Rebuttal to the article "Meetei/Meitei's exclusion from ST list-queer controversies"

Ngaranmi Shimray *

The Sangai Express newspaper on 30.10.2023 published a clarification by K Bhogendrajit, General Secretary of the STDCM on an article written by Ngaranmi Shimray also published in the same paper on 10.10.2023 raising a few points requiring clarification. These are clarified below:-

1. The Backward Classes Commission (aka Kalelkar Commission) had sent out a questionnaire containing 282 questions eliciting the views of the State Governments/UTs. It included questions relevant to this discourse under the caption - “Revision of Lists”, namely question -

“3. Do you think that the Lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes issued under the President’s Order need any revision ?

4. If so, what castes or communities do you suggest for inclusion in or exclusion from the above mentioned two lists? Please state reasons.

5. Has any representation been received by your Government from individuals, groups, organisations or associations for modification of these lists?

6. Has your State Government recommended for inclusion in or exclusion from the existing lists of any tribe, caste or community?” (Source - Report of the Backward Classes Commission (BCC) page 225).

2. The questions at para 1 above was clearly eliciting answers if the lists of SCs and STs issued under the President’s order need any revision. It also asked for suggestions for inclusion in or exclusion from the SC & ST lists. There was also a question if “your State Government recommended the inclusion in or exclusion from the existing lists of any tribe, caste, or community.” The ball was in the court of every community to say if they want to be included or excluded and also asked if their proposal has been recommended by their State Government.

If the Meitei community failed to propose to be SC or ST, the need for the Government at that point of time to send a recommendation for inclusion of Meitei community in the ST list would not have arisen. It was deduced from the questionnaire that the Meiteis (including all communities in the country) when given an opportunity by the Kalelkar Commission did not include themselves. The Meitei exclusion from the ST list is by their own choice. They did not find it dignified to ask for the SC or ST status which they may have felt degrading at that point in time.

3. The STDCM has a huge responsibility for carrying out a proper research if they are to propose that the Meitei community is to be included in the ST list. The Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union bearing Regd. No. 15 of 2022 (very strange how they got registration from the Manipur Government as a ‘Tribe’ when they are caste) who went to the Manipur High Court in WP(C) No. 229 of 2023 must have definitely conferred with the STDCM who is spearheading the demand for preparation of the writ petition.

Firstly it is very strange why the respondents were only:- (1) The State of Manipur represented by the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur, and its Office at Babupara, Old Secretariat Complex, Imphal West, Manipur-795001. (2) The Chief Secretary to the Government of Manipur and its Office at Old Secretariat Complex, Imphal, Manipur-795001. (3) The Secretary, Tribal Affairs and Hills Department and its Office at Old Secretariat Complex, Imphal, Manipur and (4) The Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Govt of India, Shastri Bhawan New Delhi- 110001. Please note that not a single Scheduled Tribe person or ST organisation was made a party or respondent in the writ who would have been adversely impacted by any decision prayed for in the writ.

Shocking, that all the petitioners and all the lawyers including the standing counsel of the Union of India is also a Meitei. Strangely, there was no transparency in handling of the entire matter as the Department of Tribal Affairs & Hills, Government of Manipur which could have thrown some light on the legacy of the proposal had no inkling of what was going on. The department would have told the State Government, Government advocates and the High Court about the embarrassing facts revealed subse- quently by Abhinay Lak-shman in The Hindu on 18th October 2023.

Abhinay Lakshman reported that the Office of the Registrar General of India (RGI) had looked into the Meitei demand for inclusion in the ST list on a request from the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1982 and found that, based on “available information”, the Meitei community “does not appear to possess tribal characteristics”, and it was not in favour of inclusion. He went on to state that the erstwhile Ministry of Social Justice, while revising the SC/ST lists of States and Union Territories, had sought recommendations from the Manipur Government and it responded on 3rd January 2001 that it agreed with the 1982 opinion of the Office of the RGI on the status of Meiteis.

The Manipur Government, then headed by Chief Minister W Napamacha Singh, had stated that the Meitei community was the “dominant group in Manipur” and need not be included in the ST list. It stated that Meitei people were Hindus and have “assumed the status of Kshatriya Caste in the ladder of Hindu Castes”, and added that they have already been listed as Other Backward Classes.”

Three hard hitting facts have emerged from these revelation:- firstly, no proper research was carried out or was deliberately suppressed by the STDCM, including the petitioners and perhaps the State Government too, as documents unearthed through RTI by Abhinay Lakshman have revealed that it was rejected by the GoI, then conveyed later by the Government of Manipur that they are the dominant group in Manipur adding that they have assumed the status of Kshatriya Caste in the ladder of Hindu Castes and they have already been listed as Other Backward Classes.

