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ATSUM leaders submitting memorandum to Union Minister for Tribal Affairs

If Neglected, Contested Issue Over ST Demand for Meitei May Become a Flashpoint For Violent Ethnic Conflict

While the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee, Manipur (STDCM) has intensified its agitation by visiting the residennces of the elected leaders and submitting memorandum for their demand to include Meitei in the list of Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution of India, the All Tribal Students’ Union (ATSUM) vehemently opposes and urges the tribal leaders and Union Ministers not to concede the demand of the STDCM.

ATSUM’s oppoistion to the demand of STDCM for inclusion of Meitei in the ST list under the Constitution of India has been brought to the notice of the Union Minister of Tribal Affairs, Union Law and Justice Minister, and Chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribe, Government of India; besides the elected tribal leaders of Manipur to State Legislative Assembly and Indian Parliament.

A team of ATSUM on November 19, 2022 met Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda in New Delhi and apprised him of why the Meitei community should not be given ST status.

The ATSUM team, led by its President Paotinthang Lupheng and General Secretary SR Andria, called on the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs, Arjun Munda at his official quarter at Tughlak Road, New Delhi, and apprised him of the threat and insecurity felt by the tribal people of Manipur due to the alleged illogical and illegitimate demand of the STDCM for inclusion of Meitei community into Scheduled Tribes categories of India.

Moreover, after meeting and submitting a memorandum to the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs, the team of ATSUM met Union Minister for Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju on November 20, 2022 in New Delhi on the issue of STDCM demand for inclusion of Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list of India and submitted a similar memorandum pointing out the reasons why the Meitei community should not be given ST status.

The ATSUM said that they were compelled to submit a representation as the demand for inclusion of Meitei community in the ST category has been gaining momentum with most of the legislators from the valley including Manipur’s lone Rajya Sabha MP Leishemba Sanajaoba openly declaring his support without taking into account the “irrationality” of the demand and sentiments of the tribal community of the State.

Besides meeting the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs and the Union Minister for Law and Justice, the team of ATSUM team reached the office of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribe (NCST), Government of India on November 22, 2022 and called on the Chairperson of the NCST, Government of India, Harsh Chouhan, at his office in New Delhi, and with the submission of a memorandum discussed the persistent demand of the STDCM to recognise Meitei community as Scheduled Tribe.

The ATSUM leaders also explained that the STDCM demand for ST status is nothing but a policy of the Meitei community to circumvent the existing laws in Manipur to enable them to buy and own lands in the hill areas. The ATSUM leaders also had a serious deliberation on the plausibility of the demand to jeopardize the constitutional protection of tribal people of Manipur with the Chairperson, the ATSUM said.

Earlier, before reaching out to the Union Ministers and NCST, a team of ATSUM led by President Paotinthang Lupheng and General Secretary Sinruwung Andria on November 15, 2022 knocked on the doors of Tribal leaders in the present Manipur Assembly, including Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency MP, Lorho S Pfoze, where they submitted a memorandum in regards to the ST demand made by the STDCM, which is not acceptable to them.

The team of ATSUM first went to the official residence of the Minister of Animals husbandry & Agriculture and Transport, Khasim Vashum and appealed to him to oppose the ST demand by the STDCM.

The ATSUM also met the Chairman of the Hill Areas Committee of the Manipur Legislative Assembly; Dipu Gangmei but he said that there is no need to panic due to the demand made by certain communities for inclusion as ST saying that in a democracy everyone has the right to demand. The most important thing is its genuineness and there are competent authorities like the National ST Commission, the Union Government and State Government who will study and act upon it, he said.

In their memorandum, the ATSUM, time and again, unequivocally expressed its stated position on the contested demand of the STDM for inclusion of Meitei, the majority community of Manipur, in the ST list as it poses serious threat to the land and existence of tribal people with the empirical reasoning that the Meitei community are an advanced community marked by 2000 years of civilization, unbroken lineage of kingship, superlative cultural advancement with its exquisite classical dances purportedly shown as the finest form of arts, Meitei Language (Manipuri) recognised under the Eight Schedule of the Indian Constitution, urban civilization for eons, participation and signing of international treaties with the British in 1762 AD and 1826 AD, academic advancement with high literacy rate.

The ATSUM, in the memorandum, said that the fact that the Meitei community has done exceedingly well in the fields of technology, medical, engineering, sports and civil services under UPSC is indicative of their advancement. For instance, 15 students from the community cracked the NDA examination last year, two civil services this year and the bulk of MBBS successful students in the whole North-Eastern States came from the Meitei community while it may be noted that all the states and central higher educational institutes in Manipur are concentrated in the Meitei dominated valley districts, particularly Imphal East and Imphal West districts. ATSUM also pointed out that recruitments conducted in all these institutions under Unreserved (UR) category are being filled up by the members of the Meitei community. This is just one of the evidences to show that Meitei is an advanced community rather than “backward”, it added.

