In Defiance to the Demand for ST Status
The Imphal Free Press in today’s edition (21 May 2016) published a longish essay by one of the well-known journalists based in Imphal. With respect, I would say Yambem Laba, the writer, must be a senior citizen but I don’t read newspapers and have no idea about his exact age. In his write-up, ‘In defence for the demand for ST status’, YL* explained some important points, and convincingly as well, on why the Meiteis should be an ST group. But then I have a few responses out of my disbelief in this whole charade.
[* I have abbreviated the name knowing how it is a mark of disrespect for the Meiteis to use an elder’s name without a proper suffix. I have used the shortened form of the journalist’s name for the sake of the language I’m writing in, and partly to show that we are not discussing a family matter here.]
To begin with, one of the criticisms of this demand has nothing to do with the Meiteis losing their pride, going backwards or sideways and being primitive or super-advanced. Rather the issue is nauseating because it reeks of our servility and laziness—so there’s no relevance in citing the example of a people with ‘great past’ or the ridiculous comparison to the Mahābhārata. Just after the funny introduction, YL made another great leap of faith with a question.
He asked: ‘…How could they (those who oppose the demand) have passed statements to the effect that the move for inclusion of the Meiteis as a scheduled tribe will strain the relations with the “chingmees”…’?
We have never said that it will strain the already degrading relationship but thanks to NSCN-IM and the great government of India, we have been a witness to this tragedy. In fact, it is the pro-ST group who is of the view that our inclusion will bring us closer as if all that we had been waiting for all these years was a constitutional charity that India offers generously to uplift its groups of underprivileged people.
In this context, it is a shame that the nine dead bodies are still lying in the freezers of a district hospital in Churachandpur. It is also a shame that there are many eminent personalities in Imphal, who can contribute positively apart from paying ritualistic visits but the issues are still far from over. For that matter, who never saw it coming that the ‘Khongjai’ will team up with the Muivah & Co—though there are people who read newspapers, Arthaśāstra and all. And more significantly, why are these readers so impotent to counter the unholy alliance of the so-called Naga and Kuki groups but in a productive manner?
The ILP/ST crisis is just one of the issues that we need each season to keep up our spirit for violence and protest year in and year out. It becomes farcical if someone starts arguing, like our collective life will find salvation if we start enjoying a certain privilege.
Somewhere YL mentions that: ‘The simple question is how the Meiteis call the tribals primitive and still say that we are brothers.’ Yes, that’s the mentality. That’s the problem. One moment we are like: ‘We have a 2,000 year-old civilisation’; and in the next: ‘Hey, we are not different from the Khongjais’. That’s the bloody problem—the slowness to understand things and the arrogance of a dominant group—and not the non-inclusion of the Meiteis in the ST category or deliberations on this matter.
Till a few years ago, our sense of development came from our comparison with mainland India and even Assam to some extent. We would say they have railways and we have blockades. They have this and that; we don’t have this and that. Now the pro-ST group has changed the level of comparison as evident from YL’s contention: ‘At another plane will our advanced Meiteis be so advanced to call the royal family of Tripura or Sikkim as “primitive and uncivilised tribals” for both the Maharajah or Tripura and the Chogyal of Sikkim are classified as Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution of India…’ There are more comparisons to follow.
As the subjects of a democratic state, the argument is that the pro-ST group should be given a space. Nobody has stopped them; however, they should not emphasise on democracy or a Constitution otherwise the joke will be on all of us. For a hint, democracy implies electoral politics and nothing much in this part of the world and we also know Manipur’s great incestuous relationship with India.
In the meantime, YL would love to write the obituary of the ongoing armed movement, but as far as we know, those ‘friends on the other side of the Constitution of India’ have nothing to do with constitutional privileges; and hence, again, the irrelevance of comparison and bringing in Phizo and Laldenga and their ilk into this issue. But it is hoped that he was just expressing his overt disfavour for the armed groups and does not intend to legitimise India’s endorsement of state terrorism.
Nevertheless, the respected YL should be applauded for two reasons: [i] for noting our great development has been a hop from gun culture to mob culture; how true! and [ii] for knowing the idea of Akhand Bharat, which nobody knows about. As a side note, if we talk about Akhand Bharat, the wind of irredentism has been already blowing in our land as evident from our sporadic claim for Kabow Valley and the Kangleipak kingdom, from some Nagas’ assertion for Greater Nagalim and so on. These subnational issues carry more weight than a certain ring-wing Hindu organisation’s mild assertion for a territory, which was consolidated by Muslim invaders and then further by British colonialists.
We also hope that, in defence for the demand for ST status, the writer has got carried away by his close association with the movement as we can comprehend from his essay. At the superficial level, it appears ‘deep’ that he saw the BJP government would not allow a system such as the ILP but the fact is that:  this permit system functions in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland; and  it is a secret but the Manipur valley people cannot buy land in the hills.
I admit, with respect, that I know nothing compared to YL yet the above facts, which he might know much better than me, have been highlighted to show the flawed logic. A fancy title like the ‘Canchipur Resolution’ hardly makes any difference. He has proudly self-proclaimed and written about his pioneering work that ‘ST’ is essential for ‘ILP’ and craps like that, but see, we live in a relative world and make mistakes. And now can he take responsibility for the man who was killed by bandh supporters in Uripok? It’s all a part of the bloody game.
When Marx and Engels penned the ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ slogan, little would they have expect that in the then future, in faraway Manipur, a group of people would unite and appropriate it as: ‘Freeloaders of the land, unite! You have nothing to lose but increase your freeloading capacity.’
Then in the 1970s, the UNESCO introduced the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, which mentioned that: ‘All peoples of the world possess equal faculties for attaining the highest level in intellectual, technical, social, economic, cultural and political development ... The differences between the achievements of the different peoples are entirely attributable to geographical, historical, political, economic, social and cultural factors.’
In this context, YL is indulging in our collective ‘hobbies’ of playing victims, comparing ourselves to others, expressing inferiority complex and what not. The University of Calcutta was established in 1857 and the Manipur University in 1980 so, he argues, it is not possible for us to compete with them. To re-quote UNESCO’s declaration, ‘the differences between our achievements are entirely attributable to geographical, historical, political, economic, social and cultural factors.’ If the ST categorisation will help us fill the gaps in these factors, please go ahead and for us, without an enviable ST status, we will maintain our status quo as we are today. All we can say is that reason exists for everything but all the reasons are not logical.
If we are too eager to grow, why don’t we clear our collective mess first? Ticking on the ST boxes of job application forms might get us more prospects but it is doubtful that would alter our servile mentality. A lame, phony explanation like: ‘...as in international trade where economically weaker countries imposes tariff protection so that its produce gets to be sold and consumed, we too need some form of protection’ is hardly convincing. It is again a demonstration of how we always look up to a saviour because we are an underdeveloped animal.
Again, it is not pride or vanity. It is not about disagreement with other ethnic groups or whatsoever. The current crisis is just one of the numerous and usual manifestations of our condemned lives: the armed conflict, ethnic hostilities and the decadence at both the personal and political levels and so on; and none of which a constitutional categorisation would help. To sum up, the whole charade only reminds us of the concept of ‘bread and circuses’ besides bringing out the worst of our freeloading and servile mentality.