Absurd rebuttal of Ngaranmi Shimray’s article “Meetei/Meitei’s exclusion from ST list-queer controversies”

K. Yugindro Singh / Sh. Janaki Sharma / M. Manihar Singh *

Ngaranmi Shimray has brought in many absurd materials in his article entitled ‘Rebuttal to the article Meetei/Meitei’s from ST list-queer controversies” which was published in the editorial page of The Sangai Express (English Edition) on 01.11.2023. Since Shimray’s article has the potential for misinformation to the ongoing move for inclusion of Meetei/Meitei in the ST list, we are constrained to relevantly clarify with justification that those materials contained in the article are indeed absurd and unfounded.

1. The ‘QUESTIONNAIRE’ circulated by the Backward Class Commission (BCC) on 15th June 1953 contains 182 questions under 26 sections being incorporated at Appendix II of BCC Report Vol. I. The Preface of the said QUESTIONNAIRE contains the statement: “We have only to suggest if any modifications in the list of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are necessary in order to make them exhaustive, and up-to-date” (See page 220 of the BCC Report Vol. I).

This constraint faced by the Backward Class Commission, had arisen due to the mandate of authority assigned to them by the President of India which reads as: ‘The President of India was pleased to direct the commission to examine the lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as already published under his order and to suggest any revision of those lists, if on enquiry it was found that such a revision was necessary’(See page 154 of the BCC Report Vol. I).

2. The list of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes relevant here to the context of Manipur, are those contained in the Constitution (Scheduled Castes)(Part C States) Order, 1951 dated 20th September 1951 and the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes)(Part C States) Order, 1951 dated 20th September 1951. Since Meitei had not been included in the list of Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution Order dated 20th September 1951, the Questionnaire of the BCC was not applicable to Meitei.

The Questionnaire of the BCC which was to be answered by the then Government of Manipur headed by a Chief Commissioner, was essentially to make exhaustive and up-to-date the lists of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes of Manipur which was then in existence. The visit of some members from the Commission at six places of Manipur during November 22 to 24, 1953 was to give a hearing to the representatives of both Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes inhabited in those places and also to let them feel that the Commission was not indifferent to their problems (See page 5 of the BCC Report Vol. I).

Therefore, the points raised by Ngaranmi Shimray in connection with the Questionnaire of the BCC fall entirely in the domain of absurdity. As such, in the light of the President’s direction, the Kaka Kalelkar Commission neither had the authority to examine the case of Meitei tribe for inclusion in the revised list of tribes of Manipur nor had the authority to recommend the Meitei tribe to the President.

3. The assertion of Ngaranmi Shimray that Meitei are not a tribe but are a caste is entirely absurd being contrary to records maintained by the British Government of India. There is no illegality in the registration of the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union. To get knowing that Meitei is a tribe but not a caste, it would be in the fitness of things if Ngaranmi Shimray could particularly contemplate on paras 1 to 4 of our article “Ngaranmi Shimray’s reasons for exclusion of Meitei in the ST list are misleading and incorrect” published in The Sangai Express on October 14, 2023, which are reproduced below:

“1. During the days when the British ruled India, the British administrators identified and classified the people of India based on the definitions of ‘caste’ and ‘tribe’ enshrined in the ‘Imperial Gazetteer of India’ published by H. Frowde, Oxford University, London (1907) and other authority books such as the ‘Census of India, 1901 Report’ by H. H. Risley & E. A. Gait (1903), and ‘The People of India’ by Hebert Risley & W. Crook (1915). The anthropological devices used for the purpose were ethnography, ethnology and anthropometry which are well described in authority books such as ‘The Tribes and Castes of Bengal’ by H. H. Resley (1891).

2. Based on the on the ethnography of Meitei as provided in the book ‘Annual Report of the Munnipore Political Agency for 1868-69’ by Dr. R. Brown, the then Political Agent of Manipur, the British Government of India identified and classed Meitei as a primitive hill tribe of the erstwhile Assam Province. (For instance, see A. M. Meerwarth’s book ‘Ethnographical Gallery, Guidebook No. 2 (The Andamanese, Nicobarese and Hill Tribes of Assam)’(1919)). As such, during the days when the British ruled India, the then British Government of India enlisted Meitei as a primitive hill tribe right from the year 1872 when the noted ethnographer E. T. Dalton published his famous book “Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal” printed by the Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta.

3. In all census reports right from the census of India 1881, various books and research articles authored by contemporary British ethnographers, linguists and administrators during the British rule of India, described Meitei as a primitive hill tribe. For instance, in the book ‘Census of India, 1931 Volume III Assam Part I – Report’, by C. S. Mullan, M.A., I.C.S., published by the Superintendent, Assam Government Press, Shillong in 1932, the author listed a series of 12 (twelve) primitive hill tribes of Assam viz., Meitei, Mikirs, Garos, Naga Tribes of Manipur, Kacharies, Lushai-Kuki, Khasis, Angami Nagas, Lhota Nagas, Ao Nagas, Thado Kukis, Lakhers, along with authority monographs on the ethnology of the tribes (pp.205). In case of Meitei, the monograph ‘The Meithei’ authored by T.C. Hodson was acknowledged.

4. Although the self-claim made by the contemporary Meitei as Kshatriyas of the Hindu Caste System, the British administrators rejected their claim of Hindu origin. In his book ‘History of Assam’, E. A. Gait (1906) wrote about Meitei (Manipuri) as follows: “They pretend to be Kshatriyas, and are supported in their claim by the degraded Brahmans who serve them, and who, after giving the State its present name and identifying it with the Manipur mentioned in the Mahabharat, have invented a legend that the people are descended from the hero Arjun by a Naga woman, with whom he cohabited during his alleged sojourn in this neighbourhood”(pp.264). H. H. Risley, and E. A. Gait in their book ‘The Census of India, 1901 Volume I, Part I – Report’ stated categorically: “Although they have become thoroughly Hinduised, they have not adopted any Aryan tongue” (pp.270). The Hindu origin of Meitei was rejected by all frontier British officers including R. B. Pemberton, William McCulloch, R. Brown and T. C. Hoson.”

4. Scheduled Tribes (STs) are notified under 342 of the Constitution of India. The Government of India had on 15.6.1999 (and further revised on 25.6.2002) approved the modalities for determining claims for inclusion in and other modifications in the list of Scheduled Tribes. As per these modalities only proposals recommended and justified by the State Government concerned and agreed to by the Registrar General of India (RGI) as well as the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) are considered for amendment of legislation. Proposals, if any, for inclusion in or exclusion from, the list of Scheduled Tribes are to be taken as per the amended 1999 modalities.

The recommendation of the concerned State Government is pre-requisite for inclusion of a tribe in the ST list. Vide two letters bearing Nos. 19020/05/2012-C&I.M. dated 29.05.2013 and 12026/09/2013-C&I.M. dated 31.05.2022, the Government of India, Ministry of Tribal Affairs have requested the Government of Manipur to furnish specific recommendation for inclusion of ‘Meitei/Meetei’ community in the Scheduled Tribes list of Manipur, but the Government of Manipur is yet to respond to those letters of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.

Sensing the premonition of not being taken up appropriate action to comply with the two letters of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs dated 29.05.2013 and 31.05.2022 by the Government of Manipur, eight members of the Meetei(Meitei) Tribe Union filed a writ petition being WP(C) No. 229 of 2023 in the Hon’ble High Court of Manipur, praying for issuance of a writ/direction to the Government of Manipur in this regard. All respondents mentioned in the writ petition No. 229 of 2023 are the concerned authorities of the Central/State Governments involved in the issue for inclusion of a community in the Scheduled Tribes list of Manipur.

