In defence for the demand for ST status

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By Yambem Laba

Introduction

Much hot water have flowed down the murky rivers of the Manipur valley of late over the issue of sections of the Meitei people demanding inclusion of the Meiteis as a scheduled tribe of the Indian Union under the 5th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The antagonists amongst the “educated and learned” of the society have not minced words and spewed venom with no holds bar. The protagonists have been accused of reverting a civilised race back into tribalism read barbaric falling just short of identifying the Meiteis as a race belonging to the great Aryan race read descendents of Barbubahon the son of Arjuna of the Pandavas of the Hindu epic Mahabharata who is said to have married a “Manipuri princess “by the name of Chitraganda.

While one is not competent to question the educational qualifications and academic statures of these gentlemen one thing is for certain and that is that they do not read newspapers. Or else how could they have passed statements to the effect that the move for inclusion of the Meiteis as a scheduled tribe will strain the relations with the “chingmees” or scheduled tribe population of the State and the Meitei community. If they have been reading the newspapers it should be clear that the entire tribal population of Manipur are today standing almost united against the Meitei population not because of the move for inclusion in the list of scheduled tribes but because of the ILP issue. There are still nine dead bodies lying in refrigerators at the District hospital in Churachandpur for nearly a year now and while initially it had initially stood as the symbol of the dislike for the three ILP related Bills passed by the Manipur Legislative Assembly by the “Khongjais” of that district it gradually metamorphosed into a united tribal stance ,thanks to some foresight of the powers lodged in Camp Hebron, who after years of negotiations with the Indians seems to have imbibed the old Chanakya doctrine of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Soon after over a decade Churachandpur got visitors from Naga areas like Senapati and Ukhrul. The “Khongjais” also soon forgot about the hundreds of them butchered, raped and maimed with thousands of houses burnt and even more displaced, at the hands of the Nagas,barely a decade ago. Muivah got what he was praying for and soon posters depicting the nine deads depicting them as “tribal martyrs” began appearing in Naga areas. While the reasons for the Khaongjais anger or misgivings about the ILP Bills is beyond the scope of this article it should be clear that as things stands the tribal population of Manipur appears to be trusting the “Mayangs” more than the Meiteis. And for all those noted personalities who have voiced concern about not antagonising the tribals my question is has anyone amongst them taken the trouble to visit Churachandpur and offer condolences. What about this writer, well I did and addressed the gathering at the hospital and stated plainly that we have come just to pay our respects to the departed souls. Also the hype of cordial Meitei-tribal relations seems to harp upon a paternalistic attitude on part of the former much akin to the Centre’s attitude towards the entire north eastern people’” Oh you poor primitive tribal people we will give what you require don’t tell us”. The simple question is how the Meiteis call the tribals primitive and still say that we are brothers. At another plane will our advanced Meiteis be so advanced to call the royal family of Tripura or Sikkim as “primitive and uncivilised tribals” for both the Maharajah or Tripura and the Chogyal of Sikkim are classified as Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution of India and it should be borne in mind that the Manipuri Ras Leela dance got worldwide prominence thanks to the tribal Maharajah of Tripura showcasing the Manipuri dance before Rabindranath Tagore in Agartala.