Secondly, everything that transpired in WP(C) No. 229 of 2023 in Manipur High Court has exposed the partisan consideration and decision making process of the Manipur Government which has been already alleged by the Kuki-Zo tribes to represent only the Meitei community. All these exposure appear to strengthen the allegation and suspicion that the Manipur Government is in fact becoming a Meitei Government.

Thirdly, the entire matter in the legal fraternity and its process of disposal of WP(C) No. 229 of 2023 in Manipur High Court on such a serious petition at motion stage with all parties present in Court being from the Meitei community and consenting for disposal in a single hearing with not a soul from the ST community having even a whiff of the High Court oral order made on 27th March 2023 until it was made public on 19th April 2023 seem to indicate something fishy pointing to subterfuge and surreptitious approach making it look more like an outcome of a conspiracy at the highest level.

4. The article is not contemptuous at any level but has pointed out ‘just facts’. Blaming the Chief Commissioner is not right as the questionnaire was solicited from the communities to suggest for inclusion in or exclusion from the above mentioned SC and ST lists. The Kalelkar Committee members visited Imphal, Ukhrul, Churachandpur, Mao, Sekhmai and Waithou Mapan for 3 days from 22 to 24 November 1953. (Page 214 of BCC Report). Nothing prevented the Meitei community to approach the BCC to stake their claim even during the visit. Such an important visit to six locations in the State cannot be missed by the Meitei community. The questionnaire appears to have been filled up by Manipur Government and sent to the BCC as it carries information of the number of students in Manipur at page 252 of BCC Report.

At least, by their own admission by the General Secretary of the STDCM stating that “the proposal of Manipur for ST list were made in collaboration of consultation with a few myopic converted Meitei Hindu fanatics who were considered educated or influential” implies that the Meitei community may have been represented by some elites in the society, but that does erase the fact that the Meitei individuals, groups, organisations or associations could have approached the BCC by sending them representations or meeting them during their visit to Manipur.

5. It will be useful to note that an interesting article has been written by Dr Arambam Birajit with the heading “Misinterpretation of Meitei as a tribe in the name of indigenous people; Meiteis have outgrown their tribal social evolution” published in on 21st October 2023. He stated, among many other interesting discourses, that the Meitei civilization evolved as a historical process since the time of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (33AD) till the formation of Nation State eventually developing the Meitei identity.

Dr Arambam Birajit stated that “In many ways, without considering this journey of Meitei detribalization process from prehistoric experiences to their trans- formation into Nation State, the claiming of being tribal status for the purpose of Scheduled Tribe status clearly smacks of intellectual and academic dishonesty.”

This opinion is bitter and difficult to swallow, but it is the truth and the only way forward is for the Meiteis to accept that times have changed and that they are an advanced community. They have discarded all their tribalistic characteristics, embraced a civilised way of life, evolved refined culture, dances, customs, language and traditions. The Meiteis were comparatively not backward then and certainly not now.

Any socio-economic survey conducted now would find them as the most advanced and progressive community in Manipur. They are undoubtedly the dominant community in all spheres of life controlling the Manipur government and are firmly in the saddle of power. They have also proved their capabilities by churning out numerous doctors, engineers, lawyers, Judges, military officers, academicians, multi national professionals, IAS, IPS and other all India services officer, big businessmen etc. They are comparable to the best across the country.

Instead of the ST and SC status which many among them would find it degrading, the Meiteis have now the OBC quota to vie for in competitive examinations and have proven their worth. So why ask for ST status. Unless there is the agenda of grabbing tribal land and resources in the ‘Hill Areas’ of Manipur. The agenda behind the desire of the Meiteis to be ST mainly to grab tribal lands in the Hill Areas has been exposed by some elected representatives from the valley.

Now the Union Minister of State Shri Rajkumar Ranjan Singh has clearly pointed out in para 9 of his letter to the Hon’ble Prime Minister dated 20th May 2023 that Article 371-C of the Constitution should be amended further adding that the entire State should belong to the people of Manipur without any distinction to hill inhabitants or valley people - in the pattern of Himachal Pradesh. Article 371-C provides for “Special provision with respect to the State of Manipur”.

The insertion of Article 371-C, the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971 and the Presidential Order dated 20th June 1972 was made to continue the provisions for Manipur after it becomes a full fledged State. Section 52 provided for-“Special provision for Hill Areas of Manipur” under the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 (implemented when Mani-pur was a Part C State). The cat is out of the bag and the deceptive hegemonic manoeuvres yearning to become a Scheduled Tribe will not work anymore. No one will believe that the objective is for getting more of all India level posts. The tribals of Manipur will have to unite as the overt target now is evidently for grabbing tribal land in the Hill Areas.

* Ngaranmi Shimray wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 11 November 2023.

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