Shall We Demand Inclusion Of The Meiteis In The Schedule Of Tribes Of India First For ILP System?

On August 4, 2014 Dr. Thokchom Meinya, MP made a strong point in the Lok Sabha in favor of enforcing Inner Line Permit System in Manipur. The issue has been placed on the floor of the Parliament. Back home the State Govt. has constituted an all party 13 member committee on Aug 06, 2014 headed by Deputy Chief Minister Gaikhangam to study the demand of ILPS together with legal experts to look for possible ways to enact a law of this nature by the State. Meanwhile there is no let up in the ILPS movement; in fact it is resurging with renewed vigor. All said and done the demand is progressing in the positive direction.

To the uninitiated what is apparent is that there is ILP System in place in Arunachal, Nagaland and Mizoram. So, why not in Manipur? The people of Manipur, particularly Meitei, is on the verge of losing its ethnic identity, culture and their traditional land due to relentless influx of people from mainland India. Since tribal brethren in the hills are constitutionally protected under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, it is the Meiteis who will face the brunt of the influx of the so called outsiders. These 10 lakh odd Meiteis will be overwhelmed by the 100 crores or more mainland Indians in the very near future if there is no check on their influx. Therefore there is no reason why ILPS should not be implemented to protect the indigenous people (Yelhoumee) of this State. An apt and flawless argument.

Yet in 2012, when the State Assembly passed a resolution and referred the matter to the Government of India for implementation of ILPS in Manipur, it was turned down by GoI and the then Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde is reported to have said, “Our Constitution will not allow such things. Any sensible person who believes in the Constitution will not pass such a bill.”

So, what does the Constitution say? Article 19(1) (d) and (e) provides all citizens freedom of movement and freedom of residing and settling anywhere in India. However, Clause (5) of the same Article provides exceptions: (i) existing law imposing restrictions to this freedom will continue to be operative; (ii) State can make law imposing reasonable restriction in the interest of general public or for the protection of the interest of any Scheduled Tribe.

Inference is clear. Eastern Bengal Frontier Regulation 1873 which is the basis of ILPS can continue to be applicable where ever it was promulgated. Further fresh enactment of a law on similar lines may be done under two conditions: either in the interest of general public or for the protection of the interest of any Scheduled Tribe. The special committee constituted by the State Govt. to examine the possibility of making a State law has to consider the issue under the provision of “in the interest of general public”. However, the issue of inter-state migration comes under the Union List, meaning thereby it is the prerogative of the Central Government, the State Government’s authority would more or less be that of a toothless tiger; State may make the law or the regulation but legal experts opine that the Constitution does not provide any penal authority to the State to punish a defaulter. Question is how effective such a regulation would be? And will that be the ILP System that the people of Manipur are demanding for the protection of their ethnic identity, culture and traditional land?

The other part of the provision Article 19(5) provides is “for the protection of the interest of any Scheduled Tribe” wherein reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the freedom of movement and freedom of residing and settling anywhere in the country. This provision is obviously not applicable to Manipur since it is not a tribal State.

The issue of ILPS has come up today for the Meiteis because this community which is said to have 2000 years of history is apparently struck with the reality of losing its ethnic identity, culture and traditional land. In elementary terms it simply means Meiteis harbor fear of going extinct from their natural habitat sooner than later. The basic issue is the question of survival as an indigenous ethnic community of Manipur. The connotation of survival here is much more than mere existence as a living creature.

Save Yelhoumee is the slogan Meiteis used by one and all in the ILPS movement. Yelhoumee in Manipuri is indigenous. It’s an international term. In some countries they are called tribes as in USA. In India it is called “Adivasi” or “Janajati” in Hindi and Scheduled Tribe in English. As per United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs concept of indigenous peoples, for practical purposes the terms “indigenous” and “tribal” are used as synonym in UN system. Further, United Nations while formulating ILO Convention No. 169 resolved that the erstwhile notion of tribal society as a temporary society destined to disappear with modernization and therefore they must be integrated or assimilated to mainstream people of their respective country is obsolete and that its application is detrimental in the modern world; United Nations adopted the notion that indigenous and tribal peoples constitute permanent societies, thereby inferring that people follow the system or way of life by choice.

Supreme Court of India’s judgment of January 5, 2011while dismissing the Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction arising out of Special Leave Petition (Kailas & Others …Appelant(s) – versus – State of Maharashtra) opined that Scheduled Tribