Dinganglung Gangmei, chairperson of the Hill Areas Committee of the Manipur Assembly, on Thursday dialled down the opposition to the demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for the Meitei community in the State, after the State saw violent clashes between groups against the demand for inclusion and those in favour.
This comes a day after the Manipur High Court issued a notice to Mr. Gangmei and the president of the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur, on a contempt petition filed by members of the Meitei community for making press statements and passing resolutions opposing its order.
A Bench of the Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidaran, also issued notice to the State’s Director General of Police to ensure presence on May 8 before the court. On April 20, the Hill Areas Committee had passed a unanimous resolution, opposing a Manipur High Court order, which had on March 27 directed the State government to consider the case for the Meitei’s inclusion expeditiously.
Mr. Gangmei told The Hindu, “It is a complicated issue that needs to be addressed by the authorities by roping in all stakeholders.” When asked about the resolution passed by the HAC calling for State and Union governments to appeal against the court order, the BJP MLA said, “In democracy, all are welcome to make their demands and appeals and people are equally entitled to express their opposition to it. Whether there is something in the Meitei’s demand is for the competent authority to decide.”
He added that “public sentiment” in the hill area — consisting largely of STs (Nagas and Kukis) — needs to be considered. Mr. Gangmei said, “I hope that better sense will prevail and all ruling MLAs, the Cabinet, the government and the law enforcement are doing their best and we are appealing for peace.”
Bodies representing existing STs of the State have been opposing the Meiteis’ demand for decades and after the High Court order, organised several protests. Violence broke out on May 3, when protests were held in several districts as part of a “tribal solidarity march”.
Currently, Manipur has 34 communities recognised as Scheduled Tribes, which include the Naga and Kuki communities. They comprise a little over 41% of the State’s total population as per the 2011 Census. However, the Meitei people dominate in more than half the State’s Assembly constituencies and comprise over 50% of the State’s population. A majority of the Meitei people identify themselves as Hindu, while a majority of Christians in the State belong to the Scheduled Tribes.
The Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee has been spearheading the demand for ST status to Meitei people for over a decade now.
As per the procedure followed by the Union government, any proposal for inclusion must originate from the State government. The Manipur High Court had noted that the Centre had sought a detailed recommendation from the State on the subject but it had not been sent.