Just as the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee Manipur (STDCM) started a campaign among the Meitei MLAs for support to the demand for ST tag, the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) has also begun a campaign among the hill MLAs and MPs to oppose the demand. And the heat is building up. The first question which naturally comes to mind is does the Meitei community fit the bill of being called a Scheduled Tribe.
The criterion followed for specification of a community as scheduled tribes are indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness. This criterion is not spelt out in the Constitution but has become well established. As a matter of fact, the Meitei community does fulfil any of the criteria.
So, if at all Meitei community is recognised as a Scheduled Tribe it will be by sheer political reason. There is no doubt that the ranks of those demanding ST status had swelled in the last few years despite objections from some sections of the Meitei society. Among the Meiteis, there is some objection to this demand. There is a saying that there is lack of unanimity among the Meiteis and that at most times they are divided on issues except, of course, on the issue of Manipur’s integrity and this is often painted as a negative vibe. It is also sometimes termed as ‘Ani Thokpi’ popularly.
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There is also a term ‘Hoi Laoba’ in which everyone follows the leader or the voice of the majority whatever be the consequences. This is simply not the case among the Meiteis. They always question the pros and cons of everything before forming an opinion. Whatever people say, we consider it as a manifestation of a sense of democratic spirit among the Meiteis. This is what one generally calls human development and a product of its civilisational history through the ages.
Coming back to the question of whether it is right for the Meiteis to demand ST status or not, arguments have been flying around for quite some time. The protagonists of ST demand say, it is basically the upper class Brahmins and high-brow intellectuals who are against it and that it was this particular class who had opted for ‘General’ category by blind-siding the actual status of the Meiteis then.
They accused the champions of the General category as being arrogant and looked upon tribals as lesser humans. What does the opposition say? Some say, why we should revert to ST status after being in the General category for so many years for the sake of job reservation and quotas? Many among the youth, except for a few losers, are glad that they have a level playing field with the youth of Indian mainstream and being able to rub shoulders with them. That is the kind of competitive spirit alive among the Meiteis which is a driving force for excelling in Science and other disciplines besides sports also.
In recent times, young and bright people from the Meitei community have begun opting for UPSC examinations and many of them are excelling in it. In the past, the brightest and most brilliant students from the majority community were drawn more to the medical and engineering fields and other areas of scientific excellence.
Now the majority community is slowly picking up in the All India Services. One can argue that, it is because of the OBC tag being given to the Meiteis some years back and it is also fuelling the embers of the ST demand. When the OBC demand was first raised, one of the reasons given was that Meiteis would perish as a community if such a constitutional guarantee was not given.
The same argument is being given in the case of ST demand and many other mass movements also. In fact, the sense of competitiveness among our youth had actually come down in recent times and many are looking for the easy way out. Perhaps, it may become a death knell for the community in times to come.