Imphal, May 04: The demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status by the majority Meitei community in Manipur has resulted in backlash and tension in the state.
The All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) organized a solidarity rally in opposition to the Meitei community’s demand in the ten hill districts of Manipur, which led to a curfew being imposed in ten of the state’s 16 districts, and mobile data services were suspended throughout the state for five days beginning on May 5, 2021.
The state’s home department stated that there were reports of fighting among youths of different communities. The rally, which began around 11 am and ended between 1 and 2 pm, ended peacefully.
The Meitei community, the majority of whom are categorized as Other Backward Classes (OBC) or Scheduled Castes (SC), has been demanding ST status for decades.
The protest occurred after the Manipur High Court, acting on a writ petition filed by the Meetei Trade Union on April 19, directed the state government to consider the case of the petitioners for inclusion in the ST list expeditiously, preferably within four weeks.
The court also directed the state to send a “recommendation” to the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, which had previously stated that a proposal for inclusion in the ST list should come from the state. The court noted that the state government had not responded to the ministry letter.
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Inclusion in the ST list would enable the Meitei community to obtain constitutional protection of their ancestral land, which they believe is necessary to protect their ethnic identity. The Meitei community claims that outsiders can purchase land in the valley districts, which account for only eight percent of the state’s geographical area.
Once they obtain ST status, they will enjoy the same protections as the hill districts, where no outsiders can purchase land. The ST status would also enable them to benefit from other regular benefits, such as reservation in government jobs, seats in educational institutes, and scholarships.
Churachandpur town, which has been in an uneasy calm since Friday, following a confrontation between security personnel and local people protesting against the BJP-led state government’s survey of forests and eviction of encroachers, saw thousands of people turn up for the 2km solidarity march.
The All Manipur Tribal Union (AMTU) general secretary, K. Lalboi Neihsial, told to media that the marches organized by ATSUM aimed to send a message to the central government not to include the Meiteis in the ST list.
The driving force behind the demand for inclusion in the ST list appears to be the desire to protect the Meiteis’ ancestral land and ethnic identity. L. Lokendra Singh, the working president of the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee of Manipur, stated that the Meiteis’ population is around 14 lakh, and the ST status would help them protect their land and identity.