Manipur has been restive since February when the BJP-led government launched an eviction drive seen as targeting a specific tribal group. The drive led to protests but not on the scale of the one on May 3 triggered by the Manipur High Court’s direction to the State to pursue a 10-year-old recommendation to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the non-tribal Meitei community.
GS II: Polity and Governance
Dimensions of the Article:
- What is Manipur’s ethnic composition?
- Meitei Community
- What is the Meitei argument?
- Tribal groups in Manipur are against granting ST status to the Meiteis.
- What led to the unrest?
What is Manipur’s ethnic composition?
- Geography has a lot to do with Manipur’s problems.
- The State is like a football stadium with the Imphal Valley representing the playfield at the centre and the surrounding hills the galleries.
- Four highways, two of them lifelines for the State, are the valley’s access points to the world beyond.
- The valley, which comprises about 10% of Manipur’s landmass, is dominated by the non-tribal Meitei who account for more than 64% of the population of the State and yields 40 of the State’s 60 MLAs.
- The hills comprising 90% of the geographical area are inhabited by more than 35% recognised tribes but send only 20 MLAs to the Assembly.
- While a majority of the Meiteis are Hindus followed by Muslims, the 33 recognised tribes, broadly classified into ‘Any Naga tribes’ and ‘Any Kuki tribes’ are largely Christians.
- The Meitei people are the predominant ethnic group of Manipur State in India.
- They speak the Meitei language, which is one of the 22 official languages of India and the sole official language of Manipur State.
- Most Meiteis live in the Imphal Valley region of Manipur, but there is also a significant population in other Indian states and neighbouring countries.
- The Meitei ethnic group comprises approximately 53% of Manipur’s population.
- They are divided into clans, and members of the same clan do not intermarry.
- Rice cultivation on irrigated fields is the basis of their economy.
- A majority of Meiteis follow Hinduism, while more than 8% are Muslims.
What is the Meitei argument?
- Court’s Directive: The Manipur High Court has directed the State government to submit a 10-year-old recommendation to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry for the inclusion of the Meitei community in the ST list within four weeks.
- Demand for ST Status: The Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee of Manipur (STDCM) has been demanding ST status for the Meitei tribe since 2012.
- Historical Recognition: The petitioners argued that the Meiteis were recognised as a tribe before the merger of the State with the Union of India in 1949.
- Need for Preservation: The Meitei tribe believes that the ST status is necessary to preserve their community and save their ancestral land, tradition, culture, and language.
- Safeguards Against Outsiders: The STDCM believes that the Meiteis need constitutional safeguards against outsiders as they have been kept away from the hills while tribal people can buy land in the Imphal Valley.
Tribal groups in Manipur are against granting ST status to the Meiteis.
- The tribal groups argue that the Meiteis already have demographic and political advantages, and are academically and economically advanced compared to the tribal groups.
- They fear that granting ST status to the Meiteis would lead to loss of job opportunities and allow them to acquire land in the hills, which would push the tribals out.
- The All Tribal Students’ Union of Manipur has pointed out that the Meitei language is already included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, and many Meiteis have access to benefits associated with SC, OBC, or EWS status.
- According to Jawaharlal Nehru University lecturer Thongkholal Haokip, the demand for ST status by the Meiteis is seen as a ploy to attenuate the political demands of the Kukis and Nagas, and a strategy by the dominant valley dwellers to make inroads into the hill areas of the State.
What led to the unrest?
- Pro-government groups in Manipur claim some tribal groups with vested interests are trying to scuttle Chief Minister’s crusade against drugs.
- The anti-drug drive began with destroying poppy fields and the theory that “illegal settlers” from Myanmar — ethnically related to the Kuki-Zomi people of Manipur — are behind clearing forests and government lands to grow opium and cannabis.
- The first violent protest on March 10 was against the eviction of the residents of a Kuki village.
- This made the State government withdraw from the suspension of operations with two Kuki extremist groups accused of inciting the protesters.
- The large-scale arson and violence claiming the life of at least one person on May 3 and 4 followed a “tribal solidarity rally” against the reported move to include the Meiteis in the ST list.
-Source: The Hindu