Rebuttal to the article ‘Absurd rebuttal of Ngaranmi Shimray’s article Meetei/Meitei’s exclusion from ST list-queer controversies’ by K Yugindro Singh & othersThe Meiteis may have missed the bus
Much water has flowed under the bridge since 1950 when an opportunity was there for the Meiteis to be SC or ST in 1950-51 and also in 1955-56. They have now progressed far beyond the considerations to be a SC or ST that the proposal to be included in either of the lists would no longer be tenable.
This is yet another clarification made in connection with the first article written by Ngaranmi Shimray published in The Sangai Express on 10.10.2023 and its subsequent clarifications.
Not all Meiteis are followers of Hindu religion. A good number still follow an indigenous faith of the Meitei society-Sanamahi. There are still some Meitei Hindus who are included in the list of Scheduled Castes (SC) in the Order of 1951. Now the biggest chunk of Meitei Hindus fall under the category of Other Backward Classes (OBC). The caste system divides Hindus broadly into four main categories - Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. The Manipur Government under W Napamacha Singh stated that the Meitei people are Hindus and have assumed the status of Kshatriya Caste and are already listed as OBC. He also stated that the Meiteis are the dominant community. From these it is clear that Meiteis are predominantly Hindus and the only group who are not are those following the Sanamahi faith.
The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 provides in paragraph 3 that only a member of Hindu or Sikh religion shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste. In other words, people following the Hindu or Sikh religion can be termed as SC and not as ST. Currently, the Meitei community, who are Hindus, are claiming that they are still a tribe based on historical records and here is the dichotomy. Also, can a Hindu society falling within a caste system be a Scheduled Tribe?
The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950 does not provide for a Hindu to be included in the list of Scheduled Tribes as a Hindu caste suffering from low status and other social disability would fall in the list of Scheduled Caste and not Scheduled Tribe. Similarly, paragraph 3 of the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951 provide that no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.
There is no Constitutional provisions that allow a Hindu community to be SC, OBC and ST at the same time. They are mutually exclusive of each other and cannot mix like oil and water. A person can be a SC and OBC, but cannot be SC, OBC and ST at the same time. Basically the demand for becoming ST, when the Meitei community are already SC and OBC, does not make sense. Dr Arambam Birajit’s assertion that “the claiming of being tribal status for the purpose of Scheduled Tribe status clearly smacks of intellectual and academic dishonesty” has certain degree of truth in it.
Seven SC groups from the Hindu Meitei social order of Manipur fulfilled the requisite conditions and are listed as SC in 1950-51 Order. This is because Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 provides in paragraph 3 that only a member of Hindu or Sikh religion shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste, but the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950 does not provide any such condition and some Meiteis of lower caste were included in the SC list, and not ST list. So does it mean that Meiteis following the Sanamahi faith could have claimed to be a Scheduled Tribe as they are not Hindus?
The Meitei community in Manipur had a number of learned/educated personalities during 1950s besides those in the royal darbar, all of whom must have had a say on all important matters. There must have been followers of Sanamahi faith at that point in time, and if they are not Hindus they could have demanded for inclusion in the list of ST. A large number of Kabui/Kacha Naga live in the Imphal valley alongside with Meitei villages as their neighbour following an animistic religion like the Sanamahi faith and they have been included in the list of ST and not in the list of SC as they are not Hindus.
At page 2 of the “Main Report” under Chapter I of the Kalelkar Commission Report the following is stated in para 6 under the caption “Terms of Reference”
“6. The terms of reference of the Commission as announced in the Notification were:
The Backward Classes Commission shall -
(c) investigate such other matters as the President may hereafter refer to them; and
(d) present to the President a Report setting out the facts as found by them and making such recommendations as they may think proper.“
Further at page 5 under para 18 of Main Report the following is also stated:-
“18. We gave, however, a patient hearing to the representatives of both Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The reason why the Commission heard these classes was that in the first instance it was good policy to let these backward classes feel that the Commission was not indifferent to their problems. The Commission was equally anxious to avail itself of every opportunity of knowing their conditions and understanding their minds. It helped the Commission to collect material for the revision of the list of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, a task subsequently entrusted to it by the President. Another reason was that the status of the various communities was indeterminate and the classifications already made sometimes required revision. It also helped the Commission to understand the scope and implications of the ameliorative measures already undertaken.”
The above quotes from the Main Report of Kalelkar Commission indicates that the President had enlarged their scope to collect material for the revision of the list of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and to find out the status of the various communities which was indeterminate (not exactly known) and the classifications already made sometimes required revision.
The enlarged scope, read with the questionnaire discussed in the following para, open the doors for every community listed or otherwise to air their problems to the Commission. This opportunity was available to the Meitei community including those from the Sanamahi faith to express themselves of what they wanted. It is totally a different matter that the Commission may not have the mandate to include a community in the list but they would have at least reflected the problem in the report and it could have included it in the State-wise report too.
This part is a repetition from previous rebuttal but needs mentioning with regard to the terms of reference. The questionnaire circulated by the Kalelkar Commission elicited views of the State governments/UTs under the caption - “Revision of Lists”, and asked the following questions -
“3. Do you think that the Lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes issued under the President’s Order need any revisions?
4. If so, what castes or communities do you suggest for inclusion in or exclusion from the above mentioned two lists? Please state reasons.
5. Has any representation been received by your Government from individuals, groups, organisations or associations for modification of these lists?
6. Have your State Government recommended for inclusion in or exclusion from the existing lists of any tribe, caste or community?” (Source - Report of the Backward Classes Commission (BCC) page 225).
