‘ST demand issue merits political discussion’

The issue over the demand for inclusion of Meetei/Meitei in the ST list needs to be discussed politically rather than discoursing on it from an academic point of view, former Dean of School of Social Sciences, Manipur University W Nabakumar has observed.

As part of the campaign launched by Co-ordinating Body of Schedule Tribe Demand Committee and Schedule Tribe Demand Committee in connection with the said demand, the fourth round of meeting with renowned persons of the state was conducted Sunday wherein a discussion with Prof Nabakumar was held at his Changangei Uchekon residence.

Prof Nabakumar said Manipur has its unique history dating back to over 2000 years. The people of the state had experienced religious colonisation and British colonisation during the last 300 years. During the 17th and 18th century, Hinduism came in Manipur and religious colonisation spread during the reign of Maharaja Bhagyachandra. This religious colonisation became the cause of disintegration among the people of the hills and the valley.

After this period in 1891, the British colonised Manipur and the British administration spread all over the state. Soon Christian missionary came and spread Christianity in the hills. Immediately after the Christianity prevailed in the hills, the sense of alienation and division the people of the hills and the valley began to deepen, he said.

Prof Nabakumar further informed that later on when Manipur came under the rule of Indian administration, Manipur which was once was an independent kingdom was marginalised and Indian government began to treat Manipur as a periphery state and thus Manipur began experiencing exploitation under neo-colonialism. Even after 65 years of Indian independence, Manipur still remains backward.

He also stated that after Manipur had experienced colonisation in two different stages and after the state was merged into the Indian union, the people of the state have lost all faith in the Union government but the people of the state have been left with the habit of dependency which has largely affected their life. People of Manipur began to feel that a few days of bandh and blockades will bring their lives to a standstill.

During the 19th century, tribe was literally considered as undeveloped and primitive and the mentality has still not changed. Therefore, some of us are still of the idea that why should Meetei/Meities which has an over 2000 years long history with its own culture and traditions and well known classical dances be considered as a tribe. It is because of the fact that tribe literally indicates underdeveloped and primitive stage, that the mentality of some of us have not changed and are unable see anything beyond that and as such they are against listing of the ST list, Prof Nabakumar opined and added “In fact if we look academically deep into all the recognised tribes in India, there is no community which should be considered as a tribe. These communities are provided the schedule tribe status as a political decision to safeguard their rights.”

He further informed that since the word tribe is considered as discriminatory, the word indigenous people or native people came into existence just like the word ‘disable/handicap’ which has now been replaced by ‘differently abled’.

Earlier ‘caste’ was not allowed to mingle and mix with others and they are separated as untouchables. However, this characteristic of ‘caste’ has now disappeared. Likewise, different characteristics of tribe have now disappeared altogether. In the true academic sense, there is still confusion between caste and tribe. Therefore, there would be more clarity if we discuss caste and tribe from a political dimension rather than discuss it academically, Prof Nabakumar maintained.

He further said that it is natural for the people of the state to feel a sense of insecurity over the ever increasing population of outsiders in the state. Since Indian democracy is a game of number, there is high possibility of those communities with less population to become totally instinct in future. So, the people now desire for a constitutional safeguard or protection, which is in fact, necessary.

Some sections of the people in the hills are against inclusion of Meetei/Meitei in the ST list on the ground that that their reservation quota would be diluted. However, it is worth questioning as to why there is no development even after 65 years of providing reservation, he said, and added that there is the need to understand that if a constitutional safeguard is provided to the Meetei community, the sense of insecurity over whether the community, its identity will disappear, will have no meaning. Those people in the hills who understand this logic certainly have no problem over inclusion of Meetei/Meitei in ST list.

Prof Nabakumar further said: "We need to analyse ST issue properly through a political reality and discuss it if at all ST issue is to be turned into a reality". Land protection will definitely arrive when the Meiteis are included in the ST list. The demand for ST is the movement of people, and it is up to the government to think of ways and means to put the desires of the people into action.

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