The demand for the ST status for the Meitei/Meetei is not a child’s play as incorporated with the existence of the erstwhile civilization. It is not only about the Meitei/Meetei, but also a demand that will have a connection to the history of tomorrow. While discussing the matter, we have seen people who disagreed being threatened to inflict fear, portrayed as illiterate, and projected as hateful towards Meitei/Meetei. The reasons for ST demand seem to change with time. In the beginning, it has mentioned that on the grounds of constitution, Meitei/Meetei lacks development, lives in isolation, and if granted ST status, people could receive employment benefits due to reservation, even to the point of claiming to be able to produce more IAS officers and overpower India. However, looking at the current scenario, Indian government’s employment rate is seeing a decline every year in spite of the reservation facility. The most important element of India’s neo-liberal economy at present is Public Private Partnership (PPP), wherein the government’s employment rate is falling. Therefore, the 7.5% ST reservation is not going to bring about a huge change in the employment of Meitei/Meetei. After considering this, the reasons for ST demand have been changed.
Status of religion before Hinduism
Claims were made of Meitei/Meetei lifestyle having both tribal and primitive elements. There was also a time when they said that they were not demanding for ST status, they just wanted to lie about it. The Meitei/Meetei religion prior to the Hindu conversion, was falsely portrayed as just a religion with no temple and with maichou only at the level of maiba-maibi but not at the king’s level, stating multiple times that the religion belonged to tribal and primitive regions. The philosophy and related festivals of this religion had a respectable status, but the constant fabrication of lies just to avail ST status might create a false impression of the religion.
At the same time, they are saying that availing ST status will not bring any change to our religion. Whether it changes or not is a different matter. No thought has not gone in to understand that labeling a phase of our religion as tribal religion is us bringing ourselves down in front of the world. If there is no element of backwardness or underdevelopment in being ST, then why are they provided with reservation as a part of Redistribution Junction? It is just an act of willful ignorance in spite of knowing the reasons behind providing other protective measures. If the attitude remains as ‘let people think whatever they want’, then a question arises if all the efforts to strive forward were in vain.
Various rituals of celebrating and offering prayers to Sidaba mapu, Lainingthou Lairembi, Apokpa etc. were unavoidable elements and did not exist as just mere word-of-mouth. A number of Puya on religious matter clearly stated that our religion was not a tribal religion. We need to study the stories and philosophy of seven Maichou’s in order to understand the same. It was also not so that Meitei/Meetei religion suddenly became regional or tribal after Hindu conversion.
The hill-valley division to run a state has been going on since the time of British colonialism. Various 20th century leaders have stood against this division, mentioning it time and again in the resolutions of Nikhil Hindu Manipur Mahasava. Government’s attempt to separate the hills from the valley does not help in building a united Manipur. Instead of enabling people to think collectively, it has led to people think either for hills only or for valley only. The division has been going on since the time of merger into Indian Union, when various administrative and judicial bodies meant only for hills were formed. Thus, the hill-valley division continues till date. The current situation is not about Meitei/Meetei not being ST and chingmee becoming ST . Therefore, the claim that the ST demand will bring the Meitei/Meetei and chingmee closer, is a distortion of history. It is nothing but encouraging the colonizers by putting the blames on the self for the differences between the hills and valley.
Meitei/Meetei becoming ST could bring back and intensify the hill-valley division and be the reason behind the idea of Meitei for Meitei and Chingmee for Chingmee. Till now, we are not able to decolonize ourselves.