Former chief secretary moots ST status for Meeteis
Source: Chronicle News Service

Imphal, September 21 2023: Former chief secretary Kewal Krishan Sethi has suggested granting Scheduled Tribe status to Meetei community in order to bring lasting peace in the state.

"There is trouble in Manipur and the tribals are protesting against the proposals to declare Meetei as tribals.

It is a natural reaction.

They have enjoyed the privileges for a very long time and do not like to share that privilege with anyone else," the former chief secretary, who was known as KK Sethi writes in an article published in NewsRoom24x7.Sethi reflected on a conversation with the then union minister of state for Home Affairs, back in 1995, where he emphasised that according tribal status to Meeteis could potentially mitigate conflicts in Manipur.

He contended that Meeteis, despite being Hindus, share cultural and societal characteristics with other tribal groups and should not be excluded from the tribal category.

The controversy has its roots in historical policies and classifications, where certain communities enjoyed privileges linked to their tribal status.

These privileges included reserved employment opportunities, exemptions from income tax, and welfare schemes.

This created a noticeable disparity, causing discontent and agitation among the Meetei community, leading to various movements.

All members of the Committee headed by Kaka Kalelkar were from the parts of India where caste system was entrenched and they had no idea about Manipur and its culture.

And yet they must find Scheduled Castes from among them.

So, what did they do? There was a custom in Manipur where the punishment of exile was given.

But where to send them where they would not feel totally out of place.

Some villages in the foothills were identified and such persons were asked to stay there.

Once even the brother of the King was sent to such a village.

After a while he was pardoned and was allowed to return.

So were many others.

It was not a permanent exile.

After being denied the normal modes of livelihood, they adopted other professions.

This was seized upon by the Kaka Kalelkar Committee and the residents of these villages were termed as Scheduled Castes.

However, this is just to illustrate the pre-conceived ideas of the people from other parts of India to view their compatriots in areas with which they were not familiar.

They applied their yardstick and did not delve into niceties of the areas and its culture which they visited and the tribal status was denied to Meeteis.

This led to lot of heartburning because privileges were attached to this class of tribals.

They were as prosperous as Meeteis and could buy land in the plains while the Meeteis were denied permission to buy their lands.

It was one way traffic.

"Now the proposal is there and my view is "better late than never".

The opposition is, as I said before, natural but I hope the government with a new outlook for the entire country will listen to reason and act accordingly," KK Sethi writes.

Sethi's proposed solution seeks to address this longstanding issue by granting tribal status to Meeteis, a move that has gained renewed traction.

While the proposal is met with opposition from some quarters, proponents believe it's a step towards acknowledging the shared cultural traits and promoting inclusivity within Manipur.

KK Sethi, a 1963 batch IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre had an illustrious career.

He was chairman of the Board of Revenue, Madhya Pradesh, chief secretary of Manipur, and head of the National Commission for Linguistic Minorities (NCLM) .

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