Manipur and Scheduled Tribe: Whose ‘rights’ is it anyway?

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Manipur and Scheduled Tribe: Whose ‘rights’ is it anyway?

We are not here to discuss who is a Schedule Tribe, as there are far more knowledgeable people who have been entrusted with such difficult responsibilities. We want to clarify the possible impact on the status quo if a dominant community in the state is given Scheduled Tribe (ST) status while denying the social, economic and political rights of the ethnic minority of the state.

And yes, we are talking about Manipur, home to the Himalayan mountain range and valley, which shares an international border with Myanmar and state borders with Nagaland, Mizoram and Assam. More importantly, we are talking about the Meiteis claim.
Based on the 2011 Census of India, Manipur has a population of 28,55,794. The indigenous Meiteis/Meeteis, constitutionally known as Manipuri, have a population of 17,61,079, of which 15,22,132 are from Manipur, forming a dominant community. Out of the 34 indigenous STs in Manipur, there are 2,24,361 indigenous speakers of Mao, constituting the largest tribal community in Manipur. Statistically, the ST community, the largest in the state, constitutes only 14.7% of the dominant community. Surprisingly, the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee Manipur (STDCM) is a committee of the dominant community that mobilizes the demand for the inclusion of Metis/Manipuri under the Scheduled Tribe list of the Constitution.

Hill-valley divide

India’s post-colonial government, through its constitutional provisions and its policy of affirmative action, has sought to elevate the status of under-represented and historically disadvantaged communities such as Scheduled Tribes (ST), Scheduled Castes (SC). and classified as Other Backward Classes (OBC). And make them equal to the rest of India.

In 1947, the Maharaja of Manipur enacted two separate major laws for the administration of Manipur Hill and Valley, namely- a) Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 and b) Manipur State Hill (Administration) Regulation, 1947. Both laws demarcated the hill. and valley management; This arrangement continued even after Manipur joined the Union of India.
When Manipur was still a Union Territory of India, the governing body in the hills was known as the Standing Committee (Section 52, Government of Union Territories Act, 1963). After Manipur got statehood, it came to be known as Hill Area Committee due to Article 371C, Constitution of India and Hill Area Committee Order 1972. The purpose of these committees is to protect the interests of Scheduled Tribes (ST) of Manipur. The Hill Areas Committee acts as the contemporary Laxman Rekha in the Assembly for Scheduled Tribes to provide constitutional protection against other communities in Manipur.
A decade-long debate on the need for recognition of the scheduled tribes by the dominant community in the Manipur Valley is expected to recognize the demand of the Metei Scheduled Tribes, which would lead to integration of the hills and plains of Manipur. . This movement is being led by the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee (Ref. STDCM Memo to Shri Gurbachan Jagat). The idea proposed in the memorandum, encapsulated by the slogan of Chungami Tami Amtani, is that combining hills and plains is not a new concept. This has been a recurring problem with motives of political gain devoid of real emotional motivations.
Keishamthong AC MLA Nishikant Singh Sapam, as a show of support for STDCM’s political effort, openly stated that it is not fair to limit the Meetei/Meitei population to only 10% of the total geographical area of ​​Manipur. Yambem Laba, chairman of the committee and former head of the Manipur Human Rights Commission, also said: “ST status will go a long way towards protecting the land of the Metis, which is currently limited to 8% of Manipur’s geographical area. ..”
A number of notable organizations and eminent individuals have also expressed support for the STDCM’s ideas, though in their ability to argue for a geographically grounded cause. This begs the question whether the STDCM-led idea of ​​uniting the hills and plains will come at the cost of exploiting the hill lands as the idea revolves around the notion that the Meitei community is confined to the valley region. is being kept.
In the hills, the mobilization in the valley is seen as a scheme to moderate the passionate political demands of the tribals and as a covert move by the dominant population to grow in the hilly areas of the state. Unsurprisingly, as reported on 27 November 2020, the Kanglipak Kanba Loop (KKL) submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister of Manipur stating, “We are positive that the territorial boundaries of Manipur remain intact.” Gee… However, we believe that Naga Manipur as well as the Kukis will benefit in terms of getting an autonomous administrative set-up under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India…This is where the Chief Minister needs to keep the interest of the Metis in mind before giving a final yes to the final deal… We demand that the Manipur government immediately include the Metis as a Scheduled Tribe and Place. Consider the recommendation. It is before the Central Govt.
The quest for mobilization along ethnic identity lines has proved to be a powerful means of engaging the dominant class in its political discourse. This has greatly strained the political atmosphere of Manipur. Organizations like the All Tribal Students Union of Manipur, representing tribal communities in the state, have openly opposed giving ST status to Metis. A union leader commented that this would “defeat the very purpose of protecting tribal people through reservation.”
In the Valley too, there seems to be no consensus in the talks as many have opposed the demand for ST status. Rajkumar Meghan, a former leader of the extremist United National Liberation Front (UNLF), believes the status will erase the community’s rich martial history. As reported by The Hindu in February 2022, there are also accounts of Meiti Brahmins rejecting the idea of ​​ST identity.

