ST for Meiteis and NRC call Common thread
The common thread running through is unmistakable. The call for the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a demand which has been given more teeth by the ‘mushrooming of dubious settlements’, the incursion on protected/reserved forests, the decision of the State Government not to give recognition to villages which fall below a stipulated number of households each village should have and the demand that the Meiteis be included in the Scheduled Tribe list of the Constitution of India have one point in common and that is to save the resources of the indigenous people of Manipur. At the moment, the call for NRC seems to be reverberating through with different student bodies raising the NRC banner while the demand that the needed recommendations be sent to the Centre to get the Meiteis listed in the ST category seems to have been relegated to the background, but the core point of the two demands somewhat remains similar. Acknowledging this is crucial for it is about the land and her people, a people whose ancestry can be traced to the soil of Manipur. It was a historical blunder that led to the Meiteis being left out of the Constitutional protection that is being provided to the indigenous folks of the land but as they say, it is better late than never and the fact that the ST for Meiteis demand has been raised should be more than enough to say that steps ought to be taken up now to right the wrongs of history. This is how humans progress and righting the wrongs of history is part of the progress of mankind, anywhere across the world. At the moment, the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee, Manipur (STDCM), World Meetei Council (WMC), the Kangleipak Kanba Lup (KKL) and others concerned seem to be lying low but as noted in an earlier commentary here, the silence could be part of a larger scheme of things and it would be premature to jump to any hasty conclusions. The urgency for the need of an NRC may also be seen against the backdrop of clashes between people of different communities and the conflicting claims on land and its resources. Time for the Government to get down to the root of the matter and in the process also set up a Population Commission. Assam has already done it and given the right approach coupled with the right intention, there is no reason why a National Register of Citizens cannot be enforced here. Let it take time, but at least the beginning of the process to set up the NRC will ring out the message that the Government is intent on keeping the interest of Manipur above everything else.
Note the common thread running through the two issues and let the Government take them up with the required urgency. The hills are Constitutionally protected, no doubt about it, but this ring of protection will be hollow without conducting an NRC. Likewise the Meiteis and their land too need some sort of a Constitutional protection and this is where the ‘ST for Meiteis’ call should be taken with the seriousness it deserves. There are objections to the ST demand for the Meiteis with ATSUM leading the way and this is where the STDCM, WMC, KKL and others would need to study how to work out a meeting point with all concerned. It should however be clear to all that the present reality is not at all logical. The valley area, where the Meiteis are legally allowed to own land/settle down constitute only 10 or so percent of the total geographical area of Manipur, while all are free to settle anywhere in the valley. And it is in the face of the ‘politics of land’ that the demand for ST for Meiteis has been raised, for simply put in a nutshell, the line ‘I can settle anywhere I like, name any locality according to my likes, but you cannot come and settle in my place’ does not exactly sound logical and runs counter to the idea of coexistence. The task before the State Government is clear. Consider the ST for Meiteis demand in the right light and get down to the task of implementing the NRC here in Manipur. The interests of Manipur should not be ignored under any circumstances.