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Supreme Court abandoned the Zomi-Kuki Tribals of Manipur

  • Published
    16th Jun, 2023
Context

Recently, there have been violent communal clashes in Manipur due to the Manipur High Court (HC) directing the State to pursue a 10-year-old recommendation to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the non-tribal Meitei community.

  • The violence escalated after the All-Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) organized a "tribal solidarity rally" against the alleged move to include the Meiteis on the ST list.

About Meitei community

  • The Meitei are the largest community in Manipur. They are dominant in the capital Imphal and are the ones commonly referred to as Manipuri.
    • According to the last census of 2011, they are 64.6 per cent of the state population but occupy only about 10 per cent of the landmass of Manipur.
  • Other tribes: On the other hand, there are the tribals known as the Nagas and Kukis, who account for nearly 40 per cent of the population but reside across 90 per cent of Manipur’s land.

Population dynamics:

While the Meiteis are mostly Hindu, the Nagas and Kuki-Zomis are mainly Christian. Manipur has nearly equal populations of Hindus and Christians, at around 41 per cent each, according to data from the 2011 census.

Background:

  • The Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee of Manipur (STDCM) began demanding ST status for the Meiteis in 2012.
  • The Meiteis were recognised as a tribe before the merger of the State with the Union of India in 1949.
  • The ST status is needed to “preserve” the community and “save the ancestral land, tradition, culture, and language” of the Meiteis.
  • In 1972, the union territory of Manipur became 19th state of India.

About the judgement:

  • Solicitor General informed the Supreme Court that the Manipur HC extended the four weeks’ time in its earlier order to one year for submitting the recommendations to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs taking into account the situation in Manipur. 
  • The bench made critical observation, reiterating once again that the High court has no role to play in the grant of ST status to a community.
  • The Court directed law enforcement agencies in the State to take immediate and appropriate steps to counter such apprehensions.

Major Tribes in Manipur:

  • The Naga group consists of Zeliangrong, Tangkhul, Mao, Maram, Maring and Tarao.
  • The Chin-Kuki group consists of Gangte, Hmar, Paite, Thadou, Vaiphei, Zou, Aimol, Chiru, Koireng, Kom, Anal, Chothe, Lamgang, Koirao, Thangal, Moyon and Monsang.
  • The term Chin is used for the people in the neighboring Chin state of Myanmar whereas Chins are called Kukis in the Indian side. Other groups like Paite, Zou, Gangte, and Vaiphei identify themselves as Zomi and have distanced themselves from the name, Kuki.

Disputes between Kuki and Meitei tribes:

  • The hill communities (Naga & Kuki) and the Meiteis have had ethnic tensions since the kingdom era.
  • The Naga movement for independence in the 1950s triggered insurgencies among the Meiteis and Kuki-Zomi.
  • The Kuki-Zomi groups militarised in the 1990s to demand a state within India called ‘Kukiland’(a state within India).
  • This alienated them from the Meiteis, whom they had earlier defended.
  • In 1993, Hindu Meiteis clashed with Pangals (Muslims), and also there was horrific violence between the tribal Nagas and Kukis, which saw more than a hundred Kukis massacred in a single day by Nagas, and thousands driven from their homes.

Arguments against Meiteis ST status:

  • Kukis and Nagas point out that tribal areas are 90% of state’s geographical area, but the bulk of its budget and development work is focused on the Meitei-dominated Imphal valley.

The Process of Inclusion in the ST List:

  • The State governments start recommendation for inclusion of the tribes in the list of ST.
  • After the recommendation of the state govt, Tribal Affairs Ministry reviews and sends them to the Registrar General of India, Under the Home Ministry for approval.
  • After approval, it is sent to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and then sent to the Cabinet for a final decision.
  • Once the cabinet finalizes it, then it introduces a bill in the parliament to amend the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, and the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950.
  • After the amendment bill is passed by both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the President’s office takes the final decision under Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution.
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