TODAY -

STDCM clarifies and reasserts Legitimate Demand for Scheduled Tribe Status

4rd February 2019



Amidst the heightened public calls for granting the status of ST to Meeteis/Meiteis which has been a genuine demand since some years back juxtaposed with the background of six major communities of Assam in the final stage of being granted ST status, it is unfortunate that certain tribal groups have voiced antagonistic concerns based on unfounded assumptions. The Committee has in the past clarified time and again in clear terms to dispel any misunderstanding regarding the demand and will continue to do. The recent ATSUM press note had several misleading interpretations of history and current socio-political reality to justify their opposition which are addressed here.

First of all, ATSUM’s assertion that the Meeteis/Meiteis are one of the most advanced communities in India falls flat in the first reading itself, and smacks of careless and motivated generalisation. The comparison of Net State Domestic Product ( NSDP) at factor cost ( current prices) figures for the year 2015-16 for the eight north-eastern states show that Manipur is at the 5th rank (Rs. 1754206 lakhs) with smaller state such as Tripura (Rs. 3105833 lakhs) having larger NSDP figures, while Nagaland (Rs. 1736851 lakhs) going toe-to-toe with Manipur. Assam has the highest figure with Rs. 20034731 lakhs.

Not surprisingly, Manipur has the lowest per capita (Rs. 55,603) among the eight states. To give a bird’s-eye perspective showing that the illusion of “one of the most advanced communities” doesn’t apply to any of the North-eastern states, the eight Northeast states contribute roughly 2.90% of the total nominal GDP and this goes to show the region as a whole is still economically backward. In this context, to paint a rosy picture of the socio-economic standing of the state as a whole and the Meetei/Meitei community in particular is just a mischievous act of self-aggrandizement by proxy which cannot be taken seriously at all.

Secondly, as for the religious aspect, it is not anywhere dictated in the Indian Constitution that a Hindu cannot be an ST. The President of India promulgates who is an ST based on broad guidelines prescribed by the Lokur Committee and not based on rigid, specific definitions.

This begets another question: how much of a Hindu the Meeteis/Meiteis actually are? It will be prudent to remember T.C. Hodson’s observation that Hinduism “exists in Manipur, solely in its exoteric form, without any of the subtle metaphysical doctrines which have been elaborated by the masters of esoteric Hinduism.” Several points illustrate how the Meeteis/Meiteis’ practices are different from the orthodoxy of Hinduism such as in the non-practice of child marriage, practice of widow marriage and the freedom of women as evidenced by the economic autonomy and assertiveness of Meetei/Meitei women (no need to go further than remember ‘Ema keithel’—the world’s only all-women run market). Even divorce is commonplace, not sacrosanct as in Hindu marriage world-view.

Our food habits are also another concrete index of our habitual nature and not the adopted/syncretised one. Our centuries-old rituals, Umanglai worship, ancestral worship and our history of the practice of human sacrifices all point to the fact that we are Animists in our soul. The surging revivalist tendencies also reveal the desire to seek the pre-Hinduism roots which itself is a strong indication of our rootedness to our natural world-view. Also, the relevance we still attach to our clan system (Salai taret) should be noted as an indication of our tribalism.

Thirdly, ATSUM’s press note had some glaring factual errors in their hurry to glorify Meeteis/Meiteis. It is a baseless claim without any historical reference that the erstwhile Manipuri kingdom had extended her territory till China. Also, there are no two chronicles but only one authoritative state chronicle which is the “Cheitharol Khumbaba”.

Fourthly, we advise ATSUM not to degrade themselves by demeaning ST status by using terms such as “retrograde demand”, “inclusion in the ST category is akin to asking to be a beggar”, “regressive steps like demotion to ST status”. It is well within our constitutional rights to demand the ST status. ATSUM should also keep in mind that our main agenda is land protection in the face of imminent demographic transformation so as to avoid the same fate of our indigenous Tripuri brothers and sisters. Having understood the geopolitical reality of mainland assimilation programme, our Assamese brethren have been proactive in their demand for ST. ST status will redeem us in the face of sinister designs such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (CAB).

Fifthly, can ATSUM assume moral authority to similarly question the legitimacy of the “advanced” Tai-Ahoms’ demand—the very glorious Ahoms who defeated the Mughals in the ‘Battle of Saraighat’? If Meetei/Meitei population decimated in their own land, which is a genuine possibility in the foreseeable future, then it’s not only the Meetei/Meitei’s loss but a collective damage to the very idea of Manipur because Meeteis/Meiteis are as much a necessary component of the socio-historical ecology of Manipur as much as all the other communities are. So ATSUM’s advice that “it will be advisable for the Meitei people to reflect back to the past grandeur and greatness their progenitors had enjoyed...” is not at all practical and absolutely unnecessary. Living in the past is a wishful waste of time and an insult to the reality of the present.

Sixthly, as mentioned above, land protection is the main agenda and so, let ATSUM be reminded that Meeteis/Meiteis do not fancy usurpation of land in the hills—the very land that Meetei/Meitei kings and soldiers helped protect from other hostile external forces. Seventhly, as for the reservation question, the fairest modalities will be framed so that the old ST groups’ interests are not grazed in any way (the same concerns are there in Assam and to address those, their cabinet subcommittee will do the needful as obviously will be the case in Manipur too).

It’s a time for collective pragmatism and not parochial politics based on communal lines. The Central Government will decide the eligibility of the granting of ST status and so, it’s not for any of the organizations and pressure groups (both hills and plain) to conclude beforehand the suitability of the demand.

It would do us all good to remember that, to the collective consciousness of the mainlanders, we are all the same—backward, primitive and inferior. A Manipuri Kshatriya/Brahmin is a misnomer to them; and as much alien to them as the strict adherence of varna system is to us in our social reality today. We are racially the same to them, which we are. ATSUM’s assertion that “the social stigma, humiliation and excommunication that we [the current STs] are made to endure and to be branded as uncouth, uncivilized and being treated with utter contempt and disdain” in the context of the current Manipur is inaccurate as things have moved on from the regrettably hazy and rough phases of a certain historical milieu.

So, instead of digging up the historical graveyard to score brownie points, our politics need to evolve to that of solidarity, especially in today’s time when the whole of the Northeast needs to show their strength (as illustrated by the massive protests regarding CAB, 2016). The Meetei/Meitei and current tribal relations are not what existed in the past; the dynamic and healthy interpersonal and market exchange that is happening in the plain with many co-existing peacefully in the same locality shows us the way. Looking back won’t do anyone good. We cannot afford to let the symbolic flame in the lantern on Mera Houchongba day be blown away by indifferent and petty politicking.

STDCM will hold talks with the Hon’ble CM on 6/02/2019 and accordingly, based on the outcome of the said meeting, further steps will be taken.

Waikhom Ananda Meetei
Publicity Secretary,
Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee, Manipur (STDCM)


* This Press Release was sent to e-pao.net by Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee, Manipur (STDCM) who can be contacted at cbstdcmanipur(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This Press Release was posted on February 05 2019

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