Why meiteis should not be scheduled as tribe
- Part 2 -

Kulajit Maisnam *

Creamy layer concept is applicable to the Other Backward Classes (OBC) identified by the government of India, which any Meitei can be listed and many do hold the certificate. The creamy layer refers to the relatively wealthier and better educated members of the OBCs who are 'not eligible' for government sponsored educational and professional benefit programs. And this concept is not there for the affirmative action related to Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) (at the state level there are segregations within ST and SC depending on depending on the socio-economic situations of the scheduled population).

Thus the 'creamy' section of the Meitei society is not 'eligible' for certain aspects of affirmative action in India. Now if one has to escape this, the only option left is to move to scheduling as Tribal as Scheduled Caste categorisation adopts a different Episteme. Their issues with this concept of creamy layer already been expressed in public domains and is quite derogatory and beyond the idea of social justice.

Affirmative action or reservation system otherwise has long history in India tracing it to the colonial times where certain 'depressed class' were given quotas in Jobs and Education to increase the opportunities for enhanced social, educational and economic status of the underprivileged communities to make in par with the 'mainstream' (many intellects still claims that Britishers have liberated the depressed class from certain practices of caste). In Manipur Meiteis are the 'mainstream'.

Again on the other side Biharis, Bengalis, Malayalis etc are the mainstream in relation to Meiteis. And within these nationalities are class/caste and other form of disadvantages etc. so you have affirmative actions at the central level and state level; filtering it down to the grass root. If the state of Manipur is declared as a tribal state, we can have a contextualised affirmative actions ('quota within a quota' as expressed by the Demand Committee).

Now the fact of the matter is that, and which I am trying to make is that the state level affirmative actions will not be that 'lucrative' considering the number and frequency of the state government job opportunities (this the Demand Committee knows). Currently Even the few jobs the state has, is being 'sold' to the 'creamy' section of the society which have enough 'capacity' to 'buy'. Whether one is scheduled as tribe of not it hardly matters in Manipur the creamy sections become creamier.

So majority of the people who cannot afford to 'buy' jobs in Manipur moves to central services. Here in the opportunities of central services lies the issue of distributive justice when you do not have the concept of creamy layer or 'quota within quota' in reservations for ST. wherein meritocracy within the ST population will hijack social justice. It will also disturb the existing status quo among the Meiteis who are already clubbed as OBCs and SCs, which has somehow maintaining an equilibrium in quota distribution.

The 'creamy' Meiteis which has the capacity to send their wards to fancy elitist private schools, tuition/coaching centers etc. will swallow the available opportunities at the maximum in central services and central sponsored educational institutes as they possess the 'eligibility' and 'merit'. One may justify meritocracy being the best method to exercise one's ability to its full potential leading to the best outcomes.

But who are these meritorious people? Who decides merit? Is there any standard method to access one's ability and merit? These are pertinent questions that need serious attention and examination. The so called 'meritorious' people has been the creamy Meiteis in Manipur. See the data of the last ten years who has been in the top ten list of the State's secondary and higher secondary exams. How many are highlanders? And if one delves further, these 'meritorious' students will always be from the well to do Meitei families.

In the history of Manipur among the Meiteis in the last ten years how many 'meritorious' students have come up who are the child of daily waged labourers? If this is the situation within the Meiteis, does the Demand Committee has any idea what will be the situation in relation to highlanders who are the 'periphery', when all the facilities and resources (health, education etc.) are centered around Imphal? Those who have the 'access' will be of course become the 'meritorious'.

Meiteis will be 'meritorious' when you make Meitei language the 'official' and the medium of instruction in educational institutes starting from primary education. How many schools are there in the highland villages which uses their own mother tongue as medium of instruction? If it exists, how many teachers are there who are from that village speaking the local dialect? Imagine a child has to learn a foreign language and at the same time learn 'modern knowledge' to be 'eligible' for jobs.

Is it not another road block to become 'meritorious'? When you have so much of socio-economic disparities between hills and plains and discriminatory policies from top till the grassroot itself how can one justify meritocracy? Meritocracy will breed elitism, class antagonism. The move by the demand committee is a tight slap to the idea of social justice considering the current political economy of the State. When there is no equity how can you talk of equality?

The Demand Committee asserts that Meiteis will 'control' India if scheduled as Tribe. The Committee needs a serious understanding of what is bureaucracy and where it figures out in the polity of a nation-state. The move is not going to 'control' India by the 'Meiteis' (ironically the Demand Committee whose aim is to establish 'equality' among the citizens of Manipur does not celebrate presence of highlanders in Indian bureaucracy or even at the state level) by penetrating into bureaucracy, rather it is going to reinforce and strengthen hegemonic 'control' over highlanders by Meiteis (the inequitable share in state assembly and bureaucracy will be self-evident).

By which the Demand committee is solely responsible, not the larger Meitei society. For the very greed of these few Meitei who wants to pave a 'smooth' 'career' path for their already 'meritorious' child, these Meitei elites are putting the state into another turmoil rather than mending hill-valley differences and antagonism by whitewashing the mass with unrealistic 'promises', hence the 'promises' needs a serious observation.

Hill-Valley divide will go away if Manipur is declared as tribal state has been the most 'catchy' promise made by the Demand Committee. The claim has no objectivity in itself. It seems that the Committee has no serious clue of what divides the hill and valley and which divide they are going to bridge and how. Does it mean in the social sense or the political sense? Or in a geographical sense? If it is in the geographical sense, are you going to elevate the valley to make it into mountains? Or flatten the mountains to turn it into a valley? Which will be more cost effective I leave it to the Committee.

Let's pick up the social 'differences' and 'divisions', affirmative actions are meant for socio-economic upliftment of the 'disadvantaged' not to push them further into fringes. Meiteis who take pride in their 2000 old 'civilisation', might be the 'disadvantaged' in relation to mainland Indians but the Demand Committee must remember the highlanders are more 'disadvantaged' in relation to the mainland Indians and in relation to Meiteis.

These highlanders are historically socially 'outcasted', 'orchestrated' for being non hindu by the Meiteis. Even some of them were brought into the valley as slaves to the Monarch. The genesis of heretical discriminatory outlooks and practices might be because of the evilest religion on earth: Hinduism, but has become more of a day to day social practice where one has ingrained those discriminatory outlooks in the psyche of the larger Meitei populace.

The hierarchy has been acquired from the long socio-historical process, constitutionally tagging Meiteis as 'tribe' will never wipe the identity of being a 'Meitei' and its social relations with the highlanders. You are still a Meitei to the highlanders, they will not look at you as one of them: a tribe, which is just a mere categorisation for political and administrative purposes in India.

Even in the central India the 'Scheduled as Tribe' calls themselves and by others collectively as 'adivasis' and the perceived identities of the 'self' in relations to the 'others' does not fade away till today. What I am trying to say is that the acquired identity form a long socio-political process is not going to go away and at the same time, how the highlanders perceive Meiteis and how they attribute identitie(s) to the Meiteis is also from the same or parallely different long socio-political processes that Manipur has gone through till now, is not going to fade right away. This status quo cannot be easily challenged. And importantly cannot be challenged by Meitei merely scheduling as tribe. A social 'mingling' probably would.

(To be contd....)

* Kulajit Maisnam wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer is a Research Scholar at Tata Institute of Social sciences (TISS), Mumbai
This article was webcasted on February 11 2019.

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