Meitei ST demand in Manipur gets HC boost, touches another raw tribal nerve in NE

A recent Manipur High Court order directing the state government to recommend the inclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list has again brought to the fore long-standing fault lines between the plains-dwelling community and the state’s Hill tribes.

The current flashpoint was triggered by a petition that the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union filed in the High Court seeking directions to the Manipur government to submit a recommendation to the Union Ministry for Tribal Affairs for the inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the ST list of the Constitution as a “tribe among tribes in Manipur”.

In its plea before the court, the petitioner argued that the Meitei community was recognised as a tribe before the merger of the princely state of Manipur with the Union of India in 1949. The demand for ST status has been explained in the court as arising from the need to “preserve” the community and “save the ancestral land, tradition, culture and language”.

Observing that “the petitioners and other Unions are fighting long years for inclusion of Meetei/Meitei community in the tribe list of Manipur”, a single-judge Bench of the court directed the government to submit its recommendation after considering the case of the petitioners, “preferably within four weeks” of receipt of the order. The court heard the matter on March 27 and the order was released on April 14.

Over the past week, interest groups representing the state’s major Hill tribes condemned the move towards granting ST status to an “advanced community”.

“The demand of ST status by the socially and economically advanced community of the state is uncalled for … It completely negates the very objective of scheduling group of people for protective discriminations as ST in the Constitution … The state government must desist from recommending this demand as it completely affects the rights and interests of the tribal people,” the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur said in a statement.

Manipur has 34 recognised tribes that are broadly classified as “Any Kuki Tribes” and “Any Naga Tribes”. Bodies representing these tribes have been stiffly opposing the nearly 12-year-long push by a section of the Meitei community for ST status.

The Hills-Valley divide in Manipur is sharp. The state’s geography is divided between a central valley that accounts for about 10% of the landmass of Manipur and is home primarily to the Meitei and Meitei Pangals who constitute roughly 64.6% of the state’s population. The remaining 90% of the geographical area comprises hills, surrounding the valley, that are home to the recognised tribes, about 35.4% of the population.

This geography, protections extended to the hill areas, and restrictions on the buying of land there have been central to the anxieties vocalised by groups pressing for this demand. According to Luwangcha U Ngamkheingakpa, the secretary general of the Kangleipak Kanba Lup — one of these groups — the demand is to “safeguard their little bit of land confined now confined to less than 2,000 square kilometres out of the 20,000 square kilometres of the entire state”.

“The suzerainty of the Meitei kings had once upon a time spanned from the Chindwin river in Myanmar to the Surma river in present-day Bangladesh. But after joining India, the Meiteis are now confined to a mere 9% of the state’s total geographical area. Their future is bleak as they cannot settle down in the remaining 90% of the state’s area which are scheduled tribe lands belonging to the various scheduled tribes of Manipur while the reverse is not true,” said Yambem Laba, advisor to the Scheduled Tribes Demand Committee, which has been leading the push for this demand since 2012.

However, the dominance of the Meitei community in the state, both in population and political representation — 40 out of 60 Assembly constituencies are from the Valley — as well as their relative economic advancement has been cited by the Hill tribes groups as reasons for their opposition.

“The ST communities of Manipur have been consistently opposing the inclusion of fearing the loss of job opportunities and other affirmative actions granted to STs by the Constitution of India to a much-advanced community like the Meitei,” said Janghaolun Haokip of the Kuki Inpi Manipur, the apex body of Kuki tribes in the state.

Other arguments against the demand have been that the Manipuri language of the Meiteis is included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution and that sections of the predominantly Hindu Meitei community are already classified as Scheduled Caste (SC) or Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and have access to the opportunities associated with that.

“The claim that Meiteis need ST status to protect their culture and identity is self-defeating. The Meiteis are a dominant group controlling the state and its apparatuses. The state has been protecting their cultural, political and economic rights. As such, their culture and identity are in no way endangered … To the hill tribal people of Manipur, the demand for ST status is a ploy to attenuate the fervent political demands of the Kukis and Nagas as well as a tacit strategy of the dominant valley dwellers to make inroads into the hill areas of the state,” Thongkholal Haokip, Assistant Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, has written in his paper, “The Politics of Scheduled Tribe Status in Manipur”.

In the Northeast, the Meitei community is not alone in its demand for ST status and these claims are similarly vexed and sensitive issues in other multi-ethnic landscapes. In Assam, six communities — Tai Ahom, Matak, Moran, Chutia, Koch Rajbongshi, and Adivasi — have long been agitating to this end.


  • Adam Gray

    Adam Gray is an experienced journalist with a passion for breaking news and delivering it to the masses. With over a decade of experience in the field, he has covered everything from local stories to national events, earning a reputation for his accuracy, reliability, and attention to detail. As a reporter, Adam is always on the lookout for the next big story, and his dedication to uncovering the truth has earned him the respect of his peers and readers alike. When he's not chasing down leads, Adam can be found poring over the latest headlines, always on the lookout for the next big scoop. Contact [email protected]

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