‘ST’ tag is a must for survival of Meetei (Meitei) – Why?

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

1. Compulsive Reasons for enlisting as ST:

(i) After integration of Manipur into India in October 1949, various laws framed by the Government of India have reserved the Hill Areas of Manipur (92%) exclusively for Scheduled Tribes (ST). Meetei, because of being not ST, have been restricted to live only in the tiny Central Valley areas (8%) with people from all communities of different castes, colour, creed and religion including those belonging to Scheduled Tribes.

(ii) All land laws currently in force in Manipur including MLR & LR Act 1960, Article 371(C) of Constitution of India, were framed during the period 1950-1972, prejudicially to subdue forever the growth of Meetei under hectic lobby and masterstroke of a crafty Kuki IAS officer who had mind-boggling strategical vision of establishing a 'Kukiland' by dismembering Manipur. The malafide long-drawn design of the Kukis may be curtailed by including Meetei in the ST list.

(iii) Since the first notification of ST list of Manipur on 20th September 1951, all ST communities of Manipur including the migrant Kukis have developed at a fast pace in all spheres as they have been enjoying all the benefits, rights and privileges meant for STs under the Constitution of India. On the other hand, the socio-economic conditions of Meetei have been deteriorating steadily day by day as they have missed to avail those benefits, rights and privileges extended to STs.

(iv) An anomalous situation happening in Manipur is that while the Kukis who are refugees/migrants have been granted Scheduled Tribe status right from the Notification of the first Scheduled Tribes list of Manipur, 1951 with the privileges guaranteed under the Constitution of India, the indigenous Meeteis have been denied to enjoy the Scheduled Tribe status till date although Meeteis fulfill the set criteria for inclusion in the ST list under Article 342(1) of the Constitution of India right from Manipur's merger into India in 1949.

(v) Meetei's holding of land in the Central Valley is continuously shrinking fast due to selling of their land to people of other communities and it stands today just at about 3% of Manipur's total area. The situation is likely to aggravate faster with arrival of railways and Trans-Asian Highways.

(vi) The annual population growth rate of Meetei during the period 1881-2011 was 7.17 which is the least as compared to those of other communities. In particular, the annual population growth rate of Muslim during the same period was 37.03. Since the growth rate of Muslim is more than 5 times that of Meetei, it is obvious that Muslim will overtake Meetei in population in the next few decades. The census data of Manipur for the years 1881 and 2011 reveals an imbalanced picture of demography as shown below:

Community Census 1881 Composition (%) Census 2011 Composition (%) Change during 1881-2011 Annual growth rate (%)
Meitei 1,24,254 56.20 12,82,296 44.91 11,58,042 7.17
Naga 59,904 27.10 6,85,967 24.02 6,26,063 8.04
Kuki 25,384 11.48 4,81,455 16.86 4,56,071 13.82
Muslim 4,881 2.21 2,39,836 8.40 2,34,955 37.03
Migrants 6,647 3.01 1,66,240 5.82 1,59,593 18.47
Others 6,647 3.01 --- --- --- ---
Total 2,21,070 100 28,55,794 100 26,34,724 9.17

(vii) According to the Report of the 5th National Family Health Survey (2019-2020) conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) for the Meitei community in Manipur is 1.77. The critical minimum value of TFR required by a community for sustenance of its survival is 2.11. The TFR value (1.77) for Meetei community is much lower than the critical TFR value of 2.11 and it signifies that the population of Meitei is decreasing fast. The low value of TFR is related to poor economic condition of the Meetei community in Manipur. Thus, it is true that the Meitei community is looming large on extinction at not much distant future, unless drastic corrective measures such as protection under 'ST' tag are taken up as soon as possible.

(viii) Combining all factors viz., shrinking of land area, declining rate of population growth and low value of TFR, it is readily projected that Meetei will become a minority community in Manipur in the coming decades, that too with no sufficient land to accommodate their populace and subsequently, waiting for extinction in their own homeland Manipur.

(ix) Since the British Government of India recognized Meetei as a primitive hill tribe right from the Census of India 1881, as may be verified from many sources of authority such as census reports published by the British government of India, various books and research articles authored by contemporary British ethnographers, linguists and administrators, the ethnic Meetei community qualifies all the criteria for inclusion as a Scheduled Tribe under Article 342(1) of the Constitution of India.

2. What does the Constitution say?

According to Clause (25) of Article 366 of the Constitution of India, 'Scheduled Tribes' are those tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342(1) of the Constitution which says that "The President may after consultation with the Governor of a State, by public notification, specify the tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Tribes in relation to that State."

3. Procedure to be followed:

The Government of India, Ministry of Tribal Affairs vide their No. 12026/09/2013-C&LM dated 06.03.2019 addressed to the Home Secretary, Government of Manipur conveyed the following procedure:

"Government of India on 15.6.1999, and further amended on 25.6.2002, has approved the modalities for deciding the claims for inclusion in, exclusion from and other modifications in the Orders specifying list of Scheduled Tribes. According to these modalities, only those proposals which have been recommended and justified by the State Government/UT Administration concerned, can be processed further. Thereafter, it has to be concurred with the Registrar General of India (RGI) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) for consideration for amendment of legislation. As per extant modalities, recommendation of State Government with ethnographic report in support is pre-requisite for processing the proposal."

