Over 150 days of unrest nowST demand for Meiteis
Over hundred and fifty days now. Nearly 200 killed, thousands displaced and currently living or surviving in different shelter homes set up across the State, numerous houses razed to the ground and in some cases the ground where the houses once stood levelled to the ground, as in the case of Meitei houses which once stood tall and erect at Churachandpur, but not once have the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), Committee on Tribal Unity (CoTU) and to an extent the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM) spoken about the demand that the Meiteis be included in the Scheduled Tribe list of the Constitution of India. Remember the Tribal Solidarity March organised by ATSUM on May 3, from which the bloody orgy started at Churachandpur, was purportedly against the directive of the High Court of Manipur to send the report or recommendation to the Centre a reply which New Delhi had sought way back in 2013. The Sangai Express has been consistent in its stand that the rally at Churachandpur and Kangpokpi had nothing to do with the ST for Meiteis demand, which by extension should be understood as the ongoing clash between the Kukis and the Meiteis, and it is precisely this reason why the ST demand today no longer feature in the vocalised stand of the Kuki militants. Moreover the Tribal Solidarity March ended peacefully at the Naga dominated districts of Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul. Does not need rocket science technology to know or understand why the ST for Meiteis demand was projected as the central theme around which the Tribal Solidarity March was organised in the first place and as noted earlier, lies can only have a limited shelf life and the ST demand is today a forgotten topic, in so far as the warring Kuki militants are concerned. This however should not mean that the Meitei people who back the ST idea for the community have pushed this out of the reckoning. It is not the job of the Judiciary to decide whether the Meiteis fulfil the criteria to be included in the Scheduled list of the tribals or not and it is not Imphal either. Their job is just to send the needed socio-economic report to the Centre and let New Delhi decide. And if the Meiteis do not fulfil the definition of Scheduled Tribes then why should such a ruckus be raised, as done by ATSUM ? Only the student body can answer this, but it stands that it was a historical blunder not to have added the Meitei tribe in the Scheduled list of the tribals after India gained independence.
Given the present reality, it is understandable why the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee, Manipur, the World Meetei Council, Meetei/Meitei Tribe Council and others which back the ST demand for the Meiteis have kept a low profile, but as some discerning Meitei folks have shared in the social media, the Meiteis need Constitutional protection in the face of protection enjoyed by other communities in the North East region of India. Being included in the ST category may not be the panacea for everything but it will not hurt the collective identity of the Meiteis. Neither will it kill the competitive spirit of the Meitei folks, a characteristic that has been honed down the decades. A look at the reality should say it all. At the moment, 20 seats, including one for Scheduled Caste, are reserved in the House of 60 while the remaining 40 are open to all. Once delimitation comes, then God knows how many more seats will fall in the Scheduled seats, meaning no Meiteis will be eligible to contest election in these seats. The Assembly segments that come under the Outer Parliamentary Constituency is an example that comes to mind. One need not look at the ST issue only through the prism of job reservation in the Government sector or admission to seats of higher learning, but look at the possible state of the Meitei existence, 40 or 50 years down the line. For starters protecting the ancestral land of the Meiteis should also be given primacy.