Centre asks to study delisting Kukis, Zomis from ST list 

A representation was sent to Union Tribal Affairs Minister by the Republican Party of India (Athawale) National Secretary in Imphal. The Centre forwarded it to State

January 08, 2024 10:34 pm | Updated January 09, 2024 12:38 pm IST - New Delhi

This is the first time a case is being made that Meiteis get ST status by excluding Kuki and Zomi tribes from the list. Representational file image.

This is the first time a case is being made that Meiteis get ST status by excluding Kuki and Zomi tribes from the list. Representational file image. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Manipur government has been asked by the Centre to examine a representation seeking deletion of the “Nomadic Chin-Kuki” from the list of Scheduled Tribes in Manipur. The Union Tribal Affairs Ministry said that a representation seeking delisting was made by Maheshwar Thounaojam, National Secretary of the Republican Party of India (Athawale), who is based in Imphal.

Throughout 2023 several Meitei groups in Manipur made representations seeking inclusion in the ST list. There was one appeal from an association of Meitei Pangals (Meitei Muslims). This is the first time a case is being made that Meiteis get ST status by excluding Kuki and Zomi tribes from the list. The reasoning is that they are not indigenous to the land.

In a letter dated December 26, 2023, the Union government said the process of inclusion or exclusion from ST list requires the proposal to originate from the concerned State government and hence it was sending the representation to the State government for its recommendation.

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The State of Manipur is witnessing an ethnic conflict between the dominant valley-based Meitei people and the Scheduled Tribe hills-based Kuki-Zo people since May 3, 2023. Nearly 200 people have been killed in the conflict, leaving hundreds injured and tens of thousands internally displaced. 

The immediate trigger for the conflict was reportedly a March 19 order by the Manipur High Court, which directed the State government to send a recommendation on ST status for Meiteis to the Centre, upsetting existing STs in the State. This order has since gone into review in the High Court and has also been appealed by tribal bodies. 

Original inhabitants

In the representation marked to Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda on December 11, 2023, Mr. Thounaojam cites a Supreme Court judgement from January, 2011 to suggest that “all Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis) shall be original inhabitants of India”. He then goes on to argue that in light of this judgement “the Kukis including Zomis of Manipur do not qualify as Scheduled Tribes of Manipur on the ground that they are not original inhabitants of Manipur”.

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However, a perusal of the cited judgement showed that the case had nothing to do with deciding the definition of a tribe. It was a criminal appeal in a case of an atrocity against a tribal Bhil woman in Maharashtra. The SC had upheld the conviction and in the process remarked that ancestors of present-day STs in India were most likely the original inhabitants of the land.

In the 17-page representation along with hundreds of pages of annexures, Mr. Thounaojam has tried to argue that indigeneity should be the principal criterion for defining Scheduled Tribes in the country, further requesting the government to accordingly determine “who should be correctly in the Scheduled Tribes list of Manipur”, also making a case for the Meiteis’ inclusion.

Criteria for STs

The criteria used by the government to declare communities as STs were decided upon by the Lokur Committee in 1965 and continue to be in use today. These are: primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness. 

Also Read | Manipur, a rude reminder of northeast tensions 

Mr. Thounaojam has claimed that the addition of a few entries in Manipur’s ST list over the years — such as “Any Mizo (Lushai) tribes”, “Zou”, and “Any Kuki tribes” — is objectionable. His representation argued that because these entries did not specify the tribe names, they provided room for illegal immigrants and refugees from Myanmar, Bangladesh and other Indian States to settle in Manipur and claim ST status. 

The representation contended that the entries “Any Mizo (Lushai) Tribes” and “Zou” were added to the ST list in 1956, despite the absence of these entries in the report of the Kaka Kalelkar Commission, which had also specifically recommended that individual tribe names should be mentioned in the list as opposed to “ambiguous” tribe names. Further, the representation claimed that the “Zou” tribe were from a foreign country -— Myanmar’s Chin state — that finds no mention in pre-independence India Censuses and should not be in the ST list of Manipur.

It added that similarly, “Any Kuki tribes” was introduced to the ST list during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2003. “As the particular names of tribes to be covered under the tribe name ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ are not specified, there is clandestine room for enrolment in ST list of people disguised as Kukis whether refugees or illegal immigrants from foreign countries and other states who are not citizens of Manipur by birth,” Mr. Thounaojam’s representation said. 

According to government records, a proposal to include the Meitei community in the ST list of Manipur was rejected once by the Office of the Registrar General of India in 1982 and again in 2001 by the erstwhile state government, as reported by The Hindu in 2023. The Office of the RGI had said that the Meiteis do not appear to possess tribal characteristics based on available information. The Manipur government, in 2001, agreed with the Office of the RGI, further saying that Meiteis were the “dominant group” in the state, were Hindus, and had already been listed in the Other Backward Classes category.

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