The Unfinished Agenda of Tribal Students in Manipur

Adim Gonmei *

Manipur University Guide Map

At the first place, Manipur University was a campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University since 1972 until it was established as a State University in 1984. As a State University, reservation for tribal was supposed to be 31 per cent against the 37 per cent population in the State of Manipur.

There is a systematic deprivation and discriminatory process followed in the recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff. Since 1984, the recruitment in the teaching and non-teaching staff has reduced to mere 10% when the University was brought under the Government of Manipur, which in fact was not based on State's Reservation Policy. Even this 10% was not fully implemented in letter and spirit all these years. It is true that all the tribal faculty members of the past and present were not recruited on the quota basis against the existing polity of 31% reservation of the schedule tribes (STs) in jobs and admissions in all State Government institutions based on the proportion of tribal population to that of the population of the State.

Apart from the existing system in the Manipur University, the tribal begin to witness another form of dimension of rights deprivation that only added more salt to the wound. That is conversion of Manipur University to Central University wef 13/10/2005 received and later the Manipur University Act. No. 54 of 2005 the assent of the President on 28/12/2005. The Manipur University has become too localised in its 25 years of existence.

The conversion of Manipur University to a Central one sounds laudable, but it has not resulted into a better and fairer deal for the tribal students and tribal employees of Manipur University with regard to seats in courses of study/hostel/employment etc. When the Manipur University was under the State Government and the reservation quota for SC/STs was 33% which is the State norms, the authority in the Manipur University flatly refused to abide by the repeated UGC directives to do justice to the tribal students.

When the Manipur University was converted to Central University recently, the reservation for tribal was reduced to mere 7.5% for tribal who constitute 37% of the population to that of the State population. It is very surprise to learn that the high expectation of all the students was only for few selected group of peoples who occupy the major chunk in the Manipur State. The Central Government Reservation Policy, that is, 15% for SC, 27% for OBC and 7.5% for STs was strictly adhered to by the University authority.

It was argued that this system was also not fulfilled. This was manifested in the recruitment of 70 teaching posts in various departments Vide Recruitment No. MU/4-16/94 FCY (pt-IV), dated 9th June 2006. Out of the 70 posts, only one post was reserved for ST category. As far as my knowledge is concerned, even that one lies vacant. We observe that Manipur University authorities are always looking for opportunity/ways and means to grab all benefits that came out of the University. On the other hand, the tribal students pointed their fingers against the MU authorities with their fact-findings headed by MUTSU.

The opportunity Knock at the door when Manipur University was converted to Central one. Now the authority of MU claimed that they are bound to strictly adhere to the UGC guidelines and regulations. It may be noted here that those people who always look for every means to avoid the UGC guidelines and the State of Manipur's 100 Point Roster are now hell bent to follow the Central 'Reservation norms and the 200 Point Roster' as the same is beneficial to a particular Majority Community of the State.

In the light of the state of affairs stated above, the tribal students in the Manipur University under the banner of Manipur University Tribal Students' Union (MUTSU) 2008 began demanding justice for the Tribal Community. We were hopeful that our sincere approach would be addressed because the General/SC/ and OBC category are all occupied by them but this remains just a mere dreams as we all know that MU authority are popularly known for its biased attitude. I was very innocent regarding all these matters but then as my mind is cornered with one particular area, ie feeling proud for being in one of the prestigious University. As I was exposed to this environment, I began to analyse all these arguments and found that there was a systematic discrimination procedure deeply rooted in the Manipur University which is put into practice by the authority concerned.

As a result of all these facts, the tribal in Manipur University went for peaceful form of agitation demanding to do justice for the Tribal Community which the University authority flatly rejected by saying that they are helpless as they are bound by the UGC rules and regulations which prove otherwise. There are many Universities that have local adjustment. Carrying local adjustment by the Government of Manipur and University Authority concerned would never be rejected by the Central Government or UGC because the University is for all the people of Manipur irrespective of class, caste, colour, gender, religion, sex or place of birth, etc.

In the course of the peaceful agitation a large number of State Security Forces were deployed to disperse the agitating students through the use of force and violence means. The peaceful students' agitation was lathy-charged and consequently many students were injured and hospitalised. Security Forces also shot teargas in which some were hurt in legs, thigh, chest etc. In one occasion the peaceful agitating students went towards the Manipur University guest house in order to report the reason of the agitation where the MU authority were carrying out secret interview for the post of teaching staff which the same was deadly opposed by the tribal for violating the reservation norms. On the way, State Security Forces threatened us shouting 'we will shoot you all, don't you know that we are killers'.

We were taken aback in a state of confusion. Why such a well-built structure, looking gentle with two/three stars shouting undemocratic word that should never have been spoken by Security Personnel. This may serve as a reminder if he is still alive. It was a well known fact that such security personnel from Manipur were given award during Independence Day without knowing the true character.

Again an incident which looked so odd occurred in the University Campus. A group of youngsters from outside came inside the campus and began to challenge the tribal students hurling insulting words that finally ensued physical clash injuring many tribal students as they were less in number compared to large group which came in for that purpose. In another incident a mob armed with sticks chased us throwing stones and many were injured. During our agitation they frequently said, 'why you people are asking for Moon and Stars'.

