The tribes of Manipur are suspicious of each other that they often focus all their attention on each other’s various moves and forget what the main adversary is doing. Distrust and hatred for each other have kept the various tribes apart and disunited.
By Ngaranmi Shimray
How could such a serious matter of ST demand writ petition made by some Meitei organisations be taken up and decide the writ petition at motion stage by the High Court without any tribal person or organisations knowing about it or raising a voice asking for being in pleaded as a respondent or party and seeking time ? How is it that the advocates from the tribes working in the High Court and public at large were not alerted and allowed such a serious matter having long term ramification to slip through their sight/knowledge when they have the cause list for the next day? (However, in this particular case it appears that the order was orally dictated in court on 27.03.2023 i.e. the date of hearing of motion and order was passed on the same day i.e. 27.03.2023, but was uploaded only on 19.04.3023.).
Why are our student leaders, CSOs and activists so isolated from the main hub of information that they have been blind sided by this earth shaking High Court event. I wonder what was the tearing rush for the High Court to decide on the matter at motion stage on 27.03.2023 without hearing the affected party. I wonder what the respondents particularly the administrative Secretary of the department of Tribal Affairs & Hills, (TA&H) Minister concerned and Chief Secretary were doing.
Was it brought to the knowledge of the Chief Minister and Minister in charge of TA&H? Was there inaction on the part of the State government? The Hill Areas Committee (HAC) has come out with a resolution on 20.04.2023 (wrongly understanding that the order was passed on 19.04.2023 i.e. the date when it was digitally verified and uploaded in the Manipur High Court website) urging the State government to file an Appeal, but will the State government be able to go to court on this matter?
The order of the High Court dated 27.03.2023 has the potential of destabilising the government and causing tension in the society besides creating communal disharmony. It would not be wrong to say that Manipur has entered into a phase fraught with danger.
As far as tribal communities of Manipur are concerned, such incident taking place indicates that most of our leaders and intellectuals are sleeping most of the time. But we cannot blame them solely for this state of affair. It is the voters who is to blame as they have brought such a situation upon themselves by electing leaders who have no vision and lack the ability to lead and protect the interest of the people. The shortsighted tribesmen is to blame as most of us became corrupt during elections and compromise our choice of leaders for short-term consideration.
In the light of many things happening adversely for the tribes of Manipur, it is tempting to say that most of our leaders have myopic vision limiting their ability to see the future. The tribes of Manipur are suspicious of each other that they often focus all their attention on each other’s various moves and forget what the main adversary is doing. Distrust and hatred for each other have kept the various tribes apart and disunited.
The various alleged assaults for dominance from the Meitei society that the tribes have experienced and condescended in the past, one of them being the lack of strong opposition to the inclusion of Meitei language in the 8th Schedule of the constitution, is indeed a sad commentary of the lack of foresight by our leaders from all walks of life. The tribes of Manipur are now further disadvantaged as Manipuri/Meitei Lon has recently become one of the approved regional languages for the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) recruitment examination. Meitei language has already been allowed as a language in the Combined Civil Services Examinations giving the Meitei a competitive advantage and many of them have made into various services now under the OBC reservation quota. Now the possibility of the advanced Meitei community becoming ST is looming large and if it happens they will corner all ST reserved jobs/educational seats in the State as well as the country as they have now become advanced people. This happened for the Meena tribe of Rajasthan while the other unfortunate non-Meena ST of Rajasthan suffered as most, if not all, of the jobs in government /seats in educational institutes of ST reserved quota are grabbed by the Meenas being the more advanced tribe. The Meenas are already grabbing more than 50% of the ST reserved jobs in the Combined Civil Services Examinations almost every year. Add to this the meitei ST factor, if it takes place, and there will be nothing left for the other STs across the country. The STs from other States need to wake up to the emerging danger and oppose the attempt of a dominant community to become a Scheduled Tribe to obtain benefits of jobs in government and seats in higher educational institutes.
Apart from the overt design to grab all ST reserved jobs etc, the allegedly hidden agenda of the demand for ST status by Meitei is “Land”. They are allegedly after the land in the hill areas and when they become ST they will be able to buy land from the poor tribal brothers. The Meiteis have numerous rich people, engineers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen etc and they have the ability to generate enough resources to make the system work in their favour.
The tribes of Manipur have been outclassed and outsmarted by the Meiteis. We have lost on all fronts. Politically, we have only 20 MLAs when it could be closer to 50% considering the population in the Hill Areas if delimitation is allowed, but it has been sadly scuttled by the State government.
Administratively, we have the outdated and ineffective Autonomous District Councils in the Hill Areas, which is autonomous only in name. The Manipur tribes spearheaded the demand for the sixth schedule but it has been stalled by the usage of insincere words like subject to certain “local adjustments and amendments” which was never clarified when answers were sought by Government of India as to what it meant. The demand for the Gorkaland and the Bodoland territorial councils, which are more powerful entities than the sixth schedule district councils, came much later but they have been achieved and succeeded through tough political fights and bloodshed. In Manipur, it has not been possible to even resurrect the demand for the sixth schedule made in the 1990s as leaders are dissuaded by the unspoken whisper emanating from the peace parleys that such concessions will be given when there is peace talk settlement for the Nagas and Kuki-chin groups. But alas! such settlement has become a mirage; the closer we get to it, the mirage vanishes and resurfaces at a further distance. Everyone is exhausted with no end in sight as the people continue to suffer from another onslaught from the Meiteis.
Now, to add further to the misery of the tribes of Manipur, the dominant community seemingly appears to have added a feather on their cap with the judiciary giving their demand a filip thereby precipitating an issue which the State government was procrastinating for fear of disturbing the social equilibrium in Manipur and triggering social disharmony. The ultimate sufferer in this case too would again be the tribes of Manipur as the prosperous Meitei community have resources to open many doors in their quest for ST status.
The onus lies with the State government to go for review or appeal against the order of the high court dated 27.03.2023 on Writ Petition (C) no. 229 of 2023. It would be the role of the HAC to ensure that action in the matter is taken by the State government. The department of TA&H especially the Minister cannot shirk its responsibility on this matter. Regardless of the expectation that the State government would go for appeal or review on the matter, the tribal organisations should ensure that similar appeal or review or any legal recourse against the High Court order dated 27.03.2023 is filed by them separately.
The tribes of Manipur are lost people. Like the Israelites, the tribes will have to wander in the wilderness for decades until they are united and march as one people to fight a common foe and enter the promised land. The simple idiom that most of us learn in school still resonates strongly and is relevant to our present situation – “United we stand, divided we fall.” The choice my friend, for the future of your children, is yours. Don’t delay. Make the right choice and face the challenge head on.
(Ngaranmi Shimray is a New Delhi based Social Activist. He can be reached at [email protected]. Opinion expressed here are his own and do not represent the views of TFM)