The response sought in question no. 5 and 6 was for claiming to be a SC or ST. Question 5 stated “for modification of these lists?” followed by question 6 “for inclusion in or exclusion from the existing lists of any tribe, caste or community?” It was an open invitation to give representations for “inclusion in” the existing lists of any tribe, caste or community.
This raises the question whether the Manipur administration received any representation claiming that the Meitei community as a whole should be SC or ST or that the Meiteis following the Sanamahi faith should be ST ? The mandate of the Kalelkar Commission was to rectify errors etc. for both SC and ST lists. Meiteis being Hindus could have claimed to be SC and those following the Sanamahi faith could have staked their claim to be ST. The Meitei community could have also represented that a wrong has been committed against them in 1950-51 and they should be made ST. It is not clear whether any representations were received. The facts will however be revealed in the State-wise Report mentioned at para 3 of Kalelkar’s letter to the President dated 30th March 1955 of the Kalelkar Report which is not available in the public domain.
Before the Hindu priest Shantidas Gosai converted the Meitei Maharaj Pamheiba, who was renamed as ‘Garib Niwaz’, the Manipur kingdom was known by a different name called Kangleipak. In the years following the arrival of Shantidas Gosai the kingdom was given a Sanskrit name and called ‘Manipur’ and the subjects of the kingdom were forced to convert to Hinduism. In this context of abandoning a polity and adopting a new one, the term Sanskritisation, expounded by a famous Sociologist, Prof. MN Srinivas, becomes significant to understand the phenomenon of social mobility that appears to have taken place in Meitei society upon their conversion to Hinduism. The term Sanskritisation refers to a process whereby people of lower castes or tribe or any other group collectively try to adopt upper caste practices and beliefs, as a preliminary step to acquire higher status. For the sake of emphasing this point, it is contended here that if Meitei community were a tribe they may have gone through the process of Sanskritisation by becoming Hindus and adopting upper caste practices and beliefs. This may explain why, after 300 years of social mobility there has been a sea change of refinement in the culture and traditions of the Meitei society. It was perhaps for this fact that the Manipur Government of W Nipamacha Singh had stated that the Meitei people were Hindus and have assumed the status of Kshatriya Caste in the ladder of Hindu Castes. The assertion made now that the Meitei community is a tribe would be akin to turning back only the clock while at the same time holding on to the various acquired civilised values and characteristics from Hinduism that defines a cultured society with no traits of tribal characteristics.
The Hindu National newspaper stated that there was an attempt in 2014 to change the criteria for defining Scheduled Tribes. Among several recommendations made by the internal committee in the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to keep up with changing tribal societies, one recommendation was to not discount a community’s plea for inclusion in the ST list solely based on the fact that they were followers of Hinduism. The Hindu reported that after almost eight years of consideration, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India decided in 2022 to put the proposal on hold with no plans to tinker with the decades-old criteria. If being a Hindu does not prevent a community to be ST, such modification that was being explored by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs materialising would have facilitated the Meitei community to become ST. The criteria followed by the Office of the Registrar General of India to decide inclusion in ST list made in 1965 by the Lokur Committee includes-indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness. These criteria remains unchanged till date. A cursory look indicates that, except for one criterion of distinctive culture, the changed Meitei community of today may not satisfy the rest of the criteria.
It is repeated that nowhere in my article or rebuttal I had expressed any opinion on the question of whether the Meitei community is a tribe or not. I am only saying they did not find themselves in the list of ST and why. For determining whether the Meitei community is a tribe or not then and now, an ethnographic study would be required as pointed out by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in their letter dated 29.5.2013. Further, to consider the demand of the Meitei community for inclusion in the list of ST, after establishing the Meitei community is indeed still a tribe at present time based on an ethnographic study, a recent socio-economic survey of Manipur society would need to be carried out to determine the extent of backwardness etc of Meitei society in terms of the criteria laid down by the Lokur Committee to decide whether they should be degraded to the lower status of ST from their current status of being a higher caste Hindu.
Along with this question, the Meitei community will have to decide the fate of the Meitei SC and OBC where the quantum of reservation is much higher than that of the ST. Rationally thinking, there is fewer benefit of being a tribe by not only degrading oneself, but also reducing the share of reservation for the SC and OBC Meiteis lending credence to the suspicion that the desire to be ST stems from the Meitei agenda of grabbing tribal lands from the hill areas of Manipur. The dominant community should realise that under such onslaught against the interest of the Scheduled Tribes of Manipur, all right thinking ST will try to insulate themselves from such threats by considering the only option available to them of being ‘not part of Manipur’.
Even under an empowered territorial council under the Sixth Schedule there will be no remedy to safeguard tribal lands in the hill areas of Manipur as the tribes of Manipur will still be under threat under the Manipur State Government if the Meitei community continue to press to be ST and succeed in their attempt for inclusion in the list of ST. By becoming a ST, the Meitei community would have circumvented the Constitutional safeguards provided to the hill areas of Manipur under Article 371-C and the Presidential Order dated 20th June 1972 and the general safeguards given to tribals across the country by becoming a ST themselves to possess tribal land in the hill areas of Manipur. Manipur is situated on fault lines and the fracture will widen and may break away eventually under such nefarious assaults of elbowing out the Manipur STs from reservation in Government jobs and higher educational seats, and also of grabbing tribal lands in the hill areas of Manipur. Be aware that the Manipur tribals are watching all such machinations of the Meitei community and are not hoodwinked by innocuous overtones.
US President Abraham Lincoln once said: “You can fool all people some of the time and some people all the time. But you can never fool all people all the time.”