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Meetei Tribe won’t grab land and quota of indigenous people but by non-indigenous

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Meetei Tribe won’t grab land and quota of indigenous people but by non-indigenous

By: Thangjam Ranjit
Indigenes or indigenous people, according to a common definition, are those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived. The term indigenous has prevailed as a generic term for many years. In many countries, the term is synonymously used as tribes, first peoples/nations, aboriginals, ethnic groups, Adivasis or Janajati. In UN, it is used as indigenous people and Scheduled Tribe in India.
According to the Supreme Court of India, in one of its landmarks judgments, it has been stated that the present STs are the descendants of the original, first settlers, aborigines or Adivashi of the country.
Meetei is one of the Principal indigenous tribes of Manipur and N.E. India. When Meetei community returns to its original fold/tribal status by enlisting in the scheduled tribe list of the country, the land and reservation quota of the present scheduled tribes of the state will not affect at all. Many people, including the well known leaders of prominent civil societies/organization as well as individuals, both in the valley and hill districts of the state, who do not know much about Scheduled Tribe and Human Migration Theory are circulating malicious rumours to the simple and innocent people, particularly of the Hill Districts that the land and reservation quota of hill tribes (scheduled tribes) will be grabbed once Meetei community is included in the scheduled tribe list under Article 342(1) of the Indian Constitution. It is unfortunate that some organizations based in the valley and hill, are instigating people to counter this popular demand of the Meetei community. Many people, both in the valley and hill districts of the state believe in this canard being spread by pseudo scholars, pseudo leaders, or hypocrites. In reality, the rumours are unfounded and are engineered by some who have vested interests, and some who want to throw the seeds of mistrust, disunity and disharmony among the consanguineous ethnic communities, who have been living in love, understanding and harmony since time immemorial.
The very theory that the land and reservation quota of our brethren in the highlands will be grabbed by Meetei is out of the question. After inclusion of Meetei tribe in the ST list of the country, the state will have two separate reservation quotas under two different names/nomenclatures. Meetei ST will be known as Plain ST, New ST, Backward ST, Advanced ST or any other name; whereas, the present STs as Hill ST, Old ST, Backward ST, Advanced ST or any other name suitable to make distinction between the two STs. The existence of reservation quota within quota in a state or Union Territory is empowered by the constitution of India under Article 16 (4). In a new and pragmatic approach to quotas within quota of ST in the state, bigger STs like Tangkhul, Rongmei, Mao, etc, may have separate quota and the smaller STs like Koireng, Kom, Monsang, Chothe, etc. in another quota, in the way Nagaland State is doing, for uniform growth and development of the indigenous communities in the state. Under the same Article, in Assam state, Scheduled Tribes are categorized as Plain Tribes and Hill Tribes with corresponding reservation quota of 10% and 5%. Similarly, in Meghalaya state, different ethnic tribes have separate quota based on their population. Thus Khasi and Jayanti, 40% Garo; 40% and others, 5%.
Thus, when Indigenous Meetei community is enlisted in the scheduled tribe list, and consequently, when Manipur becomes a tribal Hill State, there will be no question of grabbing the existing ST quota of the state by the Meetei community in any manner at all. Therefore, there should not be unnecessary apprehension about this reality guaranteed by Indian Constitution by our brethren in the hills rather they should welcome this paradigm shift, to take place in respect of indigenous Meetei community, in the light of a prosperous and peaceful Manipur.
Regarding the fear of losing lands of our brethren in the hills in the hands of Meetei, when the latter is included in the ST list of the country, people should not believe in such rumours as it is unfounded, malicious and misleading without any iota of truth. Simply it is a false propaganda about nothing. When settlement in villages in the hills are under strict control and management of vigilant village chiefs and village authorities. Then, why there should be un-necessary apprehension in the minds of our few brethren in the highlands of their lands being encroached upon or grabbed by Meetei STs?
