As ethnic violence continued in Manipur, the State government on Thursday once again sought more time from the Manipur High Court before taking a position on whether the Meitei community should be included in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list.
A Division Bench of Justices Ahanthem Bimol Singh and A. Guneshwar Sharma is currently hearing an appeal filed by the All Manipur Tribal Union (AMTU). The appeal has been filed against a March 27 order of a single judge, which directed the State government to recommend Meiteis for inclusion in the ST list.
The March 27 order had led to sustained protests from Kuki-Zomi and Naga people (already STs), and after one of these protest marches in Churachandpur district, the violence began, soon spreading to the rest of the State. At least 100 people have been killed in the weeks of violence in the State, hundreds more injured, and tens of thousands internally displaced.
At the last hearing on June 6 as well, the State government’s advocate had sought time to secure instructions on whether the State would oppose the appeal or not. On Thursday, Additional Advocate General M. Devananda appeared for the State government before the Division Bench and again sought more time.
Records of the proceedings showed that Mr. Devananda needed time to take instructions on an additional affidavit filed by the AMTU one week ago.
Meanwhile, advocates representing the Meitei Tribes Union (MTU), submitted that they had already filed their objections to the appeal, which the court directed the Registry to verify. The MTU was the organisation that had initially approached the High Court and secured the contentious March 27 order. The High Court listed the case for the next hearing on Friday (June 16).
In the additional affidavit, the AMTU submitted detailed reasoning for existing the Scheduled Tribes’ opposition to ST status for the Meitei people. The affidavit has argued that the Meiteis had always been the dominant, ruling class and comprise over 50% of the State’s population.
If ST status was granted to Meiteis, they would be able to purchase land in the hill districts, which is exclusively meant for STs, thereby depriving tribespeople of their land, the affidavit has put forth. It has also added that if the Meiteis were given ST status, they would only crowd out existing ST persons from reservation and other benefits being educationally, socially and economically forward.
On the other hand, the Meiteis have argued that they must be categorised as ST because of their traditional characteristics as a community. Further, they have maintained that despite being a majority of the population, they were restricted to settling in the valley areas, concluding that they too deserved to settle in the hills. The MTU has also submitted that they were counted as a tribe in pre-Independence surveys but were dropped without explanation.
Interestingly, the MTU has also filed a Review Application against the March 27 order, which was in their favour, said advocate Ajoy Pebam, who is representing the MTU and its members in court.
“In the initial petition, we had only sought that the State government be directed to respond to the letter of the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry from 2013. So, in the review, we have submitted that we are okay with any modification of the order so long as this part of it is left undisturbed,” Mr. Pebam told The Hindu.