Opposing ST demand: A viewpoint from Sekmai

By Kh Ibomcha

Amidst frenzied war of words between ST tub-thumpers and anti-ST campaigners as widely seen on social networking sites, on May 3, 2016 in “ISTV GI AYUKSIDA”, giving comment on STDCM’s campaign to get the Meitei enlisted as ST under article 342(1) of the Indian constitution, a renowned senior journalist taken part in the discussion impulsively retorted that the campaign could never be translated into reality as it is nothing but “mee gi chaklukta khujai thanjinba” likening the move to some sort of ruse aiming to snatch the quotas, reservation and scholarship from the hill people.

“In certain phase of human history we were also tribe, but it has been long since we lost tribal traits by dint of Kanglei national identity formation process started from the time of Pakhangba, more than 2000 years ago.  Well, does it talk any sense to go all these years back to history to get listed in ST?” said he, continuing his oratorio leaving me completely disoriented and flummoxed.

I still find it difficult to relate myself to his words.  The word ‘we’ he used while making his argument does not seem to include ‘hill settlers’ subliminally projecting highlanders and valley settlers as two disjoint groups putting an end to the idea of ‘hill-valley machine-manao’. Yes! He left out ‘chingmees’ from his idea of Kangleipak.

I was really terrified by his words seemingly loaded with implicit class interest to lord it over ‘chingmee’ that may give birth to several other unpredicted issues rendering certain efforts to reconstruct an inclusive Kangleipak meaningless and empty leading to grim possibility of experiencing a cold war having potentials to get ‘chings’ permanently severed off our cartography.

Regrettably, he seems to fail to bring himself home of the fact that exclusion of hill-settlers, or rather ‘chingmee’ from our idea of Manipur or Kangleipak also entails a bitter sense of Chopping off the proverbial ‘Chinglon Mapal’ from the territorial identity of Kangleipak we imagine justifying hill people’s political demands to curve out their own political space with a map truncating out of present Kanglei physical Map.

To put in simple words, if we do not think ‘chingmees’ as our own people, how can we think ‘chings’ as land? 

If what he said in the discussion is anything to go by, it more than clear that their idea of Kangleipak never crossed beyond Sekmai in the north, Kangvai in the south, Yaingampokpi in the east and Keithelmanibi in the west.

Reading between the lines, I cannot help but suspect if those opposing the demand represents the voice of a class —a voice excluding the interest of the people feeding hand to mouth, worst impacted by  present socio-economic set up. This privileged class or rather social elites, in trying to maintain their honored social position and sphere of influence, seem to put down efforts to delude people into believing that their stance represents the interest of common people. 

Yes, in Manipur, even this simple and innocuous word ‘people’ implies the body that carries the dominant voice of the social elites where people like the journalist I mentioned above belongs to, choking off real voices representing common people—the most suppressed group within the system.

As they stand as a group of people representing creamy layer of the society, most benefited from the system with a social status standing above others, they often fail to see the miserable life we are leading. They seem to be extremely worried about their dignity if Meitei becomes ST while there are people wishing if they only could provide their children with two meals a day.

Now the question is, ‘by opposing ST Demand whose interest are you representing? Whether the interest of those ‘Bolero riders’ living in big masons, or the interest of those parents living in huts who cannot even send their children  to a government school to buy education?     

So, this write up can be taken as a modest attempt to pull out those trapped into the vortex of  hierarchical Indian structure that has colossally eroded their rationalities failing to differentiate what’s right from what’s not thus making them think to identify themselves under their own brother’s image as something irrational, unwise and politically incorrect.

Besides, I often hear arguments made by Anti-ST-demand campaigners basically espousing schemes deceitfully crafted by Indian mainlanders aiming at quarantining ‘ching’ from ‘Tam’. 

