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Who are Meeteis

Heigrujam Nabashyam
Political Commentator

Meetei is one of the indigenous communities of North East India, who had its kingdom for centuries, like the Tai-Ahom andTipra or Tripuri. And after their conversion to Hinduism, in the 18th Century, they assumed the name ‘Singh’ for men and ‘Devi’ for women and  this was how Meetei became Aryan Kshetriyas- ridiculous !  This is wrong. One can embrace any religion if one so wishes, but that does not change his ethnicity. This is basic knowledge.
During the series of debates that I had with ATSUM (All Tribal Students Unions Manipur), whose objection to STDCM’s (Schedule tribe Demand Committee Manipur) demand to include the indigenous Meitei tribe in the ST list of Indian constitution, that had reached the level of fanaticism that cannot see anything beyond their own self-interests, had also raised this issue.
However I had stated with full responsibility that the Meiteis are neither Aryans nor Kshetriyas, but they remain Meitei. The simple idea is you don’t cease to be a Kuki or a Naga when you embrace christinity or for that matter any other religion say Budhism, Hinduism, etc.The fact of the matter is, the Meetei are a people made of seven big families or clans— Salai Taret namely Khuman, Luwang, Mangang, Angom, Moirang, Khaba-Nganba and Sarang –Leishanthem.
Here it may be pertinentto mention that in the early period ethnic Chinese andlater with the arrival of Hinduism, Hindusthanese came and assimilated into the Meitei fold and became Meitei. Such things happen in many communities because of their historical experiences.
Now, what is interesting is that some intelligent and honourable people whose intentions are obvious praise the Meitei as “a highly developed society”.  The fact is Meetei, including the Hindu converts still worship natural objects such as rocks, stones, trees, caves, etc. the basic elements of animism, beneath the veneer of Hindu religion. It maybe noted that during the Laiharaoba ritual which is observed every year at a  particular period of time the highly developed Meitei would connect themselves and associate with their creator -  their God by performing certain rituals by the Maibi - a sort of a Shaman and eventually, the god would tell them what to do for their well being till the time of the next season.

The truth is, till today, the 21st century the Meitei and their God are very much in touch with. This is the way a tribal lives. However such traits and characteristics of tribalism are no more found among the Nagas and the Kukis. Now, ask any Meitei, he will tell you he has a deity at home that takes care of the family; they  will also have another common deity for their clan for  which the Piba – the eldest son on  the patriacal line of the clan  is in charge, etc.  Such is the degree of tribalism that the Meitei still live with. The fact is, Meiteis are more tribal than the Kukis and the Nagas.
As regards Meitei’s talents in horse riding, it is only natural for a people with a small population of around a lakh or so in those days who control the vast land stretching from the area of the present Cachhar in the west to Burma in the east. The fact was the pony the local horse was a necessity in every household, like motorcycles in todays time,it was used for multiple purposes from transportation to that ofthe perennial warfare. It was also the most favourite thing for the boys. There was an old saying, “Eppa sini khanglamlabadi sagol leijaramgadabani” — if I knew that father is dying I would have bought a horse.Not only boys even among girls horse riding was popular.
In their leisure time the boys played riding their horses hitting rounded dry bamboo roots with long cane sticks. That was how Sagol kangjei, the progenitor of modern Polo was born in the fields of Chingleipak, the home to all of us.
Regarding Meitei’s dance talent , as a matter of fact tribals love to dance and sing and thus it so happened that a Meitei dance master invented a dance form based on the folk dancesand adopted the movements of the hands, fingers, legs and feet to portray the love story of Radha-Krishna of the Hindu epic. And after independence, that dance form struck the chords of the Indian  dance gurus and thus the gurus ordained ,that dance form to be classified as a classical dance –whichis now  called Rasleela. So what’s so great about it!
It is also noted that the intelligent and honourable people have expressed their fear that in the event of Meitei being enlisted in the ST category, the Meitei would gobble up the lion’s share in the state’s job sector. Frankly,I believe the intelligent people are deliberately acting ignorant. The STDCM have clearly stated that they would agree to continue with the existing quota system, of course with new nomenclature, like  the case of Nagaland where each group have their respective shares of quota within the quota. This should not be a problem, as it can be agreed upon among the stakeholders.
The truth is Meitei’s concern is for its survival, where a population of a few lakhs and whose only habitat is the 700 square miles valley - the home to all of us, is being exposed to global competitions and contests. Indeed Meitei do not have any constitutional protection whatsoever in the face of the serious challenges  that come with the coming of the railways and the opening of the Trans-Asian highway in a few years time.
    But very unfortunately ATSUM and its associates, adopting a tone of moral righteousness, have been codemning STDCM’s demand to include the Meitei in the ST list. This is wrong.
The demand to include the Meitei in the ST list is genuine. This is a question of survival of the Meitei.And  given the facts, nobody should have any issue with the Meitei.

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