The literal meaning of ‘Manipur’ is the land of ornaments. Manipur was a princely State during the British rule. It was merged in September 1949 when the king of Manipur, Bodhchandra Singh, signed the merger letter.
The merger became effective on October 15, 1949. After establishing the Indian constitution on January 26, 1950, Manipur was included in Indian Federation as a section ‘C’ State under a Chief Commissioner. A regional council of thirty selected and two nominated members was established in time. Later In 1962, a constituency of thirty selected and three nominated members was established under Union Territory Act. On December 19, 1969, the administrator status was upgraded from Chief Commissioner to Lieutenant Governor. Manipur was granted the status of a complete State on January 21, 1972, when a constituency of 60 elected members was established. At present, it has 2 Lok Sabha and 1 Rajya Sabha seat. Its geographical location is unique as its border touches Nagaland in the North, Mizoram in the South, Assam in the West and Myanmar in the East.
It has an area of a total of 22,347sq. Km (8,628sq mi). The original inhabitant of Manipur belongs to the Meitei community and live in the valleys. Their language is Meiteilon which is also known as the Manipuri language. This language was added to the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution in 1992 and thus became one of the official languages. According to Indian Express, Manipur has 65 per cent population belongs to the Meitei community, while they have only 10 per cent of the land. These people mainly live in the valley in and around Imphal. Thus, they feel pressure for the land.
Meitei is a prominent community in Manipur with a history of prosperous heritage. This community has ruled Manipur for about 2000 years, from 33AD to 1949. This dynasty is the one with the longest duration of rule in the whole world. Maiteyi community worships Krishna. The philosophical tradition of Chaitanya Gaudiya encompasses the Maiteyi perception. They breathe the Sanatana continuity.
On the other hand, about 35 per cent of the Manipuri population belongs to around 34 tribes of the Kuki-Naga community. About 90 per cent of the total land is reserved for the Kuki-Naga tribe; according to land allocation records, it is evident that 10 per cent of the land is for 65 per cent population (Meitei community), and the rest 90 per cent of the land is for 35 per cent of the population (Kuki-Naga tribes). Kuki-Naga people live in mountainous regions. With time, the Kuki-Naga community have adopted the cultivation and trade of Opium as their main source of livelihood. It leads to illegal consumption that has spread as a system from Manipur to Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Currently, the present government adopted a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for the cultivation of Opium and other similar substances. It has taken several steps to prevent the misuse of Opium. Opium fields are being destroyed, and the smugglers are being captured with strict monitoring. This translates into unfortunate pain.
Another factor causing an issue is Clause 371 (C) of the Indian Constitution, under which the mountainous regions of Manipur have been conserved. Private property is strictly prohibited in these conserved forest areas. But in time, the Christian Kuki-Naga people established their huts individually in these protected areas and developed the villages. In no time there appear, bamboo-roofed churches and hundreds of acres of conserved land were occupied. These churches are the go-to favourites for those involved in the consumption system. They started to convert, occupy the land for opium production and suddenly become millionaires. The current Government has desolated several such manufactured villages. This Government response troubles the Kuki-Naga criminals who rob the natural resources of the conserved forest areas.
The gist of the present controversy can also be understood by the event when while hearing a Meitei Tribe Union petition, the officiating Chief Justice of the High Court, M. Muralidharan, directed the State Government to present on April 19, as the recommendation of Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs pending for ten years. The recommendation tells for a tribal status for the Meitei community.
In May 2013, the Honorable High Court referenced a letter from the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs. This letter asks the Government of Manipur for an ethnic report and social and economic surveys. Also, the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee of Manipur (STDCM) has been raising its voice for the tribal status of the Meitei community since 2012.
Earlier, the petitioners informed the court that the community had a tribal status before Manipur merged into the Indian Federation in 1949. They argued that this status was important for preserving the community’s inherited land, tradition, culture and language. STDCM had also argued that a constitutional shield was needed for the community’s security against the illegal encroachment carried out by infiltrators from Myanmar.
They also argue that the Meitei community is being separated from the mountains while those who enjoy the tribal status can buy land in the Imphal Valley. The Meitei Union remarked in its petition that, before the merger of Manipur with the Indian Federation on September 21, 1949, the community had the status of “One of the tribes of Manipur”. The petition further states that while Manipur was becoming an Independent Indian State, the Maiteyi community lost its status as a tribe because it was not included when the list of scheduled tribes was being prepared according to Article 342 of the Indian Constitution. Therefore, “Maiteyi should be included as one of the tribes of Manipur so the community can be conserved and inherited land, tradition, culture and language can be preserved”.
In April 2022, Meitei Tribal Union presented its representation demanding the inclusion of the Meitei community as a tribe in the list of scheduled tribes under the Indian Constitution to the Chief Secretary of Manipur, Union Tribal Affairs Minister, as well as extended one copy to each to twelve officials. In May 2022, The Union Tribal Affairs Ministry presented its representation to the Secretary of the Manipur Government. In the letter sent from the ministry, it was mentioned that ST had been notified under article 342, for which the Government of India has accepted in the mannerisms “to include in the list of ST and to assess the claims for other amendments”. The High Court says that the defendants, especially the defendant State, have not presented anything to show that they have replied to the letter of The Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, dated 29.05.2013. Thus, the issue of including the Meitei community in the scheduled tribe’s list has been pending for more than ten years. The defendant State cannot satisfactorily explain, not presenting a recommendation for the last ten years. Therefore, it would be appropriate to instruct the defendant State to present its recommendation to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in an appropriate duration of time.
This decision of the Honourable High Court has presented an excuse for the Church, Kuki-Naga people, Opium smugglers and those who encroach on the conserved forest lands. These people have made the issue into that of tribal rights. They are provoking public sentiment. The houses of the Maiteyi Hindu People are being burnt. This combination of churches indulged in conversion, foreign currency, and narcotic crimes has made great mischief in North-East India during the last 100 years. In 1901 there were 96 per cent of Hindus in the Manipuri population, while it has reduced to 49 per cent in 2021.
The third concern is Meitei pangal, who constitute 9 per cent population of Manipur. Pangal is known as Muslim in the Maiteyi language. Pangals are the descendants of invading Mughal soldiers and Maiteyi women. They are in alliance with Muslim majority districts of South Assam and Anti-India Islamic radicals of Bangladesh. These aggravate the above controversy. The issue to ponder over is, on the one hand, we have the Indian Judiciary, Sanatana Maiteyi People, and the Government; and on the other hand, there are churches involved in conversion, Opium smugglers, and Islamic radicals. The fight is tough.
We have already seen such a struggle in Mizoram. Around 50000 ‘Bru-Riyang’ Hindus were driven off in a fortnight by Mizo churches, Christians and criminals. They are still living a migrant life in Tripura. The current Indian Government and the Honourable Home Minister have made several efforts for settlement among Tripura, Mizoram, Indian Government and Bru-Riyang community, but the Church is reluctant to agree. My Bru-Riyang friends often say how YMCA Mizoram keeps insisting their community sometimes convert into Christians and return to Mizoram. The crisis in Manipur indicates the immense depth of this ailment in North-East India and demands major surgery, as mere cosmetic surgery is not enough.