Dr Th Ranjit
Indigenous or indigenous people, according to a common definition, are those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived. The new arrivals later become dominant through occupation, settlement or other means. The term ‘Indigenous’ has prevailed as a generic term for many years. In many countries, the term is synonymously used as tribes, first peoples/nations, aboriginals, ethnic groups, Adivasis, Janajati, etc. However, UN system has not adopted, so far, an official definition of ‘indigenous’, instead it has developed a modern understanding of the term based on the following.
1) Self identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member; 2) Historical continuity with pre-colonial and/ or pre-settler societies; 3) Strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources; 4) Distinct social, economic or political systems; 5) Form non-dominant groups of society and 6) Resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities.
Again, according to convention no. 169 of 1989 on “ Indigenous and Tribal Population” of ILO (International Labour Organisation), a specialised agency United Nations Organisation, it has been stated that Indigenous Population which are estimated more then 370 million people over 70 (seventy) countries world wide, practising unique traditions, retaining social and cultural, economic and political characteristics of their forefathers, that are distinct from dominant societies in which they live, are permanent societies. Meetei community being indigenous of the state and practising old traditions of their forefathers, despite many are embracing Hinduism, is permanent society i.e. Tribal society as per UNO. And, as per Supreme Court, the highest court of the Country, in its landmark judgement on January 5th 2011, it has been stated that Scheduled Tribes are Indigenous people of the country.
Meetei is one of the Principal Indigenous tribes of Manipur and of N.E. India. When Meetei community returns to its original fold/tribal status by enlisting in the scheduled tribe list of the country, the land and reservation quota of the present scheduled tribes of the state will not be affected at all. Some myopic people, including the well known leaders of prominent civil societies/organisations as well as individuals, both in the valley and hill districts of the state, who do not know much about ‘scheduled tribe’ and ‘Human migration theory’ are circulating malicious and spiteful rumours to the simple and innocent people, particularly of the Hill District, that the land and reservation quota of hill people (scheduled tribes) will be grabbed once Meetei community is included in the Scheduled Tribe list of the country/state under Article 342(1) of the Indian Constitution. It is unfortunate that some organisations based in valley and hill districts have been deliberately spreading venom and instigating people to counter this popular demand of the Meetei community ,who have been playing Big Brother’s role from the beginning of history till date and still planning to play in future too. Many people, both in the valley and hill districts of the state, believe in this canard being spread by pseudo scholars, pseudo leaders, or hypocrites. In reality, the rumours are unfounded and are engineered by some who have vested interests, and some who want to throw the seeds of distrust, disunity and disharmony among the consanguineous ethnic communities, who have been living in love, understanding and harmony since time immemorial.
The very theory that the land and reservation quota of our brethren in the highlands will be grabbed by Meeteis in the valley is out of the question. After inclusion of Meetei tribe in the ST list of the country, the state will have two separate ST reservation quotas under two different names/nomenclatures. Meetei ST will be known as Plain ST, New ST, Backward ST, Advanced ST or any other name; whereas, the present STs as Hill ST, Old ST, Backward ST, Advanced ST or any other name suitable to make distinction between the two STs. The existence of reservation quotas within quota in a state or UT is empowered by the constitution of India under Article 16(4). In a new and pragmatic approach to quotas within quota of ST in the state, bigger STs like Tangkhul, Rongmei, Mao, Paite, Hmars ,etc. may have separate quota and the smaller STs like Koireng, Kom, Monsang, Chothe, etc. in another quota, in the way Nagaland State is doing, for uniform growth and development of the indigenous communities in the state . Under the same Article, in Assam state, Scheduled Tribes are categorised as Plain Tribes and Hill Tribes with corresponding reservation quota of 10% and 5%. Similarly, in Meghalaya state, different ethnic tribes have separate quota based on their population. Thus, Khasi and Jayantia, 40%; Garo, 40%; and others, 5%. In Nagaland state, there are three different categories of Scheduled Tribes (i.e quotas within quota). Chang, Khiamungan, Konyak, Phom, Sangtam and Yimchunger with 25%; Chakeshang, Pochury, Zeliang and Sumis of the Tuensang, Mon, Longleng and Kiphire districts as backward tribes with 12% reservation quota. The remaining ST quota goes to the remaining tribes under unreserved quota in the name of Advanced Tribes (Ao, Angami, Lotha, Sema). Thus, when indigenous Meetei community is enlisted in the scheduled tribe list, and consequently when Manipur becomes a tribal Hill State , there will be no question of grabbing the existing ST quota of the state by the Meetei community in any manner. Therefore, there should not be unnecessary apprehension about this reality guaranteed by Indian constitution by our brethren in the hills, rather they should welcome this fresh paradigm shift to take place in respect of Meetei community in particular and the indigenous people of the state in general ,for a prosperous and peaceful Manipur in near future.
