Who are Scheduled Tribes in the true spirit of Constitution ?

Dr Arambam Birajit *

For the last 5/6 years we have been talking about the inclusion of Meitei/Meetei in the list of Scheduled Tribes for Constitutional safeguard of the land and resources. Different opinions of different individuals regarding the Meiteis to be or not to be a tribal have been discussed in different media viz TV channels and newspapers.

They are shy to contact with other communities and they live at remote and far off places of North East corner connected with deplorable mountainous roads. All these points are constructed to qualify the criteria laid down by the Lokur Committee (1965) which are as follows i) Primitive Traits, ii) Distinctive Culture, iii) Geographical Isolation, iv) Shyness to contact with Community at large, and v) Socio-economic backwardness. Here, somebody assumes that any culture different from Aryan culture is the meaning of "Distinctive Culture".

But in the criteria, the meaning of "distinctive" is the primitiveness of their total way of life, and not about the peculiar identity of the particular culture. Now, the question is whether our own culture or religion will be primitive for its dissimilarity with Hinduism ?

Contrastingly, when we again talk about our Manipuri language for enlisting as classical language even one who had betrayed our culture and religion would again try to dignify the Manipuri language as one of the finest languages having a recorded history of more than 2000 years and original literary tradition with its own script etc. Many cultural anthropologists have affirmed that the language is the backbone of a culture.

So, any form of antithetic statement between language and culture is not acceptable. So, asserting such one sided, disapproving and contradictory statement is very much unfortunate for all of us. It may lead to an obstruction/defamation in the progressive journey of our culture as well as language. Regarding hawaijar, Ngari and soibum, it is not necessary to define more as it is a matter of food science/technology in a traditional way.

Some foods prepared under the same process of fermentation like Yoghurt, Dosa, Jalebi etc. are popular foods of mainland people whom some regard as developed general caste society. And the same society/community also eat food on plantain leaves in the same manner in their social occasions. In connection with the criterion of geographical isolation, there is a misinterpretation that remoteness and connecting with mainland India through neglected bad road condition are different from the meaning of geographical isolation.

It means self isolation or pushed out by some forces from the main society with a historical reason. In case of Meitei, there is no history of self-isolation or pushed out by any force of mainland society to live in such an oasis surrounded by nine mountain ranges. Till 1949, they had no shared history with Indian civilization.

Mixing with the ideas of indigeneity of Meiteis with that of adivasis, the original inhabitants of India will be a nightmare for the future generation of Meiteis. Now, again another narrative of being adivasis should not be introduced as the pain of distorting Meitei identity as descendants of Aryans in the past has hardly been cured.

The equation of adivasis and indigeneity of Meities has been actually derived from the purposive misinterpretation of the Supreme Court judgment "Kailas &Other Vs State of Maharashtra dated 5th Jan'2011. Point No. 4 of the judgment says "....The tribal people (Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis) who are probably the descendants of the original inhabitant of India". With these words taking equivalent literal meaning of indigenous people or yelhoumee, some people are misinterpreting to impress the frustrated youths.

In continuation to the judgment, point No. 20 reads "....India is a country of old immigrants in which people have been coming in over the last ten thousand years or so, probably about 92% people in India today are descendants of immigrants, who came mainly from North-west and to a lesser extent from North-East...."

Here, the hon'ble Court wants to say that the people coming from North-West are the Aryans and the people coming from North-East direction are none but the present day Mongoloid people of North-East. So, we, the Mongoloid people, are obviously considered as immigrants. Again in point No. 25, there is an underlined sentence saying "....The original inhabitants of India may be identified with the speakers of the Munda languages, which are unrelated to either Indo-Aryan or Dravidian languages...."

Thereafter, in point No.26, it is mentioned in a conclusive view that "....Thus the generally accepted view now is that the original inhabitants of India were not the Dravidians but the pre-Dravidians Munda aborigines whose descendants presently live in parts of Chotanagpur (Jharkhand), Chattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal etc. the Todas of the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, the tribal in the Andaman Island, the Adivasis in various part of India (especially in the forest and hills) e.g. Gonds, Santhals, Bhils etc". Here, a single North-East Mongoloid tribal is not mentioned.