Status Quo
Undoubtedly, the inclusion of Meiteis/Meetei will affect the status quo of various constitutional provisions, Acts, and orders of Parliament and the State which protect and preserve indigenous tribal rights. Below is a brief overview of some of the events:

I. Article 371C of the Constitution of India:

The statement of objects and reasons of the XXVIIth Constitutional Amendment which introduced Article 371C clearly states, ‘The hilly areas of Manipur are mainly inhabited by the Scheduled Tribes. To protect their interests… it is proposed… that this arrangement be continued even after Manipur becomes a state. Therefore, a special provision is being made in the constitution for the establishment of such a committee.

This statement clearly shows that the existing tribals need to be protected from integration without hindering integration with the rest of India. Given the current political climate in Manipur, if the dominant community is granted Scheduled Tribe recognition, the constitutional provision protecting the interests of the existing Scheduled Tribes may be rendered null and void. In the statement of objects and reasons, the term ‘Scheduled Tribe’ shall include a community against which such protection is provided.

ii Manipur Hill Areas Committee Order 1972:

The Presidential Order or the Manipur Hill Areas Committee Order, 1972, is the result of Article 371C of the Constitution of India. This order, by virtue of Article 371C, empowers the members of the Tribal Legislative Assembly (19/20 members) as a committee to oppose any state legislative and administrative action in the interests of the tribal (hill) areas. For protection and protection, especially the dominant community legislation introduced by them.

iii Manipur Land Reforms and Land Revenue Act, 1960:

Section 158 of MLR and LR Act provides special provisions relating to Scheduled Tribes. This clause protects the transfer of tribal lands to non-tribals with the aim of preserving tribal customs and land tenure systems. This provision does not reduce the deprivation of rights of purchase by indigenous communities other than tribal communities. It only lays down a dual mechanism that will prevent tribals from being alienated from their lands. It requires the permission of the Deputy Commissioner and the consent of the District Council.

iv Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act, 1956:

Parliamentary Act or the Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act, 1956, which aims to protect and safeguard the tribal chief institution. It also provides a scheme for active participation of tribal villagers in democratic elections of Village Authority (VA). The letter protects and preserves the existing tribal culture, tradition and customs. However, this raises the question whether the dominant community living in the hills will have the right to be elected as Village Head (VA) if ST recognition is granted.
v. Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971:

The Parliamentary Act or District Act 1971 is an act to establish district councils in the hilly areas of Manipur. The District Council is a grassroots democratic government constituted by elected tribal members from the hills, modeled on the reduced framework of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. These council seats are reserved for tribals. Thus, once again the question is being raised whether the dominant community living in the hills will get the right to be elected members of the district council in case of ST recognition. Besides, it also raises doubts about whether the 19 (ST) reserved assembly constituency seats and outer Manipur parliamentary seats are reserved for the existing Scheduled Tribes or not.

