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

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A few impression on the recent lobbying by some concerned Meiteis to include them in the SC category

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) has the authority to look after the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (SC/ST) in the union of India.

How much the government is sincere is clear from the fact that it has inserted several provisions, offering privileges under the irrefutable constitution of the country. 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, the constitution offers a path for improvement, continuing the legacy of the old master, read the Britishers. There is no doubt how much it was ‘brooded’, considering the clauses and sub-clauses in the official documents that supposedly facilitates the social engineering processes.

For instance, it mentions protective arrangements (to enhance the equality), affirmative action (generally known as the reservation, howsoever it is controversial) and development (by providing resources and subsidies). It is here that the nodal ministry of social justice and empowerment has more responsibilities.

In the website of the ministry, it mentions ‘the nodal ministry (is) to oversee the interests of the Scheduled Castes. Though the primary responsibility for promotion of interests of the Scheduled Castes rests with all the Central Ministries in the area of their operations and the State Governments, the Ministry complements their efforts by way of interventions in critical sectors through specifically tailored schemes. Efforts made by State Governments and Central Ministries for protecting and promoting the interests of Scheduled Castes are also monitored.’ (Text source: Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment)
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: Wikipedia)

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 recognided 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’ delight, 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.
No denial

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 in the theatre of the absurd.


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