Recently, there was a lot of hue and cry from the valley based students’ organisations regarding the controversial depiction of a hero of Khongjom War Paona Brajabashi as a tribal freedom fighter of India in the popular comic series Amar Chitra Katha, after which the publishers of ACK and Culture Ministry apologised. On the other hand, a demand Committee for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for the Meities had been gaining ground in recent times.
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. And, this is quite perplexing. 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.
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-browed intellectuals who are against it and that it was this particular class who had opted for the ‘General’ category by blind-siding the actual status of the Meiteis then. They accused the champions of the General category as being arrogant and look upon tribals as lesser humans. What does the opposition say?
Some say, why should we 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. Others say, we have stopped being ‘Tribals’ a long time back.
In fact, who was not a tribal in the history and there is nothing derogatory about it. It is just a phase in human evolution and the term Scheduled Tribe is given to those underprivileged communities to uplift them at par with the general folk. 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. Does the Meitei community still have any such traits and criteria to fit into the ST community? Or for that matter, why do we yearn for the ST tag? 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. Even among the ST bureaucracy, it is more among the Kuki-Chin-Mizo group.
For example, the state Police department has become top heavy with IPS officers from the Kuki-Chin-Mizo group with a sprinkling of Nagas in between. Yet, we do not hear any demand for special privilege from among the Nagas with the ST. What does it say?
At one time or other, every community had gone through the tribal phase and had developed through contacts with other communities or societies and different cultures. The cultural transformation among the Meiteis had, of course, led to state formation in 33 AD and subsequent process of assimilation and adaptation to suit changing scenarios.
ST Demand Committee is furious that the state government is sitting on the letter from Centre with regard to the question of giving ST tag to the Meitei community. We are of the opinion that, the state should open it up to debate.