Logically speaking

Three distinct communities constitute the State of Manipur. Two of them are the Naga and Kuki tribes while the other is the non-tribal Meitei. Whenever demands are made by the Meitei, who is the dominant community representing more than half of the population of Manipur, the tribes have not stood on the way as they are just about 41% of the State’s population and have no political power. The Meitei has got Manipuri language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution which has afforded them much benefit as Manipuri language, being their mother tongue, is allowed to be used in the Civil Services Examinations and also in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF)Examinations.

Way back in 1950, a small section of the Meitei community became Scheduled Caste (SC) under Article 341 of the Constitution. Likewise the tribes of Manipur were classified as Scheduled Tribe (ST) under Article 342. After the Mandal Commission Report some Meitei who fulfilled the criteria became eligible to be classified as Other Backward Classes (OBC) and several Meitei persons have become OBC. Under the OBC reservation many Meiteis have benefitted from the reservation quota.

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The SC Meitei are currently enjoying 15% reservation in all India examinations in jobs and seats in higher educational institutes and in Manipur State their is 2%, while the rest of the Meitei community who fulfil the criteria of being OBC get benefits from the 27% reservation quota in all India level examinations in jobs and seats in higher educational institutes and also have a sizeable share at the State level. On the other hand, the reservation quota for the ST is 7.5% for government jobs and seats in higher educational institutes at the all India level. From the above discussion it is clear that the Meitei community as a whole is already enjoying a larger share of reservation (27+15=42%) at all India level in government jobs and seats in higher educational institutes. So the legitimate question is why are they demanding ST status which will lower their share? Or are they asking ST reservation over and above the current reservation of SC and OBC? If so, is it permissible as per the Constitution of India? Or, do they have a hidden agenda to be ST and buy tribal lands in the Hill Areas from the tribes of Manipur?

The demand of Meitei to be ST and enjoy a lower quota of 7.5% reservation for ST instead of the present higher reservation quota of 42% as SC and OBC is perplexing. It has also revealed several contradictory positions which need to be understood in its proper perspective.

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Recently the hidden agenda behind the Meitei ST demand has been revealed by the admission of Meitei political leaders that they want to be ST as being a ST will enable them to buy land from the hill areas of Manipur. Secondly, the SC of Manipur who are currently having access to Central SC reservation of 15% and 2% in Manipur State stands to lose if the Meitei fall under the ST share of 7.5% i.e half of their current SC share. The current Meitei SC will be deprived of the much better benefits as a separate reservation entity in the central and State quota system. Have the current Meitei SC agreed to become ST by abandoning their SC status? Thirdly, the Meitei by claiming to be tribes will be debunking their claim of being descendants of Arjun from Mahabharat. Incidentally, four student organisations of Manipur have done so recently while giving their support for the ST demand for Meitei. This will be the biggest jolt impacting on their lofty historical claims. Fourthly, being tribes and being notified as Scheduled Tribes are two different things. The claim of Meitei now is that they are tribes. Amen! But their demand, to be notified as ST under Article 342 of the Constitution of India by claiming that they are tribal people, while currently some sections of Meitei community are classified as SC under Article 341 of the Constitution and are also enjoying reservation benefits under OBC is contradictory and raises the question as to whether the Constitution of India permits a single community i.e the Meitei to be notified as ST under Article 342 when they are already SC and OBC.

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The following is suggested:

1. It would be prudent and advisable that Constitutional experts be asked by the governments, both Centre and State, to answer the question first as to whether the Constitution permits a single community to be SC, OBC and now ST.

2. Common public must be educated that no High Court in the country has jurisdiction to give directions to the government to recommend for consideration of being given a ST tag. There are already a number of Supreme Court judgments on this particular subject of demand to be SC/ST wherein it has been clarified that this matter falls within the purview and jurisdiction of Parliament and the President. The expectation of the Meitei masses that they will get ST as the High Court has recommended the same needs to be corrected and disseminated widely.

3. The general people of Manipur, both tribes and Meitei need to be educated that there is now an elaborate process laid down and followed by the Central government to declare a community as SC or ST. Socio-economic survey and ethnographic study will need to be carried out on the lines of criteria laid down by the Lokur Committee. Thereafter specific recommendation should be made by the State government. Then the proposal is to be sent for consideration and analysis to the RGI (Registrar General of India). The conclusions of the RGI will be sent to the Central government for consideration and will be placed before the Union cabinet. Finally it will be placed before the parliament to make it into law. When all these processes is completed favourably the President of India will notify it under a Presidential Order.

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4. The general population of Manipur need to have patience as the process is lengthy and will be examined and analysed based on authentic data, detailed information and recent study reports. Emotive consideration has no place in the examination and consideration of such complex matter which has ramifications in the State, as witnessed recently in the ongoing clashes between Meitei and Kuki, as well as country wide implication lest it results in a situation like the Meena ST community who is an advanced tribe and are reaping more than half of the central reservation quota in the country.

So what is all these noise and clashes about? It is absolutely irresponsible that such matters are fought out in the street. Questions are to be answered by Constitutional Experts and new survey and studies are to be conducted before specific conclusions can be arrived at. The expectations and fears by the clashing groups is premature. The Meitei and Kuki are fighting over something which may never take place. All stakeholders may end up sheepishly scratching their heads wondering how gullible they have been to be swayed by emotions rather than well researched, informed, tempered consideration and logical thinking.

People on both sides should have faith in the Constitution and the laws of the land as truth always prevails in the end.

Ngaranmi Shimray is a social activist based in New Delhi. Views are personal. He may be reached at shimray2011@gmail.com

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