5. It is not necessary to include any of the existing Scheduled tribe communities of Manipur as private respondent in filing the writ petition WP(C) No. 229 of 2023 simply on the ground that they are already included in the Scheduled Tribes enjoying the privileges of being ST for a long time. They cannot be regarded as aggrieved parties in the light of the Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of V. N. Krishna Murthy vs. Ravikumar, [(2020) 9 SCC 501] wherein the Hon’ble Supreme Court has held as under:

“19. The expression ‘person aggrieved’ does not include a person who suffers from a psychological or an imaginary injury; a person aggrieved must, therefore, necessarily be one, whose right or interest has been adversely affected or jeopardised [vide Shanti Kumar R.Canji vs. Home Insurance Company of New York, (1974) 2 SCC 387, and State of Rajasthan vs. Union of India, (1977) 3 SCC 592].” It may be pertinent to mention that the said judgement of the Hon’ble Apex Court has overruled the judgement of the same court in the case of “A. Subah Babu vs. State of Andhra Pradesh and Anr.” reported in (2011) 7 SCC 616.

As the apprehensions raised by the existing Scheduled Tribes communities of Manipur on the ST demand of Meitei are a psychological or an imaginary injury, none of these ST communities can be regarded as an aggrieved party and hence, it is not necessary to include any of the existing ST communities of Manipur as private respondent in filing the writ petition WP(C) No. 229 of 2023.

6. It would not be fair on the part of Ngaranmi Shimray to make reference to the article of Dr. Arambam Birajit whose personal ideas are found to be lacking factual support in the present context, but more apparently based on the chauvinistic articulation of Meitei as if a civilized nation. The concept of Meitei nation was applicable when Manipur existed as a sovereign country ruled by Meitei Raja/Chief. However, after the merger of Manipur into India w.e.f. October 15, 1947, the concept of Meitei nation no longer exists and now Meitei is just a community in Manipur. It is an undisputable fact proven by records that Meitei was a tribe and is still a tribe who fulfills the established criteria set out by the Lakur Committee in 1965 for specification of a community as a tribe.

7. Notably and more unfortunately, Ngaranmi Shimray has brought in Abinay Lakshman’s article “ST status for Meitei was considered and rejected in 1982 and 2001, government record show” published in the national daily ‘The Hindu” on 17th October 2023 in which we have rebutted appropriately by our article entitled “Abhinay Lakshman’s observations on the ST status of Meiteis are misleading and incorrect” in some local and national/international media including ‘The Sangai Express’, ‘Ukhrul Times’, ‘’ and Imphal Times during 20th to 23rd October 2023.

Till now, the Government of Manipur has not submitted any ethnographic report of Meitei to the Registrar General of India (RGI) for inclusion of Meitei in the ST list. The information furnished by the Office of the RGI to the Hindu under the RTI Act 2005 that the Meitei community “does not appear to possess tribal characteristics” based on available information” is wrong on the ground that the information contradicts the records of the Government of India such as, census reports published by the British Government of India right from the census of India 1881, various books and research articles authored by contemporary British ethnographers, linguists and administrators, which had altogether described Meitei as a primitive hill tribe of the erstwhile Assam province.

Rejecting Abhinay Laxman’s idea, we have clarified that the Government of Manipur did not convey decision, if any, on the ST status of Meitei while communicating the letter No. 17/1/96-TD, dated 3rd January 2001 to Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi. Mere mentioning of a 20 years old comment made by the RGI in 1981 in the aforementioned letter dated 3rd January 2001 cannot be construed as an approval of the Government of Manipur.

8. It is an undisputable fact that right from the 1881 Census of India, the British Government of India recognized Meitei as a primitive hill tribe of the erstwhile Assam province along with many sister tribes, such as Naga, Kuki, Mikir, Khasi, Garo etc. However, after merging of Manipur into India w.e.f. 15th October 1949, the Government of Independent India excluded Meitei from the first Scheduled Tribes list of Manipur notified under the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) (Part C States) Order, 1951 dated 20th September 1951.

