A special case of Manipur

Context: Largescale violence broke out on May 3 triggered by the Manipur High Court’s direction to the State to pursue a 10-year-old recommendation to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the nontribal Meitei community.

What’s the issue?

  • Violent clashes erupted in Manipur during a Tribal Solidarity March organized by All-Tribal Students’ Union. The march aimed to oppose the inclusion of Meitei community in the state’s Scheduled Tribes list.
  • The Army and Assam Rifles conducted flag marches in the affected areas, following an order by the Manipur High Court in favor of the Meitei community. Both the demand and the order, passed by a single judge of the High Court, have been strongly opposed by groups representing the state’s tribal communities. 
  • The court’s order, released on April 14, asking the government to consider the demand, has brought the historical tensions between the valley-dwelling Meitei community and the state’s hill tribes to a boil.

Scheduled Tribe:

The Constitution of India in Article 366 (25) prescribe that the Scheduled Tribes means such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 of the Constitution to be Scheduled Tribes. 

The provisions under Article 342 read as follows: 

(1) The President may with respect to any State or Union Territory, and where it is a State, after consultation with the Governor thereof, by a public notification, specify the tribes or tribal communities or part of or groups within tribes or tribal communities as Scheduled Tribe in relation to that State or Union Territory as the case may be. 

(2) Parliament may be law include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled Tribes specified in a notification issued under clause (1) any tribe or tribal community or part of or group within any tribe or tribal community but save as aforesaid a notification issued under the said clause shall not be varied by any subsequent notification.

Criteria for inclusion into the list of Scheduled Tribe:

  1. indications of primitive traits
  2. distinctive culture
  3. geographical isolation
  4. shyness of contact with the community at large
  5. backwardness

Present status of Scheduled Tribes in India:

  • There are over 700 tribes (with overlapping communities in more than one State) which have been notified under Article 342 of the Constitution of India, spread over different States and Union Territories of the country. 
  • The largest number of main tribal communities (62) has been specified in relation to the State of Orissa.  
  • The Scheduled Tribes have been specified in relation to all the States and Union Territories except Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh, Delhi, and Pondicherry.

Ethnic composition of Manipur State:

  • In Manipur, the Meiteis are the largest community, with approximately 64.6% of the population residing in the central valley. 
  • The valley encompasses only 10% of the state’s landmass and is also home to the Meitei Pangals. 
  • The remaining 90% of the state comprises hills surrounding the valley, where about 35.4% of the population, consisting of 34 recognized tribes, live. These tribes are categorized into “Any Kuki Tribes” and “Any Naga Tribes.”

Demand of Meitei community:

  • Since 2012, the Scheduled Tribes Demand Committee of Manipur (STDCM) has been leading an organized effort to push for the inclusion of the Meitei community in the list of Scheduled Tribes in the Indian Constitution. 
  • Recently, the Meitei Tribe Union approached the Manipur High Court, seeking a direction to the state government to submit a recommendation to the Union Ministry for Tribal Affairs for the inclusion of the Meitei community as a “tribe among tribes in Manipur”.
  • The petitioners argued that the Meitei community had been recognized as a tribe before the merger of the princely state of Manipur with the Union of India in 1949 but lost its identity as a tribe after the merger.
  • The demand for ST status is driven by the need to “preserve” the community, its ancestral land, tradition, culture, and language, as they have been victimized without any constitutional safeguards. 
  • The STDCM has made several pleas to the state and central governments, highlighting that the Meiteis have been gradually marginalized in their ancestral land, and their population has reduced from 59% in 1951 to 44% as per 2011 Census data.

Why other tribal groups are opposing the demand of Meitei Community?

  • The tribal groups are concerned that granting ST status to the Meiteis, who have a dominant population and political representation in the valley region, could result in the loss of job opportunities and affirmative actions for the existing ST communities. 
  • Some also argue that the Meiteis do not need ST status to protect their culture and identity, as they are already a dominant group with the state’s support in safeguarding their cultural, political, and economic rights.

The government must take a proactive role in promoting peace and reconciliation, and work towards creating a more inclusive and harmonious society that values and respects the diversity of its people.

Mains Practice Question:
Q. What is the criteria for inclusion of a community into the list of Scheduled tribes? What are the potential benefits of including a particular community into the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list, and how this inclusion can impact the social, economic, and political well-being of both the community and the wider society? (Answer in 250 words)

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