4. Ethnography of Meitei:

Notably, the British Government of India identified and classed Meitei as a primitive hill tribe of the erstwhile Assam province essentially on the basis of the ethnography of Meetei/Meitei, provided in the Annual Administrative Report for the year 1868-1869 authored by Dr. R. Brown, the then Political Agent of Manipur. On the ethnography of Meitei Dr. Brown wrote:

"Should it be a correct view that the valley of Munnipore was at no very distant period almost entirely covered by water, the origin of the Munnipories from the surrounding hill tribes is the proper and only conclusion to be arrived at. I think it probable that when only a small part of the valley skirting the hills was capable of cultivation, the hill-men bordering it used to descend and cultivate the little land there then was, returning to their homes in the hills after reaping their harvests: as, however, land increased, some few of them settled permanently in the plain, gradually increasing in numbers. The various tribes thus settling in different parts of the valley would in time come into contact, and, after a struggle for supremacy, amalgamate. That this is what actually did take place is borne out by the traditions of Munnipore." (Brown, 1870, p.27).

The official definition of 'tribe' used by the British Govt. of India is enshrined in authority books such as 'The Imperial Gazetteer of India, The Indian Empire, Vol. I Descriptive' by Henry Frowde, Oxford University (1907, pp.308), 'Census of India, 1901 Volume I Part I – Report', by H. H. Risley & E. A. Gait (1903, pp. 514), 'The People of India', by Hebert Risley & W. Crook (1915, p.62) etc. The anthropological devices used by the British Govt. of India for identification of tribes and castes 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).

Following are some records of authority scripted by by contemporary ethnographers, anthropologists, linguists, and administrators, during the British rule of India describing Meitei as a primitive hill tribe of the erstwhile Assam province along with other sister tribes like - Mikirs, Khasis, Garos, Nagas, etc.

(i) 'Ethnographical Gallery, Guidebook No. 2 (The Andamanese, Nicobarese and Hill Tribes of Assam)' by A. M. Meerwarth, Publisher: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta (1919, pp. 15-34).

(ii) 'Ethnography (Castes and Tribes)' by Athelstane Baines, Publisher: Strasburg, Verlag Von Karl J. Trubner (1912, pp. 112-139, Appendix A & Appendix B).

(iii) 'Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal' by E. T. Dalton, Publisher: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta (1872, pp. 42-52).

(iv) 'The Aboriginal Tribes of Manipur' by George Watt, Published in The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 16 (1887, pp. 346-370).

(v) 'Report on the Census of Assam for 1881' by C. J. Lyall, Publisher: The Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta (1883, pp. 147).

(vi) 'Census of India, 1891: A General Report' by J.A. Baines, Publisher: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London (1893, pp. 148-151).

(vii) 'Census of India, 1891 (Assam), Volume-I' by E. A. Gait, Publisher: Superintendent of Census Operation in Assam, Printed at the Assam Secretariat Printing Office, Shillong (1892, pp.193-195).

(viii) 'Gazetteer of Manipur' by E. W. Dun, Publisher: The Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta (1886, pp.13)

(ix) 'The Tribes of the Brahmaputra: A Contribution on their Physical Types and Affinities' by L. A. Waddell, Published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Part III (1900, pp.60-61):

(x) Imperial Gazetteer of India, Provincial Series (Eastern Bengal and Assam)' by B. C. Allen, E.A. Gait, C.G.H. Allen & H.F. Howard, 'Publisher: by the Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta (1909, pp. 49-50).

(xi) 'Linguistic Survey of India Volume III: Tibeto-Burman Family, Part III (Specimens of the Kuki-Chin and Burma Groups' by G. A. Grierson, Publisher: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta (1904, pp. 1-3).

(xii) 'Census of India, 1901 Volume I Part I – Report' by H. H. Risley & E. A. Gait, Publisher: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta (1903, pp. 270-272).

(xiii) 'Census of India, 1911 Volume I Part I – Report' by E. A. Gait, Publisher: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta (1913, pp. 342).

(xiv) 'Census of India, 1921 Volume I Part I – Report' by J. T. Marten, Publisher: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta in (1924, pp. 202).

(xv) 'Census of India, 1921 Volume III Assam Part I – Report' by G. T. Lloyd, Publisher: Superintendent of Census Operations, Assam Government Press, Shillong (1923, pp. 149).

(xvi) 'Census of India, 1931 Volume I Part I – Report' by J. H. Hutton, Publisher: The Manager of Publications, Delhi (1934, pp. 376).

(xvii) 'Census of India, 1931 Volume III Assam Part I – Report' by C. S. Mullan, Publisher: The Superintendent, Assam Government Press, Shillong (1932, pp. 205).

(xviii) 'Census, 1951 Manipur, State Census Handbook Volume I' by R. B. Vaghaiwalla, Publisher: The Government Press, Manipur (1954, pp. iii).

* K. Yugindro Singh / M. Manihar Singh / Sh. Janaki Sharma wrote this article for
Yugindro Kangujam can be contacted at yugindro361(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on March 13 2024 .

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