ST status campaign An overview from a broader perspective

As expected the raging demand for enlistment of Meitei community in the Constitution’s ST category figured prominently on the last day of the State Assembly session which was adjourned yesterday. It was Congress MLA K Meghachandra who raised a call attention motion on the raging mass campaign. In addition to questioning the State Government’s reluctance to send a requisite recommendation to the Government of India, the Congress MLA also demanded to make the State Government’s position vis-a-vis the demand for insertion of Meitei community in ST list. It was here Chief Minister N Biren carried the day with a stroke of fine statesmanship and diplomacy. The Chief Minister went on record that the growing fear among Meitei community of possible complete marginalization in near future is genuine and their demand for granting Schedule Tribe status is quite reasonable. The Chief Minister also announced that the State Government will act soon and positively. At the same time, he underscored the need for thorough deliberation on the issue with all CSOs, intellectuals and stake holders. For he has given his words on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, the Chief Minister must do something now. It will be a win-win situation if the Chief Minister or the State Government can bring a consensus among all stake holders on the issue. One may like it or not, a debate has been already going on the propriety or impropriety of bringing Meitei community within the pool of ST communities. The basic arguments which are driving the campaign for insertion of Meitei community in ST list are; the community constitutes a microscopic minority of the vast multitude of Indian population and their tiny living space has been shrinking day by day in the absence of a constitutional safeguard. The counter argument of the other camp is built on the edifice that Meiteis are a relatively advanced community, there was a glorious Meitei kingdom and they have a refined culture with a language and script of their own. Apparently, both the argument in favour of granting ST status to Meitei and the counter arguments are sound enough.
However, a deeper study reveals that relative advancement of Meitei community over fellow indigenous communities of the State is a rather misplaced notion in this age of globalization. As for the glorious Meitei kingdom, it is a thing of the past. If we must talk about the so called refined Meitei culture, it is being bombarded by foreign cultural elements from all directions. Upholding one’s culture and identity becomes a serious challenge when a community is degraded economically and politically. It becomes impossible to protect one’s identity if his/her community’s living space is shrinking. This is exactly what is happening to the Meitei community who inhabits the Manipur Valley which is just around 2300 Sq Kms. Imphal being the political and commercial capital of the State and in the absence of a protective legislation like Article 371 of the Constitution under which the hill areas of Manipur are being protected, Imphal Valley is now home to many communities, both indigenous and non-indigenous. In short, Imphal is fast becoming a metropolitan centre. Manipur or for that matter the North East region no longer lives isolated from the rest of the world. The whole region is now a part of India and India is one major proponent of globalization. Had Manipur been isolated from the rest of the word and the indigenous communities lived together aloof from other States or countries, perhaps Meitei community would have never demanded ST status. As this is not so, hence the demand for ST status. This does not mean the voice of opposition to the particular demand should be muffled. All the stake holders need to negotiate directly with open minds with active participation of the State Government and work out a win-win formulae under which the existing quota system of hill people are protected and at the same time, the interests of the advocates of ST status are served.

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