Thus, it vividly depicts that the lapses was happened due to non-recommendation of Meitei by the then Chief Commissioner of Manipur, Himmat Singh Maheshwari to the Government of India. Till now, this being the reason why Meitei has not been included in all subsequently revised lists of Scheduled Tribes of Manipur, published by the Government of India from time to time.

9. The exclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes list of Manipur has completed 70 years on 20th September 2023. As Meitei have been deprived of the legitimate rights, benefits and privileges guaranteed to the Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution of India for the last 70 years, their economic and social conditions, inter-alia, have been affected to a great extent. This is evident from the fact that most of the common Meitei people are now led to live in abject poverty while many traditions, customs and cultures associated with the ancient heritage of Meitei are on the verge of extinction.

Many Meiteis have been destined to sell out their land, to the people of other communities viz., ST communities, Manipuri Muslims and other flowing in migrants, mainly due to poverty, thereby leading to rapid shrinking of the land areas owned by Meitei in the Manipur valley since the past few decades. The composition of Meitei population has been decreasing alarmingly as witnessed from its composition of 56.2% in 1881 census and 44.91% in the 2011 census. While the annual population growth rate of Meitei is 7.17% being categorized the least in the following Table, the census data of Manipur for the years 1881 and 2011 reveals doubtful imbalanced picture of demography:

 census data of Manipur for the years 1881 and 2011
census data of Manipur for the years 1881 and 2011

As witnessed from the pattern of population growth rate above, it would be worthwhile to mathematically project that after a few decades, Muslim will become a majority community in the Manipur valley since their annual population growth rate is 5 times more than that of Meitei.

10. Meitei are miserably concerned with becoming a minority race at not much distant future and deteriorating socio-economic conditions coupled with insufficient land to accommodate their populace. Hence, it would not be an exaggeration that presentiment on extinction of Meitei is looming large. Inclusion of Meitei in the Scheduled Tribe list is the only means to avert this impending gloomy situation of Meitei.

Inclusion of Meitei in the Scheduled Tribe list would not only provide solutions to the multi-faceted problems prevalent in Manipur, but also help bring a uniform system which could be the only ‘panacea’ for bringing equal status, emotional integration, social harmony, among others. Further, its inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe list will naturally pave the ways for declaration of Manipur as a hill state, as was earlier recognized by the British Govt. of India.

The recent efforts of the Meitei (Meetei) for inclusion in ST Category are only for obtaining the privileges given to STs by the Government of India and they have nothing to do with grasping the lands of the present Hill tribes of Manipur as wrongly speculated and hypothesized by Ngaranmi Shimray.

Here, the undeniable remarks made by a former top bureaucrat be drawn that in an article published in The Sangai Express dated September 22, 2023, Shri K. K. Sethi, former Chief Secretary of Manipur had suggested for inclusion of Meitei in the ST list of Manipur in order to enable them to avail the privileges provided under the Constitution of India which they have been missing for the last 70 years.

It may be highly pertinent to mention that a bill entitled “The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (Bill No. III of 2019)” for inclusion of 41 communities in the Scheduled Tribe list of Assam is pending in the Parliament for approval.

Once the said Bill No. III of 2019 is passed by the Parliament, Meitei will be the lone community belonging to the Mongoloid stock of races of the North-East India barred from inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe list, despite fulfilling all the criteria for inclusion in the ST list. At the fag end, it might appropriately be fortunate if the issue, in question could be viewed in a broader sense taking the modus operandi currently in force across the country instead of targeting to a particular myopic community in a tiny hilly state of India.

* K. Yugindro Singh / Sh. Janaki Sharma / M. Manihar Singh wrote this article for
The writers are Independent Researchers and can be contacted at yugindro361(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 11 November 2023.

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