The people for and against

The protagonists of the pro-ST movement are a group of people most of them not having a public face or having been part of a movement par se. But they have a point of view and the learned scholars and intellectuals should give them space and their rights to demand something which is very much an integral part of the Constitution of India under which present day Manipur exists. And judging by their activities all that they have been doing is in terms of camera meetings and submitting memorandums and surprisingly in a State where a Bandh is called at the drop of a hat they have not even called a single bandh as yet and the only visible move they were contemplating is the rally which is scheduled for the 22 May, this month. The reaction to this proposed rally seems to far outnumber the moves by the ST wallahs to voice their demand. Suddenly a group of people or organisations seems to have felt threatened that their goals would be lost should the Meiteis become ST and apart from suggestions that we are reverting back to primitivism to being anti-Manipuri tribals, to being reactionaries it has also been suggested that the Meiteis demand for ST status is impeding both the liberation and the ILP movements. It should be borne in mind by our friends on the other side of the Constitution of India that an introspection is also called for to look into the causes of depleting recruitments to their cadres, the shrinking space of “liberated zones” and the people’s support. And it is not Manipur alone that has insurgent groups fighting the Government of India. Both Mizoram and Nagaland are tribal States and the Mizos fought the Indian army with so much ferocity that the Government of India had to resort to air borne bombings using the Indian Air Force with jets fighters and bombers taking off from the Jorhat air force base in Assam. And also in neighbouring Nagaland it was Zapu Angami Phizo from the east and Sheikh Abdullah in Kashmir in the west who first questioned the concept of Indian nationhood. The fires lit by Phizo still haven’t died as yet and the embers are still glowing some sixty plus years down the line. And in nearby Assam one of the main issues raised by Arabindra Rajkhowa of the ULFA to the Government of India in the course of their dialogues is the classification of four major groups of Assamese people as scheduled tribes. This includes the Asom Tais who had ruled Ahom or Assam for 600 years and are definitely not primitive by the technical sense of the term.

Then there is also the point of the Meiteis having a recorded history of 2000 years and being an advanced civilisation. Then have we noted that the wheels and rice transplantation came about in Manipur only with the coming of the Mussalmans or the Pangals some 300-400 years back only. Definitely not a sign of an advanced civilisation unlike that of the Egyptians or the Greeks. That the Manipuris became Hindus is a historical fact and it is also a fact that the Meiteis have retained their pre-hindu rites and rituals which can at best be described as animism or worship of forest spirits. Else what do we call our Lai-haraobas rituals which forms a significant part in the socialisation process of the Meitei people. Two traits are sine quo-non of the Lai Haraoba festivals the first is the appearance of the Tangkhul Saba which legends has it that the Tangkhuls are the elder brother of the Meiteis and by that account our tribal lineage and the second is the Saren Chanba which in the days gone by used to be human sacrifices but have been replaced by fish in the post Hindu period hence animals being excluded also. And also in every Meitei households Hindus ,Brahmins included or otherwise there is a corner of the house earmarked as the Sanamahi Kachin the resting place of Lord Sanamahi the household diety. This denotes that although Hindus we are still animists at heart and practice. The first communication addressed to the Governor of Manipur was sometime in 2013.But much much before that and before one Gopal Krishna Pillai IAS became the Joint Secretary Home, Govt. of India in charge of the North Eastern region there was a move however small or insignificant it might have seen then by a group of Meiteis who are non-Hindus and follow the Sanamahi Laining to have the non-Hindus Sanamahi Laining population be declared as a scheduled tribe. So the conspiracy theory a la GK Pillai falls flat. Culturally we pride ourselves for being in an advanced stage of cultural development but at the moment if one is asked to describe the actual cultural stage of development in Manipur, I will not hesitate to say that yes we have advance from “Gun Culture to Mob Culture”, a situation in which Durkheim would describe as an Organic state speaking sociologically depicting a primitive form of society.

The Debate

It was sometime last year that I was invited for a consultative meeting on the proposed ILP bill held at the Manipur University (one of the few occasions when my humble opinion was sought).During it I read a draft bill prepared by Oja Araba ,learned advocate and after reading it I remarked to him that perhaps such a bill could be passed only after Manipur becomes an independent nation and along the same line since Manipur becoming independent would require an Independence Bill being initially passed by the Manipur State Assembly we should go in for that instead. the points that I had raised was that whatever ILP Bill that would be passed would require assent from the President of India meaning the Government of India. Further it was also pointed out that the BJP Government in India is backed by the RSS and further that does anyone know what the Indian map of the RSS looks like. None knew so I answered that the Map of India according to the RSS starts from Kabul in Afghanistan in the west and Rangoon or Yangaon in Burma or Myanmar in the east and it is called “Akhand Bharat”. To such a group how would it allow an Indian State to pass a legislation which aims to control movement of non-manipuri Indians wanting to go there and seek employment viz Beharis, UP bhaiyas, Punjabis, Keralites etc. Now let us assume that Narendra Modi or Rajnath Singh being afraid of Shri Ibobi ji and agrees to give the green signal and have the bill become an Act. And even in such an eventuality will the Act stand the test of the Supreme Court of India. It is the same Supreme Court of India that has ordered a probe into the extra-judicial killings of some 1500 plus persons by the central and state forces in Manipur that will also say no to the Manipur Government enacting an Act that aims to curtail free movement of Indian citizens. All that is required is for a Behari or a Punjabi to file a PIL before the Supreme Court.

