Absurd rebuttal to ‘Meetei/Meitei’s exclusion from ST list-queer controversies’
K Yugindro Singh, Sh Janaki Sharma & M Manihar Singh (Independent Researchers)
Contd from previous issue
As the apprehensions raised by the existing Scheduled Tribes communities of Manipur on the ST demand of Meitei are a psychological or an imaginary injury, none of these ST communities can be regarded as an aggrieved party and hence, such figment of imagination to include the existing ST communities, if any of Manipur as private respondent in filing the writ petition WP(C) No. 229 of 2023 is uncalled for.
6. It may be worthwhile to note that although the self-claim made by the contemporary Meitei as Kshatriyas of the Hindu Caste System during the days of the British rule in India, the British administrators rejected their claim of Hindu origin. For example, in his book ‘History of Assam’, EA Gait (1906) wrote about Meitei (Manipuri) as follows: “They pretend to be Kshatriyas, and are supported in their claim by the degraded Brahmans who serve them, and who, after giving the State its present name and identifying it with the Manipur mentioned in the Mahabharat, have invented a legend that the people are descended from the hero Arjun by a Naga woman, with whom he cohabited during his alleged sojourn in this neighbourhood”(pp.264). HH Risley, and EA Gait in their book ‘The Census of India, 1901 Volume I, Part I – Report’ stated categorically: “Although they have become thoroughly Hinduised, they have not adopted any Aryan tongue.” (pp.270). As such, the Hindu origin of Meitei was rejected by all frontier British officers including RB Pemberton, William McCulloch, R Brown and TC Hoson.
7. It would not be fair on the part of Ngaranmi Shimray to make reference to the article of Dr Arambam Birajit whose personal ideas are found to be lacking factual support in the present context, but more apparently based on the chauvinistic articulation of Meitei as if a civilized Nation. The concept of Meitei Nation was applicable when Manipur existed as a sovereign country ruled by Meitei Raja/Chief. However, after the merger of Manipur into India wef October 15, 1947, the concept of Meitei Nation no longer exists and now Meitei is just a community in Manipur. It is an undisputable fact proven by records that Meitei was a tribe and is still a tribe who fulfills the established criteria set out by the Lakur Committee in 1965 for specification of a community as a tribe.
8. Notably and more unfortunately, Ngaranmi Shimray has brought in Abinay Lakshman’s article “ST status for Meitei was considered and rejected in 1982 and 2001, Government record show” published in the National daily ‘The Hindu” on 17th October 2023 in which we have rebutted appropriately in our article entitled “Abhinay Lakshman’s observations on the ST status of Meiteis are misleading and incorrect” in some local and National/international media including ‘The Sangai Express’, ‘Ukhrul Times’, ‘e-pao.net’ and Imphal Times during 20th to 23rd October 2023. Till now, the Government of Manipur has not submitted any ethnographic report of Meitei to the Registrar General of India (RGI) for inclusion of Meitei in the ST list. The information furnished by the Office of the RGI to the Hindu under the RTI Act 2005 that the Meitei community “does not appear to possess tribal characteristics” based on available information” is wrong on the ground that the information contradicts the records of the Government of India such as, census reports published by the British Government of India right from the census of India 1881, various books and research articles authored by contemporary British ethnographers, linguists and administrators, which had altogether described Meitei as a primitive hill tribe of the erstwhile Assam province. Rejecting Abhinay Laxman’s idea, we have clarified that the Government of Manipur did not convey decision, if any, on the ST status of Meitei while communicating the letter No. 17/1/96-TD, dated 3rd January 2001 to Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi. Mere mentioning of a 20 year old comment made by the RGI in 1981 in the aforementioned letter dated 3rd January 2001 cannot be construed as an approval of the Government of Manipur.
