Dr Thangjam Ranjit Meetei
Community is one of the main tribes of Manipur and of North East India, and possesses all the characteristics of becoming a tribe living in permanent society. Though, the majority of Meetei population embrace Hinduism/Vaishnavism, they do not give up their age-old traditions, cultures, way of life, etc. of their fore-fathers. They have been following the rituals of birth, marriage, death, etc in the way their fore-fathers practiced even before the time of their conversion into Hinduism during the reign of King Pamheiba (1709-1748). This is again confirmed by the Census of India 1931, vol-1 page-430. It records “Manipuris” as wholly Hindu Tribe but retaining their distinctive language and culture”. Followers of Sanamahism/Meeteism which constitute over two lakh population also strictly following traditions and cultures of their fore father till date similiar to other Meetei Hindus. The fact that Meeteis are living in permanent tribal society are borne out by the historic resolution of UNO, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a specialised agency of UNO, adopted its Convention No. 169 in 1989, based on general attitude of respect for the cultures and way of life of indigenous and tribal people, and the fundamental assumption that indigenous and tribal people constitute permanent societies. This landmark resolution, however, contradicts ILO convention No.107 of 1957, which is based on temporary tribal societies but obsolete now.The fact that Meetei (Manipuri) is tribe/Principal tribe of Manipur and of N.E. India is authenticated by many official records, gazetteers, publications, memoirs books, etc. Mention may be made of census of India 1891,1901 and 1931; Imperial Gazetteer Bengal and Assam (1909); Gazetteer of Manipur by Captain EW Dun (1886); Gazetteer of Bengal and N.E. India (1909); Statistical Accounts of the Native State of Manipur, the Hill Territory, under its Rules by Dr. R.Brown, Political Agent in Manipur (1873); the New Encyclopedia Britannica, Ethnicity and social change by Prof. Gangumei Kamei among others. History of the Tangkhuls Nagas written by A.S. W. Shimray mentions Tangkhuls and Meeteis are descendants of the same progenitor and that ancestors of the Tangkhuls and Meeteis are brothers. The “Meitheis” written by T.C. Hodson, late Political Agent of Manipur (an Anthropologist) mentions Meitei as a tribe, so on and so forth.On the other hand, people in the hills, except few thousands Zeliangrongs, almost 99% of the population have embraced in Christianity and they have abandoned their traditional cultures and ways of life, In other words, the old rituls of birth , marriage, death, etc. of their forfathers which were in practice before embracing Christianity are no longer in practice. They are living in the way true christian of the West are living, forgetting the old tradition and culture of their forefathers. However, in the midst of the strong influence of Christianity in the hills and Valleys of the state, sizeable population of Meetei and Zeliangrong are still following their cultures and traditions of their forefathers. That is why UNO describes such communities who have been following the old culture and way of life of their ancestors have been termed as “Permanent Society”. Meetei being bonafide indigenous people of the state and the following old cultures and traditions of their fore fathers are scheduled tribe, according to Supreme Court of India, the highest of Court of country, as per its judgment of 5th January, 2011 under its Rules by Dr. R.Brown, Political Agent in Manipur (1873); Again, Meetei qualifies the old and new criteria laid down by the Govt. of India/Ministry of Tribal Affairs. The old criteria are : 1. Indication of Primitive traits; 2. Distinctive culture; 3. Shyness of contact with the community at large; 4. Geographical isolation and 5. Backwardness.The new criteria (under consideration) proposed by Panda Committee 2014 are : 1. Autonomous religious practices, although practising the Hindu way of life would not be a bar; 2. Marital relationship with other tribes (majority in the tribe should marry within the tribe or with other tribes not with non tribals); 3. Distinctive culture; 4. Historical and geographical isolation; 5. Socio-economic and educational backwardness and 6. Distinctive language.Meeteis having been officially documented as a tribe or principal tribe earlier, qualify both the old and new criteria of being a tribe in the context of Article 342 (1) of the Indian Constitution, and accordingly Meetei can be enlisted in the ST list of the state/country and receive constitutional safeguard for Manipur Valley /Imphal Valley where Meeteis can inhabit in Scheduled Area in the same manner as that of the hill areas of the state by hill people. Had Meeteis been enlisted in the ST list along with our brethren in the hills, without indulging in corruption by the then so called educated people of the state to the visiting members of Minority Commission of the Govt. of India in 1950 the present situation of mistrust and seemingly hill-valley divide among the people in the state would not have been existed but a peaceful, progressive and harmonious tribal society of a hill state called Manipur.
Source: The Sangai Express