Home » Abhinay Lakshman’s observations on the ST status of Meiteis are misleading and incorrect

Abhinay Lakshman’s observations on the ST status of Meiteis are misleading and incorrect

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By: K. Yugindro Singh, Sh. Janaki Sharma & M. Manihar Singh (Independent Researchers)

Apropos the article under the heading ‘ST status for Meiteis was considered and rejected in 1982 and 2001, government records show’ which appeared in the online edition of the esteemed English daily, Hindu dated 17th October 2023. The observations and assertions of the author, Abhinay Lakshman are misleading and devoid of truth for the following reasons:
1. Vide its proposal letter D.O. No: 1/114/81-CM dated 18thDecember 1981 addressed to the Registrar General of India (RGI),the Government of Manipur did not recommend Meitei specifically for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe list. As recommendation of the State Government is pre-requisite to process the case in terms of the provisions under article 342(1) of the Constitution of India, the office of the Registrar General of India rejected the ST status of Meitei in 1982.
2. Till now the Government of Manipur has not submitted any ethnographic report of Meitei to RGI in connection with consideration for inclusion of Meitei in the ST list. The information furnished by the Office of the RGI to the Hindu under the RTI Act 2005 that the Meitei community “does not appear to possess tribal characteristics” based on available information” would be wrong on the ground that all census reports right from the census of India 1881, various books and research articles authored by contemporary British ethnographers, linguists and administrators during the British rule of India, described Meitei as a primitive hill tribe for example, seethe books: ‘Ethnographical Gallery, Guidebook No. 2 (The Andamanese, Nicobarese and Hill Tribes of Assam)’ by A. M. Meerwarth (1919, pp. 15-34), ‘Census of India, 1901 Volume I Part I – Report’, by H. H. Risley & E. A. Gait (1903, pp.270-272 ),‘Census of India, 1931 Volume III Assam Part I – Report’, by C. S. Mullan (1932, pp.205), among others.The official definition of ‘tribe’ used by the British Government of India is enshrined in authority books such as ‘The Imperial Gazetteer of India, The Indian Empire, Vol. I Descriptive’ by Henry Frowde, Oxford University (1907, pp.308), ‘Census of India, 1901 Volume I Part I – Report’, by H. H. Risley & E. A. Gait (1903, pp. 514), ‘The People of India’, by Hebert Risley& W. Crook (1915, p.62) etc.
3. Vide its letter No. 17/1/96-TD, dated 3rd January 2001 addressed to Shri S. K. Panda, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi, the Government of Manipur, Secretariat Tribal Department (now Department of Tribal Affairs & Hills) furnished “information on proposal for revision of SC/ST list, Manipur” by enclosing an Annexure to the letter dated 3rd January 2001. The said Annexure to the letter No. 17/1/96-TD, dated 3rd January 2001 did not contain any decision of the Government of Manipur regarding the ST status of Meitei; merely it furnished the comments of the RGI in relation to the proposal made by the State Government 20 years back, vide D.O. No: 1/114/81-CM dated 18th December 1981. In the light of these facts on ground reality, Abhinay Lakshman’s assertion in his article that “Almost 20 years later, when the erstwhile Ministry of Social Justice was revising the SC/ST lists of States and Union Territories, it had sought recommendations from the Manipur government. In response, the Tribal Development Department of Manipur on January 3, 2001, told the Centre that it agreed with the 1982 opinion of the Office of the RGI on the status of Meiteis.”is not tenable.
4. The reported remarks made by W. Napamacha Singh, a former Chief Minister for disapproval of the ST status for Meitei on the ground that the Meitei community was the “dominant group in Manipur”; Meitei people were Hindus and assumed the status of Kshtriya Caste in the ladder of Hindu Castes”, are not correct for the reasons given below:
(i) The population size of Meitei is much smaller than that of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo and the Nagas on taking the Northeast as a whole.
(ii) The name tag “dominant group in Manipur” attached to Meitei is going to disappear at no much distant future as the composition of Meitei with respect to the total population of Manipur has been fast decreasing in the last few decades as revealed by the fact that composition of Meitei which was 56.2% in 1881 has been reduced to 44.91% in 2011 with annual population growth of 7.17% being the least as compared to those of other major communities inhabiting in the State.
(iii) The Hindu origin of Meitei was a self-claim made by some Meitei elites in the old days which was rejected by the British administrators after studying the ethnography, ethnology and anthropometry of Meitei.
(iv) Though the Meitei have been adorning themselves with Hinduism since the middle of the 18th century, they do not have the caste system of mainland India.
(v) Religion is not a criterion for inclusion/exclusion of a tribal community in the list of Scheduled Tribes as per Article 342 of the Constitution of India, among others.