9. It is an undisputable fact that right from the 1881 Census of India, the British Government of India recognized Meitei as a primitive hill tribe of the erstwhile Assam province along with many sister tribes, such as Naga, Kuki, Mikir, Khasi, Garo etc. However, after merger of Manipur into India wef 15th October 1949, the Government of Independent India excluded Meitei from the first Scheduled Tribes list of Manipur notified under the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) (Part C States) Order, 1951 dated 20th September 1951. Thus, it vividly depicts that the lapses was happened due to non-recommendation of Meitei by the then Chief Commissioner of Manipur, Himmat Singh Maheshwari to the Government of India. Till now, this being the reason why Meitei has not been included in all subsequently revised lists of Scheduled Tribes of Manipur, published by the Government of India from time to time.
10. The exclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes list of Manipur completed 70 years on 20th September 2023. As Meitei have been deprived of the legitimate rights, benefits and privileges guaranteed to the Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution of India for the last 70 years, their economic and social conditions, inter-alia, have been affected to a great extent. This is evident from the fact that most of the common Meitei people are now led to live in abject poverty while many traditions, customs and cultures associated with the ancient heritage of Meitei are on the verge of extinction. Many Meiteis have been destined to sell their land, to the people of other communities viz., ST communities, Manipuri Muslims and other flowing in migrants, mainly due to poverty, thereby leading to rapid shrinking of the land areas owned by Meitei in the Manipur valley since the past few decades. The composition of Meitei population has been decreasing alarmingly as witnessed from its composition of 56.2% in 1881 census and 44.91% in the 2011 census. While the annual population growth rate of Meitei is 7.17% being categorized the least, the census data of Manipur for the years 1881 and 2011 reveals doubtful imbalanced picture of demography. As witnessed from the pattern of population growth rate above, it would be worthwhile to mathematically project that after a few decades, Muslim will become a majority community in the Manipur valley since their annual population growth rate is 5 times more than that of Meitei.
11. Meitei are miserably concerned with becoming a minority race at not much distant future and deteriorating socio-economic conditions coupled with insufficient land to accommodate their populace. Hence, it would not be an exaggeration thatpresentiment on extinction of Meitei is looming large. Inclusion of Meitei in the Scheduled Tribe list is the only means to avert this impending gloomy situation of Meitei. Inclusion of Meitei in the Scheduled Tribe list would not only provide solutions to the multi-faceted problems prevalent in Manipur, but also help bring a uniform system which could be the only ‘panacea’ for bringing equal status, emotional integration, social harmony, among others. Further, its inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe list will naturally pave the ways for declaration of Manipur as a hill state, as was earlier recognized by the British Govt. of India. The recent efforts of the Meitei (Meetei) for inclusion in ST Category are only for obtaining the privileges given to STs by the Government of India as done in all states of the country and they have nothing to do with grasping the lands of the present Hill tribes of Manipur, as wrongly speculated and hypothesized by Ngaranmi Shimray. Here, the undeniable remarks made by a former top bureaucrat be drawn that in an article published in The Sangai Express dated September 22, 2023, Shri K. K. Sethi, former Chief Secretary of Manipur had suggested for inclusion of Meitei in the ST list of Manipur in order to enable them to avail the privileges provided under the Constitution of India which they have been missing for the last 70 years. It may be highly pertinent to mention that a bill entitled “The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (Bill No. III of 2019)”for inclusion of 41 communities in the Scheduled Tribe list of Assam is pending in the Parliament for approval. Once the said Bill No. III of 2019 is passed by the Parliament, Meitei will be the lone community belonging to the Mongoloid stock of races of the North-East India barred from inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe list, despite fulfilling all the criteria for inclusion in the ST list. At the fag end, it might appropriately be fortunate if the issue, in question could be viewed in a broader sense taking the modus operandi currently in force across the country instead of targeting to a particular dwindling community in a tiny hilly state of India and what more lucidly unfortunate is to air the voice of avoidable objection from any brethren community already listed as ST with a malicious intent synonymous with sheer absence of the sense of survival together, while the counter- part is in pursuit of a legitimate demand, guaranteed under the Constitution of India. Coming to the finality with logical remarks that let the issue take its own course and the concerned authorities at different levels decide its merit while Manipur Government being a mere responder to the Ministry’s letters referred above.