The move for Scheduled Tribe inclusion

In the same meeting I then proposed that instead of asking for an ILP Bill or Act which will not see the day why don’t we ask for inclusion in the scheduled tribe list of India under the 5th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. It will be nothing new as we would be demanding something already existing and maybe we will be able to first protect our lands that will insulate the area from influx of outsiders and settling in our State. Since the session was held at the Manipur University I had then suggested that we adopt this as the “Canchipur Resolution”. While almost all those present agreed with me the only one to object was Prof Arambam Lokendro who said that the matter is yet to undergo a public discourse or debate and the matter should be dropped at that. In difference to his age and respect that I otherwise have for the Oja I did not pursue the matter thereafter. I had also raised this same issue with R.K.Meghen, former Chairman of the UNLF and one of the most important man of Manipur and her destiny at Gauhati recently. He had also had the same stance of 2000 years old civilisation etc and becoming a tribal would not augur well for the community but when I presented my arguments of the possibility of the ILP Bills not seeing the light of the day, he then relaxed his stance and said then “perhaps the debate should be still left open”.

Raison d’être for Scheduled Tribe Status

When Maharajah Bodhchandra signed away Manipur’s fate to the Indian Government on 21 September 1949 in Shillong (he need not have signed and the Government of India would have sent in the Indian Army and annexed Manipur, but we could still say that we were annexed and not merged); he apart from bargaining for enhancement of his privy purse to fund his many concubines and numerous children there was no clause in the merger agreement that would benefit the common Manipuri. He could have asked for a University and a High Court leave aside mega projects. We must bear in mind that the Calcutta University was established in 1857 and Manipur University came about in 1980.This means that Calcutta had a head start of 123 years of university education from the Manipuris and to ask the common Manipuri to compete with the Bengali who has have had over 100 years of education ahead would be asking for a bit too much. Likewise the Gauhati High Court and University came to being in 1947 whereas Manipur could get its High Court only in 2013.And as in International trade where economically weaker countries imposes tariff protection so that its produce gets to be sold and consumed, we too need some form of protection which the Constitution of India provides in the 5th Schedule as scheduled tribes.

Hidden Agenda

I have a hidden agenda for wanting to become a scheduled tribe. To start with I am already and for that matter the entire Meitei community has already been classified as an Other Backward Class ,although I nor my children can obtain an OBC certificate ,but there were no protests from the advanced Meitei community then protesting classification as backward. The results have been forthcoming as is evident from the number of Meiteis qualifying in central services. The selection of R.K.Dinesh and Kh. Diana or for that matter R.K. Phalguni are exceptions to the rule.And it is not just IAS and IPS posts that one is longing for the Meitei community as STs, but the thousands of other opportunities for our boys and girls can make inroads into, be it the railways ,postal services or the numerous public sector enterprises that recruits thousands of people every year. Our boys and girls are now fanning out to the rest of the country as far as Goa to become hotel waiters or beauty therapists or the humble private security guards and it is them and the thousands of others back home living unemployed that one is concerned about. The net result is if we become an ST, then within 10-20 years time Manipur would be able to control India. If we have 50 IAS, 100 IPS, and hundreds others in various central services and thousand others in grade II and IV posts strewn across the country then Manipur would be a force to be reckoned with in India. And we would continue to make strides in Sports, play our Ras Lilas and Polo, worship Shri Shri Govindajee. And for those who are die hard high caste Hindus all that is required for them is not to take the Scheduled Tribe Certificates and maintain their status quo.

1 COMMENT

  1. I gave a cursory read of the article. Although I do not understand all its intricacies, I generally agree with the argument presented here. Given a choice my idealistic notions would have argued for a society model like that of Singapore. But the author seems to know ground realities. Thank you for this piece.

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