An eviction drive by the BJP-led government targeting a particular tribal group has caused unrest in Manipur since February 2023. The non-tribal Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status has exacerbated the conflict and led to violent protests and arson.
GS Paper-3: Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges
Analyse the Meitei community’s request for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status in Manipur. Examine the historical background, the justifications put forth by the ST Demand Committee, and the potential effects of granting ST status on the Meitei community and the tribal groups. (250 Words).
- The Meitei community has historically been categorised as an Other Backward Class (OBC) under the Indian government’s reservation policy because they mostly live in the valley regions of Manipur.However, a number of indigenous tribal groups that live in Manipur’s hill country have been designated as Scheduled Tribes (ST).
- Different sociocultural, historical, and geographical factors form the basis of this classification. However, the Meitei community asserts that they have historically been marginalised and requests ST status in order to benefit from the advantages and protections afforded to STs.
Manipur is divided into two regions:
- The Imphal Valley and surrounding hills. The valley, which makes up about 10% of the state’s landmass, is dominated by the non-tribal Meitei, who produce 40 of the state’s 60 MLAs and account for more than 64% of the population.
- The hills, which make up 90% of the area, are home to more than 35% recognised tribes but only send 20 MLAs to the Assembly.
Meitei community wants scheduled tribe status
- The Meitei community has requested Scheduled Tribe status, and the Manipur High Court ordered the state government to follow a 10-year-old recommendation to do so.
- The Meiteis were acknowledged as a tribe prior to Manipur’s merger with the Union of India in 1949. The ST status would offer constitutional protections against outsiders and restrict non-tribal land ownership in the Imphal Valley.
- The ST Demand Committee of Manipur has been requesting ST status for the Meiteis since 2012, citing the need to “preserve” the community’s culture, language, and ancestral land.
Concerns and Implications
- The tribal groups worry that giving Meiteis ST status will cause them to lose their employment opportunities and give them the opportunity to buy land in the hills, driving the tribals out.
- The Meitei people have access to benefits associated with the SC, OBC, or EWS status, and their language is already listed in the Constitution’s Eighth Schedule.It is believed that the demand for ST status is a ruse to soften the political demands of the Kukis and Nagas as well as a covert plan by the dominant valley dwellers to expand into the hill regions.
- Benefits Could Be Diluted: According to the tribal communities, granting ST status to the Meitei community might reduce the advantages and chances currently available to the tribal groups. They worry that the already divided reservations and scarce resources will have an impact on their representation in and eligibility for government programmes.
- Land and Identity Concerns: Due to the tribal communities’ traditional rights and control over specific territories, there are worries that the inclusion of the Meitei community as STs may result in conflicts over land and resources. The tribal groups also worry that the dominant Meitei culture may obscure or erode their unique cultural identities.
- Political Representation: Giving the Meitei community ST status might change the way politics are currently played out in Manipur. It might affect how tribal communities are represented in legislative bodies and local governance structures, potentially lowering their influence and voice.
The Eighth Schedule of Constitution
- The Indian Constitution’s Eighth Schedule is a list of recognised languages that are given special status and protection.
- It started out with 14 languages when the Constitution was adopted in 1950, but over time it has grown to now include 22 languages.
- The inclusion of a language in the Eighth Schedule confers upon it a number of benefits and protections.
- It makes it possible for the government to take initiatives for the language’s enrichment, preservation, and propagation.
- The linguistic diversity of India is reflected in the languages listed in the Eighth Schedule.
- They consist of Bodo, Santhali, Maithili, Dogri, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.
- The best course of action is to ensure that the tribal communities have fair and adequate political representation in the state legislature and other decision-making bodies. This can be accomplished by setting aside seats for tribal representatives and enacting laws that give marginalised groups more power.
- Development Initiatives: By funding infrastructure, healthcare, education, and other necessities, the government should give the development of the hill regions top priority. To lessen the disparities between the valley and the hills, special attention should be paid to the socioeconomic uplift of the tribal communities.
- Cultural Preservation: Promoting and maintaining the tribal communities’ cultural heritage and identity is crucial for promoting inclusivity. This can be accomplished by promoting tribal languages, artwork, music, and festivals, as well as by establishing cultural institutions like museums and centres.
- Intercommunity Dialogue: Promoting communication and engagement between various communities is essential for creating a climate of mutual respect. To address complaints, settle disputes, and foster harmony, forums for productive discourse, like community forums, can be established.
- Education and Employment Opportunities: Giving tribal youth better access to academic and career opportunities can give them power and open doors for socioeconomic advancement. To make sure that everyone has equal access to education and employment, skill development programmes, scholarships, and job reservations can be put in place.
- Strengthening Institutions: The tribal communities in the hill areas can be given more power to participate in decision-making processes and ensure that their voices are heard by strengthening local governance institutions in those areas. This can be accomplished by encouraging grassroots democracy and decentralising authority and funding.
The ongoing conflict in Manipur has intensified due to the Meitei community’s demand for ST status, raising issues and having repercussions for the tribal groups.To solve the problem and bring peace back to the area, a thorough strategy that takes into account the worries of all stakeholders is required.