Lainashu Yaroi, Meenashu Yaroi The ST conundrum
It should be clear to all. It is not the State Government, it is not the High Court of Manipur and certainly it is not the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union (MTU), the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee, Manipur (STDCM), the World Meetei Council (WMC), the Kangleipak Kanba Lup (KKL) or the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur and the Hill Areas Committee of the Manipur Legislative Assembly which will decide whether the Meiteis fit the bill to be tagged a Scheduled Tribe in the Constitution of India or not, but the Centre. The job of the State Government is to just send the report on the socio-economic reality of the Meiteis and this is what it is supposed to do, as the High Court of Manipur has ruled. And it should also be clear that the High Court of Manipur just did not pluck this directive from thin air but acted on a communication from the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs to the State Government to send the recommendations that the Meiteis be included in the ST list. As stated many times in this column, the directive from the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs was sent dated, 29th May 2013. It is on record that for ten years, take away 30 days or so, the State Government slept over the missive from the Centre and it was only after the MTU approached the Court, was the directive issued. Or should the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs be held culpable for seeking the report, if one goes by the stand taken by ATSUM ? Let the experts debate on whether the Meiteis fulfil the criteria to be included in the list of Scheduled Tribes, but it stands that the Meitei community certainly go a along way to be understood as a tribal community, a point which even the British had noted. If one goes by the argument of ATSUM, then enlisting the Meities in the ST list would erode the ‘sense of security of the tribal people who are protected under the provisions of the Consti- tution.’ This is where questions may well be raised on whether Constitutional protection, as understood in the realm of the ST tag, should be the personal fiefdom of only the existing tribal groups ? It is the need for Constitutional protection which has led STDCM, MTU, WMC, KKL and others to raise the ST for Meiteis demand and nothing else. Take a look at the valley area, the land identified as the only place where the Meiteis can stay and own properties, while at the same time it is open to all. Opposing the move to rectify this comes close to the understanding of ‘Lainashu Yaroi, Meenashu Yaroi’ (Heaven and Earth cannot accept this).
No one knows how the Centre would respond to the report from the State Government and lest it is forgotten, the report to the Centre is yet to be submitted. The Centre has not yet said anything on the demand that the Meiteis be included in the ST list and could it be because the Meiteis fulfil all the criteria to be included in the ST list that it has raised such a strong opposition ? An answer to this would be interesting, for if a community fulfils the criteria to be tagged a Scheduled Tribe then why oppose it ? Wouldn’t that amount to denying the rights of a group of people ? Would this be agreeable to anyone ? And if the Meiteis do not fulfil the criteria to be tagged a Scheduled Tribe, despite the fact that they were identified as a tribal group by the Britishers, then why take such a strident stand against a demand which will not merit due consideration from the Centre ? Either way the opposition to the ST for Meiteis demand does not cut much ice and will not stand the test of reasoning. This is also the time for the MTU, STDCM, WMC, KKL and others to reach out to all sections of people and lay down certain points that their stand will not hurt the interests of anyone, particularly the existing tribal groups of Manipur. Internal arrangements can always be made in so far as issues within the Manipur are concerned. The need for Constitutional protection of the Meiteis should also be appreciated for remember the 10 percent of the geographical area of Manipur is open for anyone to come and settle while the 90 or so percent of the land is off limits for them.