Again, Meeteis will not turn their face towards hills, except foothills and low hills for settlement, as there is scarcity of water as compared to that of valley districts, where water is plenty and almost perennial. In reality, Meetei community having been embraced Hinduism during the be reign of King Pamheiba (1709-1748), about three hundred years ago, have the practice of taking bath on daily basis and therefore, would prefer to settle in valley area where water is abound. Therefore, settlement of Meetei in the hill areas of the state in colonies, leikais, or villages, is far from possibility. If may be noted that Meetei do not settle even in the hills located in Imphal valley except the foot hills and low hills, let alone settlement in remote hill districts of the state. This may be because of the fact that Meetei worships mountains/hills as abodes of gods and goddesses. The proof is that Koubru, Thangjing, Marjing, Wangbren, Khoriphaba, etc. are all located in mountains/hills of the state and people have their veneration and high regards of these deities. Meitei, the important indigenous tribe of the state, who was nestling in the hills in the early times do not feel to return to its old habitat but to old fold/tribal status to be with other indigenous tribes in the, state and live in the fertile areas of the valley districts, mingling with other communities as before, once again.
According to the ‘theory of human migration’, movement of people from one place to another take place on the basis of availability of better facilities, for education, health care, livelihood, job, secured life, weather and climate, transport, communication, etc, among others. In the context of Manipur, Imphal is the hub of all activities and all walks of life, and as a result people from inside and outside the state settle in large numbers in colonies and villages by different communities in different parts of the valley districts. Therefore, when Meetei is included in ST list and becomes a recognized tribe of the Govt. of India, hardly he will go to the hills for settlement against the theory of human migration but to other places outside the state where better facilities are available than Imphal. Indigenous people in the state should not have even the slightest misconception of grabbing lands of highlanders in the hills by Meeteis living in the valley when they are included in the ST list. Meetei strongly believe in the Idea of Manipur and its integrity.
The stark analogy is that our hill brethren who have been settling in the valley districts for years and decades would not go back to their natural habitats for resettlement but for holidaying, sojourn or short stay for few hours, days or weeks and very few of them may stay back. In the same manner, Meeteis who were nestling in the hills, mostly in the Koubru and adjacent ranges centuries back while Imphal valley was full of water in the form of big lake, won’t settle in their ancestral lands/habitats but very few of them who married to indigenous tribal girls or who love weather and climate will go for settlement but not in colonies, leikais, vengs, etc. Still some Meetei individuals would go to the hills for preservation of forests and development of horticultural farms for increasing forest wealth and restoration of environmental degradation. The hard fact about demand for ST status by Meeteis is to save the identity of Meetei i.e. to save its land, culture, language, religion, people, etc. like other STs living in the highlands.
The demand for ST tag by Meetei community of the state is fundamentally banked on the following hard realities.
Firstly, to save the Meetei tribe/community under one of India the important and dominant indigenous people of the state, who is showing signs of its gradual degeneration in the last few centuries and rapid downfall in the last few decades in population, land, culture, language, economy, social status., etc. in his natural habitat.
Secondly, to save the fertile lands and wetlands in the valley which are producing maximum food grains, vegetables, fishes, etc. for the people, both in the valley and hills, from being owned by more skilled, hardworking, strong, advanced and united non-indigenous people/ foreigners (i.e. to save the indigenous people in their natural habitat).
Thirdly, to foster a harmonious, peaceful, united and progressive Manipuri society based on ethnic equality (as STs) among the indigenous communities of consanguineous relation who have been living together since time immemorial as tribal state.
Fourthly, to enable Meetei community, like other indigenous people in the state, to compete confidently well with other communities of India having equal social status (i.e. Scheduled tribe) in the field of education, service sectors of Central Govt. etc, to earn more laurels, medals, positions, awards, privileges, etc, for better economic, social, educational, cultural and political status of Meetei in particular and other communities in general.
In fine, the demand for restoration of ST’ status is to save Meetei from being extinct in its own habitat and to bring harmony, progress and peace among the indigenous people in the state, and hence, the indigenous people in the state, should see this great historic event of Meetei’s returning to ST status is to be in equal footing with other ethnic tribes as home coming and should extent warm and hearty welcome by all the indigenous people of the state, without any reservation. We all need to remember the very well known proverbs – “blood is thicker than water” and “birds of the same feathers flock together” at least in the context of present Manipur.

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