I have no grudge feeling against them because they were just innocent youngsters. They were instigated by some people who have negative attitude towards the agitating tribal students. The agitation went for three to four months. On many occasions, the tribal students were at the point of leaving en-mass the University if no solution came on the way. After a series of meetings with the Chief Minister and his Cabinet Ministers, all tribal MLAs, Chief Secretary, MU authorities, there is no sight of positive response and all these meetings ended up on emotional note rather than finding solutions. When the Tribal Students were in full swing fighting for their rights, on the other side, a regular class was going on for the non-tribal. The agitating students and leaders lost many of their precious time, money, energy, hour and class room teaching for the sake of the tribal community.

As the agitation continued, the momentum of the agitation increased. Now things were different. The State Security Forces came along with empty trucks. We were told to climb up and filled the empty trucks and in case of refusing we were kicked at the back and threatened to shoot. Those empty trucks were fully loaded with many people irrespective of girls and boys. We were packed together and escorted out from the campus. Some students standing thereby shouted at us which is an insulting one. Some trucks went to Porompat Police Station and some to Police Headquarters at Secretariat.

On the way we sang 'we shall overcome one day'. Many students went to their respective villages; towns for the tribal had already vacated the University. Some students were provided with shelters by the student leaders; some went to their relatives and friends. The agitation became the order of the day as a result of it; the 'All Tribal Students' Union Manipur ATSUM' became part of the agitation.

The joining of ATSUM had great impact as this body is the apex body of all tribal students in the State of Manipur. The agenda of local adjustment demanded by the tribal body was flatly rejected by the authority concerned, terming the demand non-negotiable. Consequently, the tribal began to demand for separate Hill University where tribal will have a say in all the matters. The tribal did not demand another Central University that will have 7.5% for tribal. In case of Manipur University 92.5% went to the Majority Community which the tribal students considered that this was too much an injustice and discrimination but then the tribal remained helpless.

Hope of getting better facilities and opportunities completely vanished when those share went to few sections of people at the cost of the tribal students. It is very sad to note that the tribal students in and outside the campus emotionally and mentally felt more and more insecure along with the physical and infrastructural improvements of the campus. As time went by, the diminishing trend of tribal population (students and staff) is visible in the Manipur University. As a result of it, Manipur University is popularly known as Meitei University.

In the mean time, student leaders were summoned for talks to bring an amicable solution to the prevailing situation. For this purpose, ATSUM represented the tribal students and went for talks with clear objectives of separate Hill University for the tribal or not to accept or negotiate on any circumstances if the main objectives were not met. But for the reason they think best, they came along with the 'Indira Gandhi National Tribal University' (lGNTU) which is also a Central University. The apprehension of the students, student leaders of MU and also the visionary leaders who are very much concerned for the tribal cause is slowly and steadily taking its shape penetrating into the IGNTU. Now the authority concerned claimed that 7.5% reservation for the tribal would be given in teaching and non-teaching staff the same case with the Manipur University.

In the recent recruitment for the teaching post, out of four two went to Meitei and two Tribals. It seems that the Hon'ble Vice Chancellor didn't have humane consideration for the tribals. After long struggle and sufferings, passing through the most painful time in the history of tribal in the highest educational institutions, enduring through the chain of suppression, subjugation, physically and emotionally tortured, our past tribal brothers and sisters had suffered for the sake of all the tribal. Though not satisfactorily, because of short sighted view or any reason, we got the IGNTU. Now, starting from tribal students, scholars, professors, politicians and all parents must shoulder together the same responsibilities because it is your sons and daughters who will face the same fate in future.

In the light of the above discussion, I would like to chip in few sentences delivered by Phungzathang Tonsing, the Hon'ble Power Minister at that time, dated 9/9/2009 The Sangai Express under the heading 'CM dedicates University Centre to tribals' proclaimed that "opening of the institute today is the significant achievement of the Government. Urging all concerned to cooperate and strive for the future development of the institute, the Minister strongly emphasised in ensuring that the institute is not transformed to a centre of agitation".

In my opinion, if the hon'ble Minister emphasised areas related to the rights of the tribal students and related matters, rather than the stated one, it would have been wise on his part. Yes, the tribal are fed up with agitation and strikes but the authority concerned who are responsible to cater to all community are never fed up to frame policies and acts to extract the maximum benefit at the cost of the tribal students/community.

Lastly but not the least, to my observation is that, particularly tribal parents who love to see their children grow up and occupy respectable position in the highest institutions may remain just a mere dream if we do not set things right by now. To my view, the Tribal Community has no reason to be happy because the new centre, that is, 'Indira Gandhi National Tribal University' has taken the shape of Manipur University to continue the same pattern/system of subjugation, suppression, manipulation and systematic deprivation of our rights. The same case will follow if we are not vigilant and sensitive to our Constitutional rights given by the Constitution of India.

The write up is based on self experience of perception and response of State Government.

* Adim Gonmei wrote this article in The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on August 04 2011.

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