Regarding the fear of losing lands of our brethren in the hills in the hands of Meetei people when the latter is included in the ST list of the country in near future, people should not believe in such rumour as it is unfounded, malicious and misleading without any iota of truth. Simply it is a fuss about nothing or a figment of imagination to malign age- old and time –tested good relation among the ethnic communities in the state. When settlement in villages in the hills are under strict control and management of vigilant village chiefs in Kuki areas, and village authorities in Naga areas. Then, why there should be unnecessary apprehension in the minds of our brethren in the highlands of their lands being encroached upon or grabbed by Meetei STs?
Again, Meeteis will not turn their face towards hills, except foothills and low hills for settlement, as there is scarcity of water as compared to that of valley districts, where water is plenty and almost perennial. In reality, Meetei community having been embraced Hinduism during the reign of King Pamheiba (1709-1748) ,about three hundred years ago, have the practice of taking bath on daily basis and therefore ,would prefer to settle in valley areas where water is abound. Therefore, settlement of Meetei in the hill areas of the state in colonies, leikais, or villages, is far from possibility. It may be noted that Meetei, do not settle even in the hills located in Imphal valley except the foot hills and low hills, let alone settlement in remote hill districts of the state. This may be because of the fact that Meetei worships mountains as abodes of sylvan gods and goddesses. The proof is that Koubru, Thangjing, Marjing, Wangbren, etc. are all located in mountains/hills of the state and people have their veneration to these deities. Meetei, the important indigenous tribe of the state, who was nestling in the hills in the early times, do not feel to return to its old Habitat but to old Fold /Tribal Status to be with other indigenous and related 36 or more tribes in the state and live in the fertile plain areas of the valley districts playing big brother’s role and mingling with other communities, in future too.
According to the ‘theory of human migration’, movement of people from one place to another takes place on the basis of availability of better facilities for education, health care, livelihood, job, secured life, weather and climate, transport, communication, etc, among others. In the context of Manipur, Imphal is the hub of all activities and all walks of life, and as a result people from different districts inside the state as well as outside the state settle in large numbers in colonies and villages by different communities in different parts of the valley district, as we all see today. Therefore, Meetei ,when included in ST list in near future and becomes a recognised tribe of the Govt/Manipur of India, will go hardly to the hills for settlement against the Theory of Human Migration but to other places where better facilities are available than Imphal. People should not have the misconception of grabbing lands of highlanders in the hills by Meeties living in the valley in future.
The demand for ST tag by Meetei community of the state is fundamentally banked on the following hard realities.
Firstly, to save the Meetei, one of the important and dominant indigenous people of the state, which is showing signs of its gradual degeneration in the last few centuries and rapid downfall in the last few decades in population, land, culture, language, economy, social status, etc. in its natural habitat, under Article 342(1) of the Constitution of India.
Secondly, to save the fertile lands and wetlands in the valley which are producing maximum food grains, vegetables, fishes, etc. for the people, both in the valley and hills, from being owned by more skilled, hardworking, advanced and united non-indigenous people i.e. to save the indigenous people in their habitat.
Thirdly, to foster a harmonious, peaceful, united and progressive Manipuri society based on ethnic equality among the indigenous communities of consanguineous relation who have been living together since time immemorial and to form a tribal state just like our sister states in the North East- Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and Meghalaya in near future.
Fourthly, to enable Meetei community, like other indigenous people in the state, to compete confidently well with other communities of India having similar social status( i.e. scheduled tribe) in the field of education , service sectors of Central Govt., etc, to earn more laurels, medals, positions, awards, privileges, etc. for better economic, social, educational, cultural and political status of Meetei in particular and Manipur in general, by discarding and discontinuing decades long practice of competing with highly advanced, well educated, and organised communities in General category/OBC of other states but ST in the country for the betterment of Meetei in particular and Manipuri in general.
In fine, the demand for restoration of ST status is to save Meetei from being degeneration in its own habitat and to bring harmony, progress and peace among the indigenous people in the state.Therefore, the indigenous people in the state should see this great historic event of Meetei’s returning to its original/tribal fold to be in equal footing with other ethnic tribes as home coming and should extend hearty welcome by all. We should not forget but remember the adages, “blood is thicker than water” and “birds of the same feathers flock together”, in the context of Manipur.
Source: The Sangai Express