Rupees like Manipur University, Agricultural University, NIT, NIIT, NEILIT, RIMS, JN hospital, SAI, Information Technology park, State godowns, confine only to the valley? Not to forget all the Head offices of various government departments which could have been judiciously distributed to every district Headquarters, could have fructified had the valley people possessed an iota of love for its tribal brethren. Economic disparity is the main grouse of the tribals towards the valley people.
The argument that the valley is inundated with people and so the Meiteis should be allowed to settle in the vast expanses of the hill is a creation of your own. What do you expect when you inundated Imphal valley with all the big and important offices and institutions and the concomitant requirement of land for construction of quarters for the staff ? Whereas, leaving the hill areas high and dry!
Talking about influx and immigrants, here’s a pointer- why don’t you pause to think twice. And who are those culprits leasing out their homes/lands to the so-called migrants? It’s a travesty that few sections of the valley people are relentlessly going for agitation against influx and migrants whereas they themselves are the ones who are providing shelter to the migrants itself. If Imphal valley has reached a saturation point then why not shift some of the major offices and institutions to the hill-districts for the sake of development and equitable distribution of the state’s wealth.
Job reservation is one aspect of the polemic made by ATSUM and also occupies the centre-stage of its opposition to the demand of STDCM. It is a fact that tribals of Manipur are under-represented in every aspect of government jobs in Manipur. No doubt, there is a reservation policy affected by the state government but instances are innumerable where the same reservation policy is manipulated and interpreted in such a way that suits the valley people. Instances are galore.
The Manipur University reservation imbroglio which continues to persist till today is one example glaring to one and all, that is, the deep divide that exist between the Meiteis and the tribals. When the University was upgraded to a Central university in 2005, the administrative authority of the varsity without any compunction relegated the tribals, who comprised of more than 40% of the state population to 7.5 % reservation on the pretext that it was a central guideline and they are helpless on the matter. When the same reservation policy was altered by the parliament in 2012 stipulating 31% reservation for the tribals of Manipur the letter of the Act was hidden by the Registrar office for two years. Bizarrely, one so-called academic council consisting of around 90 professors with just one tribal member, nullified the parliament Act and persist with the 7.5 % for the tribals.
This actuated the Tribal students to go for an intense agitation and a counter agitation was also launched by the Meitei students spearheaded by AMSU, MSF, KSA with the overt support of the University professors. This clearly shows that there exists a no-love lost relation between the hill and valley people. The overt and collective move of the valley students organization and the Meitei intellectuals to deny the educational rights of the tribals even after resorting to force means something is clearly not right between us.
ATSUM’s grouse is accentuated by the fact that even when professors, the putative most- learned and erudite people among the Meiteis are deadly against the tribals and also the apex Meitei organizations assiduously supporting it- What induced people like H Nabashyam to impress himself that the tribals will be amenable to the Meiteis demand for ST status?
Meiteis are enigmatic- First they are going for stringent agitation for inclusion into the SCHEDULE TRIBE category and at the same breath opposing the reservation meant for the tribal students in educational institutions and jobs and derisively branding the tribal folks of Manipur as HAO.
If the tribals have serious reservation on the issue then there must be reasons behind it and it will be beneficial for the valley people to do some soul-searching before passing the buck to the tribal community or ATSUM. The majority community should also learn how to accommodate their other fellow beings in the domain of economic, political, developmental works, Educational, jobs, sobs, subventions and stop the ‘HAO’ stereotype mentality towards the tribals.
Lastly, tribal are not dogs who will feed on the left overs of Meiteis but sentient beings who want to feast on the same plate with every community in equal proportion and with requited respect we deserved.
Henkhokai (Kakai) Singsit