Furthermore, the hon'ble Court mentions some points of historical events in point No.36. "....The injustice done to the tribal people of India is a shameful chapter in our country's history. The tribals were called 'rakshas' (demons), 'asuras' and what not." Again in the same point, the injustice to Eklavya, a tribal boy in the Mahabharat epic is given as a well known example of atrocities done to tribal people. Therefore, as per ruling of the highest Court of India, there is no room for Meiteis to become adivasis or original inhabitants of India. Whereas, in accordance with ILO Convention No.169, we are claiming that Meiteis are one of indigenous peoples of Manipur.

No one can deny this indigeneity of Meiteis. If you are convinced as per this ruling of the supreme Court that only Scheduled Tribes are original inhabitant of India or Indigenous people of India, then you can challenge the same verdict with the evidence of existing STs of North-East. Mizos came during 16th century and Tai Ahoms came during 13th century. Even Nagas came long after Aryans.

If we discuss the genesis of ST, it should go through a politico-historical dimension. At the time of migration or invasion of Indo-Aryans, the original inhabitants of India the so called Adivasis were pushed into hills and forest and also they themselves isolated to protect from the stronger and larger migrated people i.e. Indo Aryans. Since that time, this tribal people were oppressed, marginalized, deprived and exploited. This dreadful situation made them the most vulnerable community characterized by high level of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, timidity etc.

Considering these historical facts, the framers of our Constitution with an elaborate discussion in Constituent Assembly have incorporated several provisions in the Constitution so that this historically disadvantaged group can be uplifted from their poverty and low status.

All these facts are clearly written in the above mentioned Supreme Court judgment of the 5th Jan'2011 and minutes of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, New Delhi discussion on "Criteria for Inclusion/Exclusion of the Communities in the Presidential Order for Scheduled Tribe and Other Tribal Issues" held on the 23rd June 2017 at Lok Nayak Bhavan, New Delhi.

In fact, the Constitutional provisions for ST are purely temporary compensatory provision. The criteria prescribed by the Lokur Committee are also to identify the tribal communities within this purview. Keeping this true spirit of Constitution in the mind, any tribal community outside this historical purview cannot be enlisted in the schedule. If we are identified as Scheduled Tribe, our glorious history of 2000 years as a sovereign Asiatic power must be belittled as an exploited, marginalized indigenous tribal community since Mahabharat, Ramayan or pre-historic civilization. It will obviously bring a narrative of another low born Babruvahan.

Are Meiteis always necessary one Babruvahan to stand erect ? Now, many communities who are not actually genuine are pursuing for ST tag through political backdoor. Whoever may be, to become ST or something is not our concern and the copy paste of their way of achieving for the same is also not necessary. However, our concern is how Meiteis will survive with courage and dignity in future.

Now, the Scheduled Caste communities of Meiteis are getting one Assembly reserved seat and 15% central quota (2% for state). Will they be silent when they lose their one Assembly seat along with 2% State quota and cutting down of 15% to 7.5% Central quota.

On the other hand, all the Meitei Pangal community will be alienated from electoral contest as and when all the valley constituencies are reserved for ST. Will they remain as a mere spectator? The root cause of demographic imbalance in Manipur is also something else rather than visible appearance. Only one sided view without holistic analysis and merely tagging of ST will not bring the solution except fabricating the voluminous crisis.

Why don't we pressurize the state government for Manipur People Bill to get the President's assent? Now is the right time to work together as our state government is double engine government. We need to put our heads together with state for strengthening ILP, workable Population Commission, NRC etc.

As and when all the provisions of ST are withdrawn, every benefit will vanish. Then, at that time, will we again fight for identity and land protection? Why should we waste our valuable time and energy for a temporary provision by keeping aside the permanent legitimate solution? The demand for social security, prosperity, pride and dignity of people is the real far sighted political aspiration. No one is against the idea of protecting our land and identity but the way of finding the solution as ST is unjustifiable and questionable.

* Dr Arambam Birajit wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 17 November 2022.

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