MANY INTERESTING academic salvos have been fired to and fro on the context of why the Meitei community may not have been included in the list of SC/ST under Orders of 1950/1951/1956. While discussing this matter it is crucial that the context is not lost in the details. I thank the researchers for listing out the issues clearly to which I am responding to each of the points made.
Point 1 need not be commented as I find it argumentative and out of context.
Point 2 relates to the effects of demand of the Meitei community to be included in the list of Scheduled Tribes (ST) which will have far reaching implications for the STs and tribes of Manipur. The STs of Manipur will be adversely affected by the demand of the Meitei community for inclusion in the list of ST and therefore has a high stake in ensuring that their point of view is heard. This fact that the STs of Manipur is an affected party is vindicated by the Order of the Manipur High Court in a M.C. (WA) No. 88 of 2023 allowing impleadment of five appellants from various Tribal Civil Society Unions/Associations/Student Unions associated with the rights of the Tribal Community in the State of Manipur in the WP(C) No. 229 of 2023 in Manipur High Court.
Point 3 and 6 was to state that there are some Scheduled Castes (SC) who have been included in the 1950 list of SC of Assam applicable to Manipur. In the list of 1950 five SC communities of Assam appearing in Sl. no. 4, 12, 13, 14 and 15 are found common with the SC communities for Manipur in 1956 SC order. Only two new SC communities of Meitei origin were added for Manipur in the 1956 list. These two points may be read along with clarification in Point 5 below.
Point 4 asserted by the researchers only reinforce what I had mentioned in my article that only a member of Hindu or Sikh religion shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste. The corollary is that if a person’s religion is not Hindu or Sikh he cannot be deemed to be a ST. This is so as the Varna lays down the caste system under Hinduism. This corollary is reinforced by the fact that an attempt was made in 2014 by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India to change the criteria for defining Scheduled Tribes. Among several recommendations made by the internal committee in the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to keep up with changing tribal societies, one recommendation was to not discount a community’s plea for inclusion in the ST list solely based on the fact that they were followers of Hinduism. This in effect means that the desire of a Hindu community to be included in the list of ST should not be rejected on the grounds that they are followers of Hinduism. Had this attempt to modify the criteria succeeded, the desire of Meitei community who are followers of Hinduism for inclusion in the list of ST should not be turned down solely based on the fact that they were followers of Hinduism. This attempt to modify the criteria after almost eight years of consideration did not fructify and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India decided in 2022 to put the proposal on hold with no plans to tinker with the decades-old criteria. If being a Hindu does not prevent a community to be ST, such attempt to modify the criteria that was being explored for eight years would not have been necessitated.
Point 5 is a corollary derived from paragraph 3 of 1950 Order for SC which states that only Hindus and Sikhs can be SC. The corollary therefore would be that person who professes a religion different from Hindu or Sikh can be ST provided they satisfy the requisite criteria for being classified as ST. It cannot be claimed that the caste system of mainland India does not prevail in the Meitei society as the Varna system portrays the Brahman (priest), the Kshatriya (noble), the Vaishya (commoner), and the Shudra (servant) and at least three of these castes exist in the Meitei Hindu society. An authority of the State government no lesser than the Chief Minister had asserted that the Meitei people are Hindus and have assumed the status of Kshatriya Caste and are already listed as OBC.
Point 7 is about Kalelkar Commission report as to whether it covered new proposals for inclusion in the SC and ST lists apart from making the lists of 1950 and 1951 Orders “exhaustive and up-to-date”. The words under quote could have other connotations but discussion on the matter will serve no purpose. As stated earlier this position will become clear from the State-wise report in respect of Manipur which the Kalelkar Commission had sent to the States concerned. This State-wise report in respect of Manipur is not available online/public domain, but could be available in the Manipur State government archives. I beseech the researchers to trace the report in respect of Manipur State to clear the air.
Point 8 and 9 are statements of facts and need no comments.
Point 10 has been perceived erroneously. What was being mentioned was that opportunity was there for the Meitei community for claiming to be SC or ST regardless of the mandate of the Kalelkar Commission. However as stated above, I beseech the researchers to trace the State-wise report in respect of Manipur State which could reveal what was exactly proposed by the Manipur government to the Kalelkar Commission.
Point 11 on Sanskritization was just to state that the Meitei community could have been a tribe at one point in time and have over three centuries adopted the Hindu religion upper caste practices and beliefs as a preliminary step to acquire higher status. That, there were and still are a number of Meitei people who follow the traditional faith of Sanamahi and they could have qualified to be ST applying the corollary that persons other than Hindus and Sikhs falling outside the Varna system could have been made ST if they satisfy the requisite criteria. But it appears that no proposal was made to make Sanamahi Meiteis ST. Again I beseech the researchers to trace the State-wise report in respect of Manipur State to clear the air.
Point 12 contains statement of facts which is not contradicted. A crucial point however is emphasised on the word “recent” mentioned in the letter dated 29.5.2013 of the ministry of tribal affairs. The letter asked the State government of Manipur to send specific recommendation along with a recent socio-economic survey and ethnographic study. This advise has not been acted upon yet by the Manipur government. The demand of the Meitei community for inclusion in the list of ST appears to be to bulldoze the State government to send the proposal based on various historical documents having reference of Meiteis as a tribal society and not on any recent ethnographic study which would reveal whether the Meitei society still possess primitive tribal traits for consideration to be a tribal community, and also on emotional pressure without reference to any recent socio-economic survey. As far as satisfying the criteria laid down by the Lokur Committee is concerned, it is to be decided from the findings of a recent socio-economic survey whether the Meitei community satisfy the criteria which included – indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness. The researchers should urge the Manipur ST demand committee to pressurise the state government to conduct an ethnographic study and carry out a socio-economic survey of Manipur to justify the claim of the Meitei community that they are indeed a tribe and are backward.
Point 13 and 15 contain statement of facts. Having missed the bus was in respect of the opportunities available when India became a Republic. Much water has flowed under the bridge over 70 odd years and there has been a sea change in the socio-economic conditions, social and infrastructure developments, attainment of higher education, representation in politics and administration of the Meitei community. They are in fact the dominant community in politics, business and administration in Manipur leaving the tribals far behind. Justification and recommendation are not based on old records but new ones, and not on emotions but hard objective facts. No one can stop the Meitei community to demand for inclusion in the list of ST, but the question is whether the Meiteis are still primitive, isolated, shy and backward to satisfy the Lokur Committee criteria?
Point 14 about Meitei history is an assertion made by the researchers and I have no comments to offer. But what W. Nipamacha Singh stated is in the official records and it counts as it was written by him in his capacity as Chief Minister of the State.
Point 16. All the discussions made are of academic interest and are useful to educate the people across Manipur at such a time when the State is going through a rough patch partly on account of the Meitei community demand for inclusion in the list of ST. The voice of intelligentsia of Manipur seems to have been stifled by the belligerent mobs and their counsel is sorely missed to hold the State together. They have a role in educating the masses about the truth and should not remain silent. The concern on all sides is to bring about better understanding on the issues which has disturbed the social harmony in manipur and I am confident that readers of the esteemed newspaper ‘The Sangai Express’ and online news of ‘Ukhrul Times’ must have enjoyed the brief discourses.
Related | The Meiteis may have missed the bus
Ngaranmi Shimray is an activist and political observer based in New Delhi. View are personal. Shimray2011@gmail.com
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