The Meitei community of Manipur is predominantly Vaishnavite Hindus. They follow the caste system of the Hindu religion, and hence the lower caste among the Meiteis is included under the reserved category as Scheduled Caste. With the introduction of another form of reservation called Other Backward Classes (OBC), a large number of Meiteis are covered under this classification since 1995 and they have been successful in the All India civil services.
The Meiteis constitute more than 57% of the population of Manipur. Their share of seats in the Manipur Legislative Assembly is 40 seats out of 60 seats in the assembly. The hard-working Meiteis are also educationally and economically forward community. They have been grabbing the lion share of resources for development for the valley where they are settled in 10% of the land, leaving a paltry amount of funds for the development of 90% of land in the hill areas. Given their predominant position in the social, economic and political spheres, they are a dominant force in the state.
The demand of the Meiteis for inclusion in the ST list is potentially dangerous as it would upset the socio-economic and political equation in the state. It would enable them to corner all benefits of reservations for ST in Manipur and in the country too, like the Meena ST community has cornered the majority of government jobs in Rajasthan and the All India civil and allied services. A quick analysis of the All India civil services examination of 2020 results reveals that 52 Meena candidates (counting only the names that end with Meena) have made it to the selected list, representing more than 50 per cent of the ST quota in the civil services. In the same civil services examination result of 2020, five Meiteis candidates have made it. Assuming they are all from the OBC category, this number represents about 0.50 per cent of the OBC quota in the civil services seats, which is a major achievement for a small community in the context of India.
The Meiteis are already very competitive and have scores of doctors, engineers, academicians apart from top bureaucrats in the state as well as across the country. The STs of Manipur and other northeastern states would not stand a chance if they have to compete for ST quotas alongside the Meiteis. They are very advanced that their inclusion in the ST list, apart from depriving the STs of Manipur, could also displace the Meenas.
The current position of the predominance of Meiteis in the state i.e. in business, administrative and political spaces juxtaposed with the demand for ST status would make it a curious case of the ‘Haves’ trying to take away the small share of the ‘Have Nots’. They are already at the top of the social, economic and political spaces compared to all other tribal communities in Manipur and therefore their demand raises a question about the real motive.
Considering the above facts, the demand made by several Meitei organisations for including their community as “Scheduled Tribes” can only be viewed with suspicion. Questions are being raised as to whether the objective could be an attempt to deny reservation in government jobs to the current Scheduled Tribes of Manipur. The Meiteis are advanced both educationally and economically. They could grab all reserved government jobs in Manipur, besides being a force to reckon with in All India civil services examination like the Meena Scheduled Tribe have done in Rajasthan and the UPSC examinations.
A more serious impact of the inclusion of Meiteis in the ST list for Manipur tribes would be on the lands in the hill areas of Manipur. If the Meiteis are included in the ST list, they will become one of the tribes of Manipur, thereby giving them a right to buy tribal lands in the hill areas of Manipur. Land grab and land alienation of tribal lands will take place in Manipur hill areas. The sanctity of the hill areas protected by Article 371C read with the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972 (Presidential Order notified on 20th June 1972) will be diluted and violated. All citizens living in the state will become Scheduled Tribes except for a few Muslims. The Meiteis are already wealthy, and they will offer exorbitant rates to the poor tribal people enticing them to sell their lands in the hills.
The tribes of Manipur should be wary of the demand for ST status by the Meiteis as there appears to be a hidden agenda of land-grab behind the demand by Meiteis for ST status. The inclusion of Meiteis in the ST list could have serious social, political and economic ramifications in the state and for other Scheduled Tribes across the country. It would deprive the tribes of Manipur of government jobs. It would be tantamount to giving the most advanced community in the state a license to purchase lands in hills and reduce the tribal people in Manipur to a life of penury.
The author is a New Delhi-based activist. Views expressed are personal.
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