ATSUM also stated in the memorandum that the land of the tribal indigenous peoples in the hills of Manipur is protected by the constitutional provisions which restricted purchase of land in the hills by non-tribal people, including the Meiteis and the demand for ST status by the Meitei now, 70 years after the Constitution of India made provision for Scheduled Tribes, is only a nefarious policy to gain constitutional means to grasp the lands of the tribal people in the hills.

However, the STDCM, while strongly condemning the ATSUM for objecting their ongoing demand on inclusion of Meitei in the ST list, has urged ATSUM to withdraw their stand as the STDCM would not affect any particular community.

Convenor of STDCM Laishram Romesh said that objecting their ‘legitimate demand’ on inclusion of Meitei by ATSUM is unfortunate. From early part of their agitation, ATSUM has been opposing the demand while STDCM has been approaching the union to clear their misconception of ineligibilities of Meitei in ST list.

“ATSUM objecting to STDCM demand on the ground that Meitei are in higher class is not acceptable at all. The Imphal valley, having a size of just around 1,843 square kilometers, doesn’t have any constitutional rights to protect the land. On the other hand, there is a consistent influx of migrants. What would be the condition of the valley once Asian Highway and railway projects are fully functional,” he questioned while stating that allowing or disallowing Meitei in ST list should be decided by the Registrar General of India and Tribal Affairs Ministry.

Also stating the stand of Protection and Preservation Committee, Manipur (PPCM), Romesh recalled that PPCM, in the year 2017, had submitted memorandum to Manipur Government seeking not to send recommendation for inclusion of Meitei in ST list and calls on them to withdraw their stand considering the essence of bringing unity and integrity in the state.

Meanwhile, the Kangleipak Kanba Lup (KKL) has strongly come out on November 24, 2022 against the ATSUM and questioned their agenda for road-blocking the demand of ST status for Meitei community.

Speaking to media persons on November 24 at its office at Paona Keithel, the KKL Secretary Ngamkheingakpa Luwang said the demand for ST status is to safeguard the Meitei and ensure their survival as an ethnic community of Manipur.

ATSUM submitting written representations to the Union Minister of Tribal Affairs and Tribal Commission is most unfortunate. Whether to grant ST status or not is the sole right of the competent Ministry of the Centre. ATSUM has no say in this regard and it should not interfere, said the KKL Secretary.

“Are all the constituent indigenous tribal student bodies on the same page with ATSUM? They should provide an answer and make their stand clear within 15 days,” the KKL Secretary said.

If an answer is not given, KKL would be launching protests against ATSUM. Good or bad, all activities of ATSUM will be boycotted. Further, ATSUM’s office in Imphal will also be closed if it doesn’t respond and gives a clear answer, he said.

“There are lots who are not indigenous people but protected by the Constitution as Scheduled Tribe. If they act against the interest of the indigenous people (Meitei) when the community is facing threat of being extinct in the near future, then we will also act against their interest and contest their Constitutional status, the KKL Secretary said.

Moreover, the World Meitei Council has submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister of India to delete the Chin-Kuki groups settling in Manipur from the list of the Scheduled Tribes of India.

According to a press release issued on November 25, 2022 by the Chairman of the World Meitei Council, Nabashyam Heikrujam said the ATSUM leaders who are camping in Delhi and meeting Union Ministers are giving wrong information. The ATSUM cannot represent the indigenous people of Manipur, the memorandum added.

While the Meiteis demand their right to include in the ST list, the Chin Kuki groups in the ATSUM objects and tries not to include Meitei in the ST list. The Chin Kuki groups are from Myanmar and they are migrants. The Constitution does not provide to include them in the ST list and they have been included illegally. Therefore, the Chin Kuki groups should be deleted from the ST list, the Meitei should be included in the ST list, the release said.

Now, the latest developments over the issue of STDCM demand for inclusion of Meitei in the ST list turn out to be coloured with communal tones piting one against another while Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren has been working hard at his level best since his frist term to bring oneness of all the ethnic groups of Manipur and live in coexistence peacefully.

If both the Government of India and Government of Manipur does not tackle the vulnerable and contested issue over Scheduled Tribe demand timely, and allow the present situation to continue; it may become a flashpoint for violent ethnic conflict.

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