Who are the Indigenous People of Manipur ?
- Part 1 -

Dr. Khomdon Lisam *

1. Definition of Indigenous people

The United Nations Organisation (UNO) has no exact definition of Indigenous people. On 9 to 20 May 2016, the Fifteenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) affirmed that indigenous people (also termed aboriginal people, native people, or autochthonous people) are distinctive groups protected in international or national legislation as having a set of specific rights based on their linguistic and historical ties to a particular territory, prior to later settlement, development, and or occupation of a region. ( desa/indigenouspeoples/unpfii-sessions-2/unpfii-fifteenth-session.html.).

This Indigenous peoples relates to historical continuity for an extended period reaching into the present of one or more of the following factors: -

o Occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them
o Common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands
o Culture in general, or in specific manifestations (such as religion, living under a tribal system, membership of an indigenous community, dress, means of livelihood, lifestyle, etc.)
o Language (whether used as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual means of communication at home or in the family, or as the main, preferred, habitual, general or normal language)
o Residence in certain parts of the country, or in certain regions of the world
o Other relevant factors.
o On an individual basis, an indigenous person is one who belongs to these indigenous populations through self-identification as indigenous (group consciousness) and is recognized and accepted by these populations as one of its members (acceptance by the group).


Indigenous people are the descendants of the first settlers or natives, or Aboriginals or Autochthonous. The general definition is that those who are born and brought up in a state or region and who have blood relations with the indigenous people of the state or region are the indigenous people of the state or region. People who are the original inhabitants of a state or region and who have nowhere to go back are the Indigenous People. Iindigenous people have common ancestral origin, ancestral land, common culture . In Indian Constitution, there is no definition of Indigenous People .

On 27 October, 2019, Shri S.C. Jamir.(Senayangba Chubatoshi) five times Chief Minister of Nagaland ((1980, 1982- 1986, 1989- 90 and 1993- 2003) and Governor of Maharashtra, Governor of Gujarat, Governor of Goa and Governor of Odisha. said that only those born and brought up by Naga blood are the indigenous people of Nagaland.

2.Definition of Indigenous People - Supreme Court of India

The Judgement of the Supreme Court of India's on 5 January 2011 while dismissing the Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction arising out of Special Leave Petition (Crl) No. 10367 of 2010) (Kailas & Others. Appellant (s) -versus- State of Maharashtra) unequivocally asserted that "Scheduled Tribes are indigenous peoples of India" ( src=news_ section.Inner_Line_Permit_ILP_Demand.Meitei_ST_Scheduled_Tribe_is_the_only_key_to_ILP_in_Manipur_Why_By_Ningombam_Bupenda_Meitei)...

3. Debates in India whether the "Scheduled Tribes" of India are "indigenous peoples" or not

The debate on whether the "Scheduled Tribes" of India are "indigenous peoples" or not took place in India. The Indian Council of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ICITP)42, which was formed in 1987 and affiliated to the World Council of Indigenous Peoples - an organization which received consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, recognised the fact and organized a symposium at New Delhi in April 1992, entitled, "who are the Indigenous Peoples of India?"

In the symposium, the ICIPT admitted the fact that the "Scheduled Tribes" (Adivasis) of India fall under the UN definition of indigenous peoples. In the symposium, it was further elaborated that the Adivasi areas are subject to internal colonialism; Adivasi are treated as the subjects of colonizers even by the Government of India, that millions of Adivasis are displaced, that there is constitutional crisis in the Adivasi areas which has even been acknowledged by the official reports of the Government of India, for example, the 29th Report of the Commission for Scheduled Castes and The Indian Constitution does not define the term " Indigenous People".

Further the Indian Constitution does not define the term "Scheduled Tribes". Instead, Article 366(25) refers to Scheduled Tribes as those communities who are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution. According to Article 342 of the Constitution, the Scheduled Tribes are the tribes or tribal communities or; part of or groups within these tribes and tribal communities that have been declared as such by the President of India through a public notification..." The main question is " what is the identity of the first settlers " or "Natives "

4. UN Debates on Whether, the "Scheduled Tribes" of India are "Indigenous Peoples" or not

Whether, the "Scheduled Tribes" of India are "Indigenous Peoples" or not was debated both in United Nations, Geneva and India. While India led a concrete attack on the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1984, that was the initiative of an individual representing India in Geneva at that point of time. In the Working Group the representatives of the Government of India have repeatedly stated that the "Scheduled Tribes" of India are not "indigenous peoples" (Erica-Irene a. Daes. Report of the Working Group on its Third Session. UN. Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1984/25 at p.35. Much of the discussion questioning the Indigenous))

Hence , the definition of Indigenous People as per Supreme Court of India can not be taken as final. The Meiteis of Manipur are the indigenous people of Manipur. But they are not the Scheduled Tribes.

5.Articles of Declaration On The Rights of Indigenous People

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the General Assembly on Thursday, 13 September 2007.
(https://www. 2018/11/ UNDRIP_E_web.pdf )
( )

The Declaration provides broad recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples to land, territories and natural resources, including :
o The right to strengthen their distinctive spiritual relations with lands and resources (article 25)
o The right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that indigenous peoples possess by reason of traditional ownership (article 26)
o The right to redress just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent (article 28)
o The right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources (article 29)
o The right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources (article 32) The Declaration requires States to take measures to uphold and promote the rights of indigenous peoples relating to lands, territories and resources, such as imposing restrictions on the storage or disposal of hazardous materials in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples (article 29) and placing restrictions on the use of lands and territories of indigenous peoples for military activities (article 30).

6. The other key points of the Rights of Indigenous People are as follows:-

o The right to equality and non-discrimination
o The right to maintain distinct identity and cultural integrity, languages, legal systems and histories.
o The right to maintain and strengthen their distinct cultural institutions
o The right to belong to an indigenous community or nation in accordance with the customs of the community or nation concerned
o The right to practice, revitalize and transmit their cultural traditions and customs
o The right to control their education systems and institutions providing education in their own languages
o The right to promote, develop and maintain their institutional structures, customs, spirituality, traditions and juridical systems
o The right to maintain, control and develop their cultural heritage and traditional knowledge
o The "right to participate and consultation in decision regarding adoption of legislation or administrative policies that affect indigenous peoples (article 19) and undertaking of projects that affect indigenous peoples'
o The rights to land, territory and resources, including mining and other utilization or exploitation of resources (article 32).
o The "right to be actively involved
o The right to free, prior and informed consent
o The right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
o The right to collective rights of self-determination exercising their right to self determination,
o The right to autonomy and self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs

7. States' duty towards Indigenous Peoples

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also declared the States' duties towards the Indigenous People as follows :-

o the duty of States to "obtain their free, prior and informed consent";
o the duty to seek "free agreement" with indigenous peoples;
o the duty to Consult and cooperate" with indigenous peoples;
o the duty to undertake measures "in conjunction" with indigenous peoples; and
o the duty to pay due "respect to the customs" of indigenous peoples.

8.The Legal Status Of the UN Declaration

The Declaration was adopted through resolution 61/295 of the General Assembly. Unlike treaties or conventions, resolutions do not per se create legally binding obligations on States. However: as a resolution adopted with the approval of an overwhelming majority of Member States, the Declaration represents a commitment on the part of the United Nations and Member States to its provisions, within the framework of the obligations established by the Charter of the United Nations.

9.Who are the Indigenous People of India

The Indigenous peoples in India comprise of an estimated population of 104 million or 8.6% of the national population. Although there are 705 officially recognized ethnic groups, there are many more ethnic groups that would qualify for the scheduled tribe status, but which are not officially recognized. Therefore, the total number of tribal groups is undoubtedly higher than the official figure.. ( /Minorities_Castes_and_Regions_in_India/sub7_4h/entry-4216.html)

The 2001 census indicated that 8.2 percent of the population belonged to Scheduled Tribes. provision which protect the rights of indigenous people (Article 46 of the Directive Principal of State Policy (Part-IV) of the Indian Constitution) provided protection and promotion of the interest of the indigenous people

10. Definition of Indigenous People in the Manipur Context

Indigenous peoples can be identified in particular geographical areas by the presence in varying degrees of the following characteristics :-

10.1. A close attachment to ancestral territories and to the natural resources in these areas;
10.2. Self-identification and identification by others as members of a distinct cultural group;
10.3. An indigenous language often different from the national language;
10.4. Presence of customary social and political institutions; and
10.5. Primarily subsistence-oriented production
( Summary of Resolutions of Workshop on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Struggle for Right of Self-determination and Self-government in India. UN. Doc. E/CN.4/sub.2/AC. 4/1994 /4/Add. 1 at Para. 3, 8. 10 )

The Unique identity of the Indigenous People of Manipur. are (1) Mongoloid physical features of the Indigenous People of Manipur (2) Indigenous language /dialect (3) Indigenous cultures and traditions (4) Yek Salai of different Clans / Surnames . All the 23 indigenous communities of Manipur has seven Yek Salais . The Manipur kings right from 33 CE, had given unique identity known as Yek Salai for the Indigenous People of Manipur.. These seven Yek Salai are not present in other communities among the Kukis, Marawari, Gujarati, Sikhs, South Indians Nepalis etc. Those who do not have Yek Salai are the Citizens of India/Manipur but they not Indigenous people of Manipur.

11.Population of Manipur.

Manipur is a Native State having a written history of more than 3394 years whereas all other states in India are created states. Manipur had it own Manipur State Constitution Act-1947 on 26 July, 1947 where as India has its own constitution on 26 February, 1950. Manipur has its own Manipur Legislative Assembly on 18 October, 1948 whereas India has its own Lok Sabha on 17 April 1952. Manipur has a written history starting from 1445 BCE whereas India has a history starting from 15 August, 1947.

Manipur State covers an area of 22,327 Sq. Km. with a population of 2,855,794 as per 2011 Census. The population of Manipur consists of Meiteis, Nagas , Kukis, Meitei Pangans (Muslims), Nepalis, immigrants from other States like Biharis, Marawaries, south Indians etc. The Meiteis consists of Meitei Hindus, Meitei Sanamahis, Meitei Lois, Meitei Yaithibis, Meitei Christians, Meitei Buddhists etc. The Meiteis inhabit in the valley and form 53% of the total population The Meiteis occupy about 8% of the total geographical areas of the State.

The Scheduled Tribes (ST) inhabit in all districts mainly in the hills and constitutes 34.41% of the state population. They occupy more than 92% of the total geographical areas of the State. The lands of Manipur whether in hills and valley belong to the King during monarchy and to the State Government after monarchy. There are 33 recognized ST communities in the State. The list of the Scheduled Tribes with population as per 2001 Census is as follows :-

Serial No. Tribe Population Serial No. Tribe Population
1. Aimol 3,643 18. Monsang 1,635
2. Anal 13,853 19. Moyon 1,710
3. Angami 650 20. Paite 44,861
4. Chiru 5,487 21. Purum 503
5. Chothe 2,675 22. Ralte 111
6. Gangte 15,100 23. Sema 25
7. Hmar 42,690 24. Simte 7,150
8. Kabui, Inpui, Rongmei 62,216 25. Suhte 311
9. Kacha Naga, Liangmai, Zeme 20,328 26. Tangkhul 1,12,944
10. Koirao, Thangal 1,200 27. Thadou 1,15,045
11. Koireng 1,056 28. Vaiphei 27,791
12. Kom 15,467 29. Zou 19,112
13. Lamgang 4,524 30. Poumai 78,249
14. Mao 38,350 31. Tarao 600
15. Maram 10,510 32. Kharam 1,000
16. Maring 17,361 33. Any Kuki tribe -
17. Any Mizo 10,520 34. Mate -

( and

To be continued .....

* Dr. Khomdon Lisam wrote this article for
The writer is MBBS, MHA(AIIMS), M.A (Leeds/UK), HSMC( IHF/London), CCAE( Chula/Bangkok) PDCE (UCLA/USA)
Former Medical Superintendent , JNIMS, Ex-Consultant, NACO, Ex-Project Director (MACS)
The writer can be reached at khomdon(DOT)lisam(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on December 19, 2019

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