Some sections of Meiteis are demanding inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe list. Antagonists among the “educated” have spewed venom. Protagonists have been accused of trying to revert from a civilised race to tribalism. They have forgotten that the Meiteis belong to the descendants of Barbubahon, son of Arjuna of the Pandavas, who married a Manipuri princess, Chitraganda.
No one is competent enough to question these groups. They say that the demand for ST status will harm age-old relations between the scheduled tribe population and the Meiteis. But they seem unaware that today the state’s entire tribal population is united against the Meiteis, not because of the demand for the ST status, but because of the Inner Line Permit issue.
Today, even after 15 months the bodies of nine protesters, killed in the Churachandpur clashes following the passing of the three controversial bills, are lying in the local morgue. This has united the tribal people and there are some interested groups which have imbibed the old Chanakya doctrine of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
Soon after the Churachandur incident, the town started getting visitors from Naga areas like Senapati and Ukhrul, which is NSCN(IM) supremo Th Muivah’s home district. The Kukis forgot the 1990s ethnic feud in which more than 1,000 of their clan, women and children included, were killed by Nagas and many rendered homeless. After the Churachandpur incident tribal population of Manipur appear to be trusting the Mayangs (non-local people), more than the Meiteis. And for all those noted personalities who have voiced concern over not antagonising the tribal people — the question is, why would any one of them think it necessary to visit Churachandpur after the bloody clashes. At least one Meitei, attached to a national daily, had the courage to go and offer condolences and also address a small gathering at the hospital there.
The simple question is how the Meiteis call the tribal people primitive and still say that they are brothers. Are our Meitei leaders so advanced to call the royal family of Tripura or Sikkim “primitive and uncivilised tribals” as both the Maharajah of Tripura and the Chogyal of Sikkim were classified Scheduled Tribes. And it should be borne in mind that the Manipuri Ras leela dance became famous, thanks to the tribal Maharajah of Tripura showcasing it before Rabindranath Tagore.
The protagonists are a group of people, or rather, in other terms; most of them do not have a public face not having been part of a movement. But they have a point of view and the learned scholars and intellectuals should give them space — it is their right to demand something that is an integral part of the Constitution. And judging by their activities all that they have been doing was to hold in-camera meetings and submit memorandums. Their only visible move was a rally on 22 May 2016.
Suddenly a group of people or organisations seem to have felt threatened that their objective would not be achieved if the Meiteis are given ST status. Our friends on the other side of the Constitution, will do well to look into the causes of depleting recruitments to their cadres, the shrinking space of “liberated zones” and the people’s support.
In Nagaland it was Angami Zapu Phizo and Sheikh Abdullah in Kashmir, who first questioned the concept of Indian nationhood. The embers from the fires lit by Phizo continue to burn. And Ulfa chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa, has raised the issue of the classification of four major groups of Assamese as scheduled tribes, when they are not even backward in the real sense of the term.
Then, there is also the point of the Meiteis having a recorded history of 2,000 years and thereby being an advanced civilisation.
Wheat and rice cultivations began in Manipur only after the coming of the Pangals (Manipuri Muslims) some 300-400 years ago — definitely not a sign of an advanced civilisation. That the Manipuris became Hindus is a historical fact and it is also a fact that the Meiteis have retained their pre-Hindu rites and rituals. Else why do we follow the Lai haraobas rituals that is integral in the socialisation process of the Meitei people? Two traits are sine qua non of the Lai haraoba festivals; the first is the appearance of the Tangkhul Saba — according to legends, the Tan-gkhuls are the elder brothers of the Meities. By this count Manipuris have the tribal lineage, and the second is the Saren Chanba which, in the days gone by, used to have human sacrifices but that has been replaced by fish in the post-Hindu period, hence animals are excluded also.
And also in every Meitei Hindu household, Brahmins included or otherwise, there is a corner earmarked as the Sanamahi Kachin, the resting place of Lord Sanamahi, the household deity. This denotes that although Hindus, the Meities are still animists at heart and in practice.
The first communication addressed to the Governor of Manipur was sometime in 2013. But much before that during the time of GK Pillai, Union home ministry joint secretary in charge of the North-east, there was a move by a small group of non-Hindu Meiteis and who followed the Sanamahi Laining, for declaration as a sche-duled tribe. So the conspiracy theory, a la Pillai, falls flat.
Culturally, Manipuris pride themselves for being in an advanced stage of cultural development but at the moment, if one is asked to describe the actual state, he/she would not hesitate to say that the Meiteis have graduated from a “gun culture” to “mob culture.”
Last year the Meitei journalist was invited to a consultative meeting on the proposed ILP bill. It was held on the compound of Manipur University at Canchipur. A draft bill prepared by advocate Oja (Guru) Araba was read out and after this the invitee remarked that whatever bill was passed has to get the Presidential assent. It was also pointed out that the BJP Government is backed by the RSS and does anyone know what the Indian map of the RSS looks like? None knew, so the invitee said the map of India, according to the RSS, starts from Kabul in Afghanistan and ends in Myanmar and it is called “Akhand Bharat”.
To such a group, how would it allow an Indian state to pass legislation aimed at controlling movements of non-Manipuris wanting to go there and seek employment. Now let us assume that Narendra Modi or Rajnath Singh, being afraid of the Manipur chief minister, agree to give the green signal and have the bill become an Act. Even in such an eventuality will the Act stand the test of the Supreme Court? It is the same Supreme Court that had ordered a probe into the extra-judicial killings of some 1,500 people by the central and state forces in Manipur. It will also say no to the Manipur Government enacting an Act that aims to curtail free movement of Indian citizens.
At the meeting, it was suggested that instead of asking for an ILP bill why not one for inclusion of Meteis in the ST list? He said it was nothing new as “we would be demanding something already existing and maybe we should be able to first protect our lands to insulate the area from the influx of outsiders and settling in our state”.
It was also suggested that since the meeting was held on the university campus any decision taken by it should be called the “Canchipur resolution”. While almost all present agreed with him, professor Arambam Lokendro said that the issue was yet to be discussed by the public and should be dropped. Considering the professor’s age and the respect he earns, the matter was not pursued.
Earlier, the invitee had raised this subject to RK Meghen, former chairman of the United National Liberation Front, one of the most important personalities in Manipur. He is now serving a 10-year jail term in Guwahati jail. He also takes the same stance that considering Manipuris’ 2,000-year-old civilisation, becoming a tribal group would not augur well for the community. But the invitee presented his line of reasoning of the possibility of the ILP Bills not seeing the light of the day. He then relaxed his stance and said that“perhaps the debate should be left open”.
The invitee said “the entire Meitei community has already been classified as Other Backward Classes, neither me nor my children can obtain an OBC certificate, but there were no protests from the advanced Meitei community then.”
The results have been forthcoming as is evident from the number of Meiteis qualifying in central services. The selection of RK Dinesh and Kh Diana or for that matter RK Phalguni, are exceptions to the rule. And it is not just IAS and IPS posts that one is longing for the Meitei community as STs, but the thousands of other opportunities for our boys and girls to make inroads into the railways, postal services or the numerous public sector enterprises that recruit thousands of people every year.
The net result is, if we belong to the ST, then within 10-20 years’ time Manipur would be able to control India. If we have 50 IAS, 100 IPS, hundreds of others in various services and thousands others in Grade II and IV across the country, then Manipur would be a force to be reckon with. And continue to progress in sports and play polo, perform the Ras leela and worship Shri Shri Govindajee. And for those who are diehard high caste Hindus, all that is required for them is not to take ST certificates and maintain their status quo.