5. In his book ‘History of Assam’, E. A. Gait wrote about the then Meitei (Manipuri) as follows: “They pretend to be Kshatriyas, and are supported in their claim by the degraded Brahmans who serve them, and who, after giving the State its present name and identifying it with the Manipur mentioned in the Mahabharat, have invented a legend that the people are descended from the hero Arjun by a Naga woman, with whom he cohabited during his alleged sojourn in this neighbourhood” (1906. pp.264).L.A. Waddell, In his research article entitled ‘The Tribes of the Brahmaputra: A Contribution on their Physical Types and Affinities’ published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Part III (1900, pp.60-61) wrote: “MITAI: This Indo-Chinese tribe is fast becoming Hinduised into a caste, claiming to be Kshatriyas or Rajputs, though its members are not admitted to be such by orthodox Hindus.”In his book ‘The Eastern Frontier of India’, R. B. Pemberton rejected the Hindu origin claimed by the then contemporary Meitei “Rejecting, as totally unworthy of attention, the Hindoo origin claimed by the Muneepoorees of the present day” (1835, pp.36). H. H. Risley, and E. A. Gait in their book ‘Census of India, 1901 Volume I, Part I – Report’ stated categorically: “Although they have become thoroughly Hinduised, they have not adopted any Aryan tongue” (1903, pp.270). In his book ‘The Meitheis’, T. C. Hodson said: “… … actually claim for themselves a western and Hindoo descent. This idea is quite untenable, and rests upon a very slender foundation, or rather on none whatever” (1908, pp. 7).Moreover, Meitei does not fulfill the definition of ‘caste’ given in authority books such as ‘The Imperial Gazetteer of India, The Indian Empire, Vol. I Descriptive’ by Henry Frowde, Oxford University (1907, pp.311), ‘Census of India, 1901 Volume I Part I – Report’, by H. H. Risley& E. A. Gait (1903, pp. 517), ‘The People of India’, by Hebert Risley & W. Crook (1915, p.68) etc., thereby confirming that Meitei are not of Hindu descent and they do belong to the Kshatriya Caste in the ladder of Hindu Castes of mainland India. Further, it may be pertinent to mention that there are many Hindu tribes which are included in the Scheduled Tribes list of India e.g., Meena of Rajasthan, Munda of Tripura, Tripuri of Tripura, Bodo of Assam etc. As such, Meitei cannot be excluded from enlisting in the ST tag merely on the ground that Meitei are Hindu.
6. As per Article 342 (2) of the Constitution of India, the Central Government may include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled Tribes of Manipur. Under the provision of the said Article 342(2) and following the Procedure for inclusion in or exclusion from the list of Scheduled Tribes published in the Annual Report 2013-14 of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee of Manipur (STDCM) submitted a representation dated 03.05.2013 to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs for inclusion of “Meetei (Meitei)” community in the ST list of Manipur. In response to the said representation of the STDCM dated 03.05.2013, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs wrote a letter bearing No. 19020/05/2012-C&I.M. dated 29.05.2013 to the Government of Manipur requesting the latter to furnish specific recommendations along with Economic Survey and Ethnographic Reports for consideration of the proposal for inclusion of ‘Meitei/Meetei’ community in the ST list of Manipur. But the Government of Manipur is yet to respond to the said letter of the Govt. of India dated 29.05.2013.
7. Another CSO namely. the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union, Manipur (MMTU) submitted a representation dated 07.04.2022 to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs praying for inclusion of “Meetei (Meitei)” community in the ST list of Manipur. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs responded to the MMTU’s representation dated 07.04.2022 by communicating a letter No. 12026/09/2013-C&I.M. dated 31.05.2022 to the Government of Manipur requesting the latter to take necessary action, as deemed appropriate, clearly stating the procedures for inclusion of a community in the ST list as under:
“2. Scheduled Tribes (STs) are notified under 342 of the Constitution. Government of India had on 15.6.1999 (and further revised on 25.6.2002) approved modalities for determining claims for inclusion in and other modifications in the list of STs. As per these modalities only proposals recommended and justified by the State Government concerned and agreed to by RGI as well as NCST are considered for amendment of legislation. All the actions are taken as per approved modalities. The recommendation of the concerned State Government is pre-requisite to process the case further.”
Till now, the Government of Manipur has not responded to the said letter of the Govt. of India dated 31.05.2022
8. Sensing the Government of Manipur’s inaction to the demand for inclusion of Meetei/Meitei in the ST list, 8(eight) members of the MMTU filed a writ petition being WP(C) No. 229 of 2023 in the Hon’ble High Court of Manipur, praying for issuance of a writ/direction to the Government of Manipur to comply with the letters received from the Government of India viz., letter bearing No. 19020/05/2012-C&I.M. dated 29.05.2013 and 12026/09/2013-C&I.M. dated 31.05.2022, by submitting the necessary recommendation, pending more than one decade. A single Bench of the Hon’ble Court heard the case and delivered its judgement and order on 27.03.2023 based on merits. The judgement and order of the single Bench dated 27.03.2023 is not only under review, but also under challenge now in both the Hon’ble High Court of Manipur and the Supreme Court due to objections raised by some ST communities of Manipur. As per law, the ST communities who have objected to the verdict of the Hon’ble High Court of Manipur have no locus standi as they are not aggrieved at all by the said verdict and had long back been in the ST list of Manipur since 1951. It is only the various authorities concerned of the Government of India but not the existing ST communities of Manipur who are to take a decision on the ST status of Meitei, based on the recommendation to be submitted by the State Government with necessary justification in terms of the 5 criteria set-out by the Lokur Committee in 1965 which is still in force.

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