TODAY -

Legalised and institutionalised discrimination of Meiteis in Manipur
- Part 1 -

Soubam Nongpoknganba Meitei *



There is no gain saying on how the present crisis has pushed our society to such an abyss and we don’t in fact know, how long it will take and what it will take to come out of such abyss. Obviously no one would like a repeat of the present crisis at any point of time in the future. But the big question is how to prevent a repeat of such crisis ! Logically therefore, one has to really seriously ponder on what could have boosted such a serious disharmony and what circumstances has led to such an abhorring crisis.

From the cries of both sides, one can easily discern, both sides distrust each other and therefore the first step towards a final solution should be removal of the mistrust. But why this mistrust and how it has fully bloomed is the first question that needs to be answered so that the solution to the problem lasts long. There is no need to look far, the mistrust was sown by the British only and it explodes today, with the trigger being pulled by some more accompanying circumstances !

The British like they have done in the mainland India have used the policy of divide and rule and have divided the State of Manipur as Hill and valley; administered it as two distinct entities viz., Hill and valley so that the divide blooms. For this purpose, they have introduced what is called as “Durbar System”.

Manipur come under the British rule after the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891 but British considered Manipur not as an asset and so regency was established with the political agent as the regent and by putting Raja Churachand who was a minor then on the throne. The British divided Manipur into hill and “non”-hill for administrative purpose and introduced new administrative systems and abolished certain indigenous system in the valley areas.

In the valley areas, Panchayat and Cheirap Courts were introduced, land was surveyed and land tax was imposed. However in the hill areas except for imposition of house tax, the indigenous system was least disturbed. In 1907 when the Raja attained majority, the British enacted the Manipur Administration Rules 1907 whereby the Durbar system was introduced and Raja was made the President and a British officer was put as Vice President.

The President with his other assistants was made to look after the administration of the valley areas only including that of justice dispensation and the Vice President who was a British officer was to exclusively look after the administration of the hills under the supervision of the political agent.

Though the Rules of 1907 was amended in 1916 by incorporating the Raja in the administration of the hills, it was still only nominal. Thus British sowed the seed of division between the Hills inhabited by Naga and Kuki and valleys inhabited by Meitei. Quite unfortunately, the present legal regime in the State of Manipur has carried forward the division sowed by the British.

Article 371C of the Constitution of India (Special provision with respect to the State of Manipur) has empowered the creation of a committee in the State Legislative Assembly consisting of members of that Assembly elected from the Hill Areas of that State which is to be known as Hill Area Committee and the Governor has been given special responsibility to secure the proper functioning of such committee and for management of this Hill Area committee there has enacted a rule which is called as the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972. This is the most divisive regulation which is in force in the State of Manipur and it literally as well as practically divides the State as Hill and “valley”.

The first schedule appended to this order has defined the hill areas as Manipur North, Manipur East, Manipur West and Manipur South revenue districts and Chandel, Chakpikarong and Tengnoupal revenue sub-divisions of the Manipur Central revenue district and in this areas, the HAC has exclusive jurisdiction of administration in many a matters in total exclusion of the State Legislative Assembly, most profound of which is allotment, occupation, or use, or the setting apart of land (other than any land which is reserved forest) for the purposes of agriculture or grazing or for residential or other non-agricultural purposes or for any other purpose likely to promote the interest of the inhabitants of any village or town situated within the Hill Areas and the management of any forest not being a reserved forest.

And yet as if dividing the State is not enough, the Legislative Assembly of the State has been curtailed to pass any Bill affecting the Hill areas in respect of the schedule matters without the concurrence of the HAC.

The second law that divides Manipur can be said to be the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971. Under this Act, the district council has the power among others for allotment, occupation or use, or the setting apart of land, other than land acquired for any public purpose or land which is a reserved forest, for the purpose of agriculture or grazing or for residential or other non- agricultural purposes or for any other purposes likely to promote the interests of the inhabitants of any village or town situated within the autonomous district for which that council is constituted and further to manage any forest not being a reserved forest.

Yet again the Manipur (village authorities in hill areas) act, 1956 has even gone to the extent of empowering the village authorities to maintain law and order in the village and for these purpose exercise and perform the powers and duties generally conferred and imposed on the police by or under the Police Act, 1861 only with certain saving.

However in contrast to the power and functions of the Hill Area Committee, autonomous district councils and the village authorities in hill areas, the power and functions of gram Panchayat and Zilla Parishads and municipal councils which are constituted in the valley areas under the general laws are quite general without any power as had by its hill counterparts, thus establishing two very different legal system in the State, one for the so called Hill areas and other for the “Not hill areas”.

Thus ensured that the rights of the Meitei are curtailed in the name of empowerment of the Scheduled Tribe and their protection. These apart, we have the infamous Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960. This Act is not extended to the “Hill areas” of Manipur subject to certain minor exception and hence the “Hill Areas” cannot be surveyed and hence cannot be properly exploited for economic growth of the State.

This Act further prohibits the transfer of land from tribal to non tribal but not from non tribal to tribal by making the transfer of land from tribal to non-tribal only possible with the permission from the Deputy Commissioner and the District council wherever District Council exists which in fact makes the transfer of land possible only one way that is to say from Meitei to the Naga or Kuki.

The only criteria that permits this legal discrimination is that Meitei is “non-tribal” and not included in the ST list. This is despite the claim that Meitei is a tribal and deserves to be included in the ST list.

The end result of this discrimination is that the Meiteis are forced to squeeze themselves in the valley area which is only 9% of the total land area of Manipur and giving a free hand to the so called tribals to eat more into the valley.

The ongoing clash between the Meitei and the Kuki has made it abundantly clear how badly the Meitei has been compressed. In fact a rough assessment shows the size of land occupation of the Meitei in the whole of Manipur as 4% of the total land area of Manipur and still the Meiteis are given the title of dominant community so that the discrimination of Meitei can be continued unhindered.

To be continued ....




* Soubam Nongpoknganba Meitei, LLM (President, Indigenous Development Mission) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on March 02 2024.



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