Manipur’s likely future and resolving ST issue through democratic process

LB Singh
Over 220 people have lost their lives in the ethnic clash since 03 May 2023, and thousands have lost their homes and livelihoods and are still living in the relief camps. Everyone’s lives in Manipur have been adversely affected, and the State’s economic activities have been paralyzed. However, fighting continues as if the Meiteis and the Kukis want to avenge the deaths of each person killed in the clash, increasing the number of casualties and misery of the people. The hatred between the two ethnic communities is deepening by the day.
The security forces have successfully established a buffer zone between the Central Valley and the hill districts. The armed Kukis and the Meiteis guard their respective areas from the bunkers. It is unlikely that the Government of India (GoI) had planned for such measures before the present crisis. However, its success might have given some ideas for solving the protracted peace talks with the Nagas and the Kukis.
Manipur’s Likely Future
Only the GoI may know what is planned for Manipur’s future, and no one in the State knows about it. However, considering the present crisis, efforts by the GoI to find solutions to the problem of insurgency in the region, and the protracted peace talks with the Nagas and the Kukis, Manipur’s likely future is outlined below:
· Since the ethnic clash erupted on 03 May 2023, the Kukis have stated they cannot live with the Meiteis anymore and demand a separate administration. However, the GoI is likely to honour its commitment to preserving the integrity of Manipur, and the Union Government demonstrated it by turning down the Nagas’ demand to integrate the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur to form Greater Nagaland or Nagalim.
· It is believed that the GoI is making serious efforts in the peace talks to resolve the problems between the Nagas and the Kukis, including the overlapping claims in the hill districts, and to establish separate Territorial Councils for them.There are many problems currently, and these are expected to be resolved in a few years. The chance of balkanizing Manipur into “Territorial Councils” is very high in the peace process.
· Though Manipur’s integrity is maintained, the level of emotional integration among the ethnic communities will be low. Most Nagas’ and Kukis’ interests would be restricted in their respective “Territorial Councils.” Very few of them would be able to consider the resources and development of the State as a whole.
Breaking Down Emotional Integration
Numerous factors have adversely affected emotional integration among the Meitei, Naga, and Kuki after the merger with the Union of India in 1949. However, only a few critical factors are highlighted below:
· Unfortunately, till the1950s, some Meiteis had a superiority complex and did not treat the other tribes with mutual respect. The problem was compounded by the Hindu orthodox Meiteis who practiced untouchability then.
· The prominent Meitei social and political leaders of that time lacked foresight and knowledge of the modern world. They were puffed-up with pride with the false belief that they were Aryans and descendants of Arjuna of the epic Mahabharat. Meiteis were not included in the list of Scheduled Tribes (STs) based on their statement, even though Meithei (Meetei/Meitei) was classified as a “Hill Tribe”in the Censuses conducted by the British from 1891 to 1931.
· As a result,when the Nagas and the Kukis were included in the ST list in 1951, Meiteis were isolated by law. Meitei, not being STs, have since been restricted by law from settling in the hill districts of Manipur, which is 90% of the State’s area. Most vacant habitable hill areas, including Meitei shrines, Koubru, and Thangjing Hill, have been occupied by the other tribes.
· Many Nagas and Kukis are influenced by the propaganda of the divisive forces, namely proponents of Nagalim or South Nagaland and Kukiland or Zalengam or Zogam, respectively. The divisive forces have been trying to divide the people of the hill and the valley by spreading hatred and discontent and circulating the fabricated history of Manipur.
· Reacting to the divisive forces, some Meiteis started spreading hatred, especially against the Kukis, in the last few years. The emotional integration between the Kukis and Meiteis is almost snapped during the present crisis.
Military operations can check militant activities. However, emotional integration can only be maintained and revived by compassion and empathy for other ethnic communities. Peace and normalcy will return to Manipur when the dormant sections of Meitei and Kuki, desirous of peaceful coexistence, can stop the vociferous and violent sections of their people or organizations from spreading hatred between the two ethnic groups.
Inclusion of Meiteis in the ST List
The composition of the Meitei population (excluding Meitei Pangal (Muslim) in Manipur decreased from 58.9% in 1951 to 44.9% in the 2011 census. Meitei’s annual population growth rate is the lowest among the ethnic communities in Manipur. The childbirth rate or Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of Meiteias per the 5th National Family Health Survey (2019-2021) was 1.77, below the critical minimum TFR value of 2.11 required by a community to sustain its survival.(To be contd)