The Scheduled Tribe Plan of the Meitei: Rewatching the Theatre of the Absurd

To an atheist like me, it is ridiculous to listen to pro-ST Meiteis saying the people opposing their demands are pro-Hindus. But then what can be funnier than their argument that a constitutional privilege, read freebies and contested benefits, will bridge the hill-valley divide in Manipur? [Image source

Impressions from the recent lobbying by some concerned Meiteis to include them in the ST category

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribe (NCST) has the authority to look after the welfare of the scheduled tribes in the union of India. How much the State is sincere is clear from the very existence of such a national commission. Briefly, it is heartily fair and objective.

The breaking news is the lobbying from some quarters in Manipur to include the Meiteis in the officially declared underdeveloped class.

The politics of SC and ST started during the British imperial rule—then, these people were categorised under the Depressed Classes, or the tribal in simple terms. Considering the much needed space for these people to improve their living conditions in general, a rule of the land offers a path for improvement, continuing the legacy of the old masters. There is no doubt how much it was ‘brooded’, considering the clauses and sub-clauses in the official documents that supposedly facilitate the social engineering processes.

For instance, the functions of the the national commission include, amongst others: taking up (a) measures to safeguard rights [of] the tribal communities over mineral resources, water resources etc. as per law; (b) measures for the development of tribals and to work for move viable livelihood strategies; and (c) to investigate and monitor matters relating to safeguards provided for STs under the Constitution or under other laws or under Government’s order, to evaluate the working of such safeguards.

In the website of the commission, it is further elaborated that:

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) was established by amending Article 338 and inserting a new Article 338A in the Constitution through the Constitution (89th Amendment) Act, 2003. By this amendment, the erstwhile National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was replaced by two separate Commissions namely- (i) the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), and (ii) the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) w.e.f. 19 February, 2004.
(Text source: NCST)
All under one roof

So far so good, but do you see how we stumble so suddenly?

The Meitei class reunion

Recently, there has been a lot of cajoling and lobbying to let in the Manipuri Meiteis (excluding the Lois and the Yaithibis who are already in the privileged class) in the SC category. For clarity, the Meitei is an endonym and the Manipuri is an exonym.

(Endonyms or autonyms are a name given by an ethnic group to its own geographical entity (toponymy), or the name an ethnic group calls itself. Exonym or xenonym is the name given to an ethnic group or to a geographical entity by another ethnic group. Text source)

The Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee of Manipur (STDCM) is leading from the front. In the first half of July 2013, its representatives: Y Mohendro, N Ishwarchandra, N Manikanta, S Manglem and E Baburam, had met the Prime Minister in New Delhi. They had met the Manipur governor late last year as well.

There are several issues why the development is so farcical. This is despite the fact that the supporters see in it, from practical aspects as they argue, a means to further the ends of our society. Rather the constitution makers, not the lackadaisical mainland leaders, would be delighted to have a discussion with these people!

A firm reason for their demand is to restore the equality between the various ethnic groups. Manipur has more than 30 officially recognised ethnic groups and only the Meitei is (out-)fitted in the General category, while others are either in the SC or ST class. So, the inclusion would put all of us under a common roof. Once again, all of us will be under a common class in some sort of a reunion.

Some people are hopeful that we will be better off when we become a tribal state—where all of us will be equal. It would perhaps also mean a better way to protect the resources and assets, which have been clearly mentioned in the demand for Inner Line Permit. We will be better off, if we kill ourselves.

The lobbyists have gone to the extent of saying that we should do away with our false pride, which they think it is the reason why some of us are holding back. Would they not be missing the woods for the trees here? This criticism is in contrast to the views of some people who are apparently cynical about the demotion of the entire race, from a full-fledged citizen to a desperate people needing quotas and reservation.

There are more reasons why all the aspects are punctuated with unmatched absurdity. Before we state how it is so, we can catch a glimpse of this travesty, if we take a couple of steps back.

One of the main reasons the Meiteis have been whining is the lack of opportunity, relative to the freebies the other groups are getting in the name of their social class. If this is the reason, we should rather commit mass suicide.

We know best how we can grow on our own

For the sake of the supporters’ arguments, we were once an independent kingdom having our own philosophy, political boundary, history, sociocultural roots and every little detail that define a modern-day sovereign state. In fact, across Asia we had the first democratically elected representatives, one year after the departure of the British in 1947. The union simply dismissed the representatives, and then coerced an impotent king to sign the Merger Agreement in 1949.

Subsequently, from the subjects of a kingdom, we became a second class citizen, when we were inserted into a Part-C state, administered by a chief commissioner based elsewhere in the subcontinent.

The National Commission for the Scheduled Castes apparently enjoys the power to placate the people who are still questioning the constitutionality of this controversial agreement. Nation-builders can take some recommendations, on how to manage the buffer states, from this commission.

Societies grow, but it is just the opposite when we talk about ourselves. The union of India did us a big favour, by helping us attain statehood 23 years later in 1972. The STDCM should start celebrating January 21, the statehood day, as a day of salvation. But 1972 was too late, because a decade earlier in the Sixties, armed and unarmed political movements for the right to self-determination had gained momentum.

From a second class citizen, finally, we have become a group of animal with no dignity or whatsoever. For instance, the policemen can shoot us, harass us, threaten us, intimidate us if we look suspicious on the flimsiest ground. The army can kill us because, in the who-the-hell-care national interest, we have no right to tell them not to fuck with us. If this is not enough, now we would even fight to let the others stratified us into artificial social classes.

In 1931, during one of the decadal census reports, only the Hindus in the Northeast (residing mostly in Manipur and Assam) were excluded from the constitutionally privileged class. And we are the genetically altered Hindus, and hence our fate—which some people see that it has been spanking us hard incessantly, regardless how painful we have been tolerating the deteriorating lesion—so hard that we need protection and reservation now!

Self-reliance and economic independence are a couple of ways how we can move forward. Otherwise, begging and victimisation would only demean the efforts of our ancestors who had built the land with their blood and sweat. Can we afford to become such a disgrace, so easily? Over dependence has become our collective habit, yet we can clearly see we will go nowhere if we are solely relying on spoon feeding by the neocolonialists. Alternatively, we can only go how far they want us to.

Even more worse is the sheep mentality of our folks, who believe we can grow with the certain free and subsidised allocation under the public services and opportunities.

It is no wonder how we are standing here so listlessly, regardless of all the political craps, a decade after this new millennium. It is also no wonder how other community-based organisations, like the Movement for Tribal People’s Rights, Manipur (MTPRM), are opposing the demand, because they cannot bear others’ envious eyes, gazing at their assets that are called the provisions and supplies from the government.
Everything is fair in the theatre of the absurd. In the name of democracy and emancipation, we have been leaving no stone unturned.

Perhaps this issue could have been a major political issue—seeing the rising tempo mostly in the mainland parts of the country—for the 16th Lok Sabha election scheduled next year. All lucks are against us, though, because our voice is just an obscure fart in the politics of the country. It could have covered a major portion of caste politics and agenda and so on elsewher in the Mainland; but, not ours.

Supporters might have believed that the recognition would bridge the gap. See here, when you want to give an example of building castles in the air, this is just the perfect case. Possibly, they are in a frantic search for a way to grow out of this collective mess. Wouldn't it better to search for more ingenious ways, or start working hard? For now, the MSJE have good intentions. The lobbyists has failed; rather they are only improvising, training us, to play our roles pathetically in this theatre of the absurd called Manipur.



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