TODAY -

Joining the Indigenous People's Club

Konjengbam Kameshore *



Since the President of India, on the advice of Union Home Ministry, withheld one Bill out of three, keeping the two others referred to experts, it is high time for the Meiteis in particular to introspect into what amounts to the actual "rejection" of the said Bills. It could have been because all the three Bills are, in some way or the other, incompatible with relevant Articles of Indian Constitution. We are governed by it and we must try to understand the nitty-gritty of what the Constitution is all about.

It's useless to pass and submit new Bills to the Governor only to be rejected again. A good home work including consultation with stakeholders is highly needed.

There is a chapter called Directive Principles of State Policy in our Constitution is known to all. In this chapter there are three Lists namely: 1) The Union List 2) the State List, and 3) the Concurrent List. The Union List includes subjects to be exercised by the Centre while the State List contains subjects to be exercised by the State.

The Concurrent List contains subjects to be exercised both by the Centre as well as by the State. Some of our present demands are related with citizenship, aliens, naturalisation, emigration, expulsion etc., which all are under the Union List. The Concurrent List, in most cases, is also exercised by the Centre. Through the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976, five subjects like 1) Education, 2) Forests, 3) Weights & Measures, 4) Protection of Wild Animals and Birds, and 5) Administration of Justice, were transferred from State to Concurrent List. Even the Law and Order, which is in the State List is most often exercised by the Centre when a State is under promulgation of certain Acts like Disturbed Area Act as in Manipur, for example. Our Indian Constitution, therefore, is said to be federal in character but unitary in spirit.

In short, there is nothing a State can do which is beyond the parameter of the State List. About the three Bills, did the Manipur Assembly transgress into the subjects under the Union List is now being asked. Again there is Article 371(C) of Indian Constitution under which Manipur Assembly can't pass certain Bills without consulting the Hill Area Committee.

This is one aspect we have to consider before a Bill is passed, for the HAC itself is an Assembly within the Assembly. What a State government can do in matters under Union List is to send a proposal to the Centre requesting to cause a Constitutional amendment. The amendment requires passing of the Bill in both Houses of Parliament. After passing the Bill, it will be submitted to the President for his assent. After getting his assent, the Bill becomes an Act. However, it will have to stand the test of the Supreme Court, in case someone files a PIL.

The essence of the three Bills was to protect the indigenous people of Manipur from being swamped by illegal migrants/immigrants. The demographic threat being faced by the valley people in particular is a fact. But the question is who the indigenous people of Manipur are? Are the Meiteis indigenous under our Constitution? In India ethnic groups are recognised as Scheduled Tribes and this is a legal and Constitutional term denoting them. A verdict of Apex Court in this regard will clear the picture further.

While dismissing the Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction arising out of a Special Leave Petition, (Crl) No. 10367; Kailas & Others vs. the State of Maharashtra; the Supreme Court of India in its judgement on 5th January, 2011, unequivocally asserted that Scheduled Tribes are indigenous peoples of India. Viewed from this perspective, we Meiteis are not indigenous a reality which we should contest.

Officially there are 34 recognised STs and 7 SCs in Manipur and they are known as indigenous people of India under our Constitution. We call ourselves Yelhoumee which when translated is indigenous or original settlers. There are many friends who work for the cause of indigenous people without knowing the fact that we are not recognised as such by the Constitution. Shouldn't we press for recognition of the Meiteis as one of the indigenous groups under the Constitution first?

We should not pretend to be what we are not. Let us call a spade a spade. The irony is our indigenous hill people are deadly against the ILP demand, for their land and polity are already protected under Article 19 (5) and 342 (1) of the Constitution, among others. This certainly is paradoxical indeed for us. Are we unable to locate suitable Articles under our Constitution to safeguard our land and polity, influx and economy? Or can we get our Constitution amended to our liking?

Manipur, once a princely state, became a part of India on October 15, 1949 under an agreement. With an area of 22,327 sq km, the valley is 2,238 sq km or 10% of the total area where the majority Meiteis live. The remaining area of 20,089 sq km or 90% of the total area are in the hills where the tribals live. Manipur in fact should have been declared a hill State long ago. The Meiteis again share this ten percent valley land not only with tribals coming down from the hills but also with Manipuri Muslims, Nepalis, Bengalis, and Biharis etc.

Even the Burmans of Tripura or the Chogyals of Sikkim, who once ruled their respective kingdoms before the merger with Indian Union, are today listed as indigenous people/Scheduled Tribes under Indian Constitution. Manipur kings once had matrimonial alliance with the Burmans, otherwise known as Takhel, in the olden days. (The famous Bollywood music director of yester-year, SD Burman, the father of RD Burman, was born to a Manipuri princess named Rajkumari Nirmala Devi. Almost all film-songs of Dev Anand were composed by SDB). There should not be any reason for the Mongoloid Meiteis to remain unrecognised as indigenous people.

After the enlistment of six Assamese OBCs likeTai Ahoms and Koch Rajbongshis who once ruled mainland Assam and western Assam (Kamtapur region) respectively for many centuries under Article 342 (1) of our Constitution, which is in the offing, the OBC Meiteis will be the last and only group left out in the lurch, outside the indigenous club, in the entire Northeast India. Moreover, the recognition as one of the indigenous groups of people will have wider politico-economic ramifications in international forum. India had signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) on 13 September 2007.

Some of our orthodox yet vociferous, middle class, Meitei landed gentries prefer the status quo. However, they have miserably failed to suggest a concrete and practicable alternative, under our Constitution, to protect our land and polity, influx and economy, for the last sixty five years. The relevance of Yelhoumee or indigenous people is not a contemporary myth. It's real and needs self introspection. Like a vanishing tribe, or lost children of history, walking from one spot of buried hope to the death rattle of another, searching the Constitutional safeguards, in the wrong pages of the wrong chapter of Indian Constitution, we shall be doomed in the wilderness of the streets only.

What we need is to flip the right pages where everything about "indigenous" and "Constitutional safeguards" is enumerated in our statute book. Most of the answer to our present social unrest lies in understanding the above two words correctly. It's very simple and no rocket science indeed. The geo-political reality of today compels us to search for this. We surely need mutual understanding and collective political wisdom before the NFR train reaches Tupul and Imphal.


* Konjengbam Kameshore wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer is a resident of Sagolband Nepra Menjor, Mamang Leikai
This article was posted on July 12 , 2016.


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