Recognition of the dominant community as a Scheduled Tribe has the potential to change the status quo in matters relating to the above provisions. One may also raise the question: If the demand for recognition of Scheduled Tribes is accepted, whose rights will it affect? Whose tribal rights are protected by the existing constitutional provisions, acts, orders etc.? And for what reasons and purposes?

STDCM’s recent memorandum to the NCST (National Commission for Scheduled Tribes) dated 22 December 2022 emphasizes the lack of constitutional protection for Meite/Mete. Ironically, Meiteilon constitutionally known as Manipuri language, is protected by the VIII Schedule of the Constitution. Moreover, the community comprising more than half of the state’s population has 40 of the total 60 seats in the assembly. Legislature is an integral organ of the state which has the power to enact any legislation or implement any protection mechanism within the framework of the constitution.Any matters relating to conservation of land, preservation of Meitei local customs of marriage, divorce, succession/inheritance, and others are within the framework of Schedule VII (State List and Consolidation List) of the Constitution which are easily may be passed by legislation and 40. Legislature from the valley without the need for full vote support from the hills. If only valley-related matters/legislation are tabled in the Assembly, it is not mandatory for the Assembly to refer such matters/legislation to the Hill Areas Committee.
Moreover, the discourse that revolves around the idea of ​​integration and preventing the community from being limited to the valley may be aligned with the interests of a select group of (capitalist) elites in the valley whose interest is to increase their influence in the valley. To increase influence and establishment. Hilly areas. Pursuing ST recognition, therefore, would be the best mechanism to change the status quo, keeping in mind the limited restriction imposed by the Tribal Land Protection Provisions in the MLR and LR Act, 1960. Identifying ST will automatically ignore this restriction as a word. ‘Tribal’ includes the dominant community. Perceived equality will eventually lead the elite to alter their influence and establishment prospects to the detriment of the landless, economically and politically weak tribal individual.

It is an undeniable fact that not all people have the economic means to own individual private land. The same is the case with local tribes who do not own private property (land) in the hills. For example, according to an RTI provided on August 29, 2022 by the Sub-Divisional Officer, Chorachandpur – Chorachandpur sub-division has 22,758 registered land owners against a total population of 174,138. Statistics show that about 1.5 lakh population of the subdivision is landless. If the tribal ancestral lands in the hills with their unique land systems are to be converted into individual lands for the indigenous people of the valley as well,Preference should be given to a person belonging to the same community who has a historical, emotional and cultural attachment to the lands, while preventing the risk of alienation from their land. Although Article 19 (1) (e) of the Constitution allows one to live and settle in any part of the territory of India. It is undeniable and, a fact that with the implementation of Inner Line Permit (ILP) system in Manipur, the subject is only limited.
The implementation of the Inner Line Permit system to control illegal immigrants in the state has not helped, as the narrative of fear of the dominant class turning into a minority in the state continues. The solution may not necessarily lie in attaining Scheduled Tribe status because the inflow of migrants to the neighboring tribal state(s) is not zero. It will mainly depend on the ability of the state legislature and its MP to introduce legislation that meets the contemporary needs of the state.
Further, the identity of Scheduled Tribes is considered as a disadvantage for land and local protection. From one perspective, the land and territorial integrity of a Scheduled Tribe is constitutionally protected to some extent. This is not because such a community is exercising its constitutional freedom and expression, but because such a community is an under-represented member of society and is socio-economically weaker.
The discourse mentioned earlier which emphasizes the inability to own land in the hills also fails to consider the number of Meiti Leikai (places) already existing in the hills and the land tenure system of the local tribes. If the negotiations are taken seriously, the Leikai (languages) in the hills would be an illegal settlement, as the negotiations clearly stated that the Metis/Metis were to settle in 90% of the geographical area of ​​Manipur not allowed.

If a regulation designed to protect the existing Scheduled Tribes is being rendered ineffective with the recognition of an additional Scheduled Tribe, then whose right is it protected against?

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