So goes their basic argument: enlistment of Meitei in ST list of India is similar to snatching hill settler’s economic opportunities given by Delhi. What’s exposed with their argument is the fact that, they instead of instead of giving fitting response to the challenges we have been thrown into, they are dancing to the big other’s tune.

To let themselves know whether their argument as respects snatching the quotas from hill people stands to reason or not, I would like to humbly request Anti-ST campaigners to refer to Article 16(4) of Indian constitution where it empowers state to create quota within quota.

My point is that the ST reservation quotas being enjoyed by hill people in Manipur will continue to be fortified under article 16(4) as done in case of Nagaland where ST is divided into advanced Tribe and backward tribe with different quotas. If they have already known about this clause, my question is ‘why all these mind-numbing croaking’. 

It seems that Indian policy of ‘divide and rule’ has profoundly seeped into their psychic structure that they begin to think it undoable to stand on an equal footing to chingmee people. To enable themselves sit perpetually on our neck, India needs to decouple ‘ching’ from ‘tam’, but ironically these anti-St demand campaigners think that in decoupling themselves from ‘chingmee’ lies Kanglei national pride.

Kicking where it hurts most, some intellectuals supporting Anti-ST group reason that most of valley-dwellers will turn down the move as they never like tagging themselves with such label as tribe taking on the tag as a brand used to denote inferior human groups. 

Infusing such deceptive ideas about ‘tribe’ into innocent minds of Kanglei people, they try to make people think Pro-tribe’s attempt to locate meiteis where his elder brother has been positioned under Indian constitution as a stratagem to relegate Meitei’s socio-political status.  

Merely looking at previous paragraphs, one can easily see how they look down upon hill people dubbing them as a group far inferior to Meiteis. If such perception about hill-settlers is anything to go by, it is more than clear that they (Anti ST status demand campaigners) still achingly want to lord it over hill dwellers which ‘chingmees’ hate most—the central cause of axiomatic Ching-Tam dichotomy.

‘We were tribe and will remain a tribe’ is the key rallying point on which STDCM frames its demand to get Meitei included in ST list of Indian constitution. But this demand put up by STDC was spewed out by Anti-STs Campaigners saying that Tribal society is a temporary society fated to be died out with contemporaneousness in the same line as defined by ILO convention No.107 of 1957.

But they don’t seem to grasp the fact that this definition given by ILO was nixed by several international communities saying it promotes assimilationist approach. So to replace the definition with a new one, in 1988 and 1989, the ILO drafted a new convention—ILO convention No.189— re-defining tribes as permanent society.

I wonder why they resort to such definition as already spewed out by peoples from all over the world in the light of its assimilationist proclivity. Do they really want us being assimilated into a bigger social fabric that can lead us to a cataclysmic situation which we often call extinction? If it is the case, now is the time to use your grey cells. 

Now I am going to refer to one of the most sarcastic press statement I ever came across in my life which was handed out by a group opposing ST demand. In that statement it wrote, “Tribal Haibasi Phee Thongdana Leiba Amadi Adumna Leiba Pamba Kangbuni”.

Sizing up the phrase within the quotation, what one can nakedly see is their attitude towards ‘chingmees’. They might have chanted heavily romantic slogans like ‘we are one’ in different rallies organized by them in last few decades playacting as if they care a lot about them, but in their inner core they are still the same people thinking chingmee as ‘hanthaba jat’. 

At the end of the day, such politically loaded and ideologically colored mindset of Meiteis are supported by the powerful class of people who are riding BOLERO and living in palatial mansions always thinking to lord it over other communities despite playacting as egalitarians. That may be why they don’t like to stand where ‘chingmee’ stands often dubbing it as ‘puwari maning hanba’.

Chewing over prognosticative impacts of their supercilious idea of tribe on the psyches of hill-settlers who have already been categorized as ST in Indian constitution, I cannot help but think that they are implicitly calculating to widen the divide between hills and valley pretending as if they are protecting hill interest.   

From the perspective of the adherents of Anti-ST, pro-ST’s demand to include Meitei in ST has been taken as an incorrect movement having heavy potentials to bring about more bloodshed between ‘ching’ and ‘tam’. If I recall correctly, this was what Arjun Tenheiba—an adherent of anti-ST—had stated in a press statement published by different Imphal-based media houses.

This is how they sell threat in our psyches in order to make the idea of living with ‘ching’ enjoying equal socio-political status something not only impossible but also unthinkable. In every sense of the word, it is nothing less than saying ‘hi man, don’t dare to live with highlanders, they are sucking your blood’. Does it sound logical? NO, of course not, it is but disgusting—height of madness.

Trying to make people see them as a group of people loaded with loads of concern for highlanders, they—the Anti-ST group— keep saying that this movement is soon bringing about a bloodshed and will absolutely cut down the already severely warped mythical hill-valley relation. They also dub the idea of including meitei in ST list as a conspiracy that expedites balkanization of Manipur, while ground reality says that it is meitei’s being non-tribal status that negated us from the idea of NE as tribal region as evidently shown during last year’s several months’ long ILP movement.                     

If you people are so concerned about Ching-tam relation and do not like to take up any step that may hurt their feelings, why are you continuing ILP movement that set Churchandpur on flame killing nine highlanders including a boy less than 12 years old?

I wonder, what makes you forget that the bodies of the nine martyrs (as they call themselves) are still lying in the mortuary of Churchandpur District Hospital for the last eight months demanding Manipur government to withdraw the three controversial bills? 

If you read Sangai Express’s May 8, 2016 edition, you might have seen how CCpur JAC berated 42-hour state-wide public curfew recently imposed by JCILPS demanding to convert three Bills into acts. Now is the time to understand what  hill settlers want to say with the sentence ‘the state wide curfew had absolutely no impact on any part of the tribal territories that account for about 90 percent of present Manipur’ which was a part of the statement made by joint action committee against anti-tribal bills. 

Now there is a question for you: Is there no possibility of bringing about a bloodshed between ‘ching’ and ‘tam’ by rekindling ILP movement?’ I know you will have no answer—always self-defeating, because your argument never bases on truth. You are opposing ST movement for the sake of opposition, not for justice or truth as someone expressed on Facebook.

Taking notes of Anti-ST campaigner’s mercurial views, now one will see how their arguments fall flat as they are neither there nor here in the course of the whole argument. They always put themselves in a contradictory position where they say one thing and do the other, just opposite to what they said.    

Before I wind up with this write up, on behalf of pro-ST, I would like to spell out misleading ideas they injected into our poor people saying that being included in ST list has nothing to do with protection of our land, or rather our territorial identity.

While trying to understand about protection of our territorial integrity, we can refer to article 19 of Indian constitution. In sub clause (d) of 19(1) it writes that all citizens of India have the right to move freely throughout the territory of India and in sub clause (e) of the same article you will find it saying that all citizens of India have the right to reside and settle any part of the territory of India. But in clause (5) of the article says that there will be restriction of exercising any of the rights conferred by the sub clauses (d) and (e) in the interests of any scheduled tribe.

Now you may have clearly understood that the moment you become scheduled tribe your land is also protected becoming scheduled area. Thus by getting ourselves listed in ST we can protect the land where we settle as chingmees protect the land where they live. In this way we the people of Kangleipak, both chingmee and Tamee, can protect the whole Manipur from the onslaught of other people we call ‘mayang’.

My appeal to anti-ST campaigner is ‘please go beyond Sekmai and know the reality that people living there at hills are also our own people—Eikhoi gi Ichil Inaosing. Only chanting “chingmee tamee iching inao ni’ won’t bring anything positive. Be out of the maze and locate yourselves where ‘chingmees’ are if you really think that we are ‘Ichin Inao”. 

(Source: http://ifp.co.in/page/items/32070/opposing-st-demand-a-viewpoint-from-sekmai)

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