Can Manipur Be Saved From Extinction ?

Jila S Waikhom M.D. *

Map of Manipur
Map of Manipur :: Pix - TSE

The recent signing of the peace agreement between NSCN(IM) and government of India which was done in relative secrecy and haste is now old news. Although, the contents of the agreement is yet to be made public, there is no doubt that it will affect the integrity and wellbeing of the neighboring states specially Manipur in particular for the worse or the better. The title of my article may sound sensational; but it is not unthinkable for Manipur, as we know it to vanish or disappear from the face of the earth.

“.Darwin’s theory of evolution” where the fittest survive and the rest perish may apply here.Throughout history,groups of people completely disappeared or absorbed into another society.The Aztecs of central America had a large empire and culture when the Spaniards arrived. Here in the North American Continent the native Americans lost everything life and property to the European settlers;they are now in secluded areas called Indian Reservations.

In Australia,the native Australians so called Aborigines are scattered in jungles in pathetic conditions.Nearer home we know very well the fate of the Cachharies of Surma Valley and Tripuries of the state of Tripura. It is not very far fetched to imagine that Manipur and the Meiteis will face the same fate as the other indigenous people of the world as I cited, if the present situation in Manipur continues unchanged.

Even though the Meiteis are most talented and hard working people and it has a rich culture and long glorious history, in present day India the size of the area they occupy and demography are not in it”s favor. The Meiteis numbering 7 lacs are confined in a small 600 square miles. In other words the Meiteis are like a drop of water in the sea of Indians.Even if we try our best it will be quite difficult to compete with the rest of India. We need to demand the government of India special laws to protect the rights of the indigenous minority people.

To this end we need an united effort of all the people.We may stop blaming each other particularly our political leaders and ministers.They are part and parcel of the society.It does not project a good image of ourselvelves to call names or blame our leaders.

Right now there are widespread movement demanding the re-introduction of ILP in Manipur. The movement is mainly localized to the valley area..Probably,the influx of the outsiders does not affect hill areas because they are protected under the scheduled tribes law. I am in no way minimizing the sacrifices and efforts of our citizens. The young people specially the students are taking the lead.

At present the ILP is in force in the states of Nagaland, Arunachal and Mizoram. All of them happen to be sensitive border areas settled by different people who are in the category of Scheduled tribe. The state of Meghalay does not have ILP but its people are demanding it at the moment. Under the Indian constitution, every citizen has the right of movement freely and carry on one’s business without restriction in any part of India.

The present ILP is a special law created by the government of India for certain areas of the country. It specially keeps tract of the people coming and going to the area. ILP does not prohibit non-locals to buy land and run business. It does not protect the interest of the people completely. In order to protect the interest of local indigenous people prohibiting to buy land special clauses are to be inserted in the present ILP system; that needs to be approved by the Indian parliament and the president. It appears that the present situation for the demand for ILP with special protection clause is facing a hurdle in Manipur.

A much more effective means of protecting the interests of the local indigenous minority people under the Indian constitution is the inclusion of the group under the category of scheduled tribes. It is like a vaccination to protect from a deadly disease like small pox. Dr.B.R.Ambedkar who was U.S.A. educated and belonged to one of the so called backward caste of India , a staunch supporter of the rights of the indigenous people was the chief architect of the Indian Constitution under which Article 342 gives special rights and privileges to the Scheduled Tribes..

The purpose of Article 342 is to support and protect the economically,socially backward indigenous minority people of India and protect from exploitation by the dominant majority..In particular,it prohibits to aquire real estate belonging to a Scheduled tribe by a non-tribal.

At the initial creation of the law hundreds of various groups of people of different parts of India were included in the list of the scheduled tribes. Every group of people residing in the north eastern frontier were included or added on later on.In Manipur, all the tribes were included except the Meiteis. The Meiteis fullfils all the criteria of including in this classification.

At the time of creation of this law they numbered a few hundred thousand people living in a very primitive inaccessible remote part of the country.They have been called one of the tribes in the Eastern Frontier of India by the British and other people of India. When I went first to other parts for college my class mates called me “Janglee”{meaning people of the forest} At that time I was quite mad and was ready to fight.

Now I realise that there was nothing wrong calling me people of the forest which is a correct description. There is complete agreement among all the people that the different groups of indegenous people residing in Manipur including the Meiteis have a commom origin and same DNA. The Meiteis have their own distinctive culture . They have their own arts and crafts. they have a primitive way of life . They lived in thatched wood or bamboo huts with primitive bare furniture and amenities...There main occupation was subsistence farming ,making handloom cloths fishery etc. The Meitei society did not have any big land owner or wealthy person. They had a low level of education and no economic development.

Certain section of the Meiteis may erroneously think that to be called one of the Scheduled tribes is derogatory and a demotion. This cannot be any farther from the truth. Scheduled tribe is not a derogatory name. It is not the creation of a Hindu caste of untouchables. It is just an administrative term given to certain groups of people who fulfills the criteria to protect them economically and socially and protect them from exploitation by the dominant majority.

It is quite evident that the provision of Scheduled tribe in the Indian Constitution does include all the protection we are demanding in ILPsystem and much more benefits in the form Affirmative Action.We do not need to create another law. The very law is in the Indian Constitution created for the very purpose of protection of indigenous disadvantaged people like the Meiteis. The Meiteis were initially missed not included in the list.

There are many groups of people who were not in the initial list but added later on at the request of the involved parties. We have to bring up this issue to the Manipur Legislative Assembly, chief minister and to the Governor for approval and then to the Government of India for the final approval. With all the solid documentation it will not be very difficult to include the Meiteis in the list of the Scheduled Tribes to which the Meiteis rightfully belong..

To me it will be the best way to save Manipur .It will bring an era of unity of the different groups of people and uniformity of the law unlike the present where everything is artificially devided into Tribals and Non-tribals. It will restore the loving and cordial relations of the past among the groups of people residing in this beloved MANIPUR.


* Jila S Waikhom, M.D., wrote this article for
The writer is a reident of Ohio, U.S.A. and can be contacted at jwaikhom(at)woh(doT)rr(doT)com
This article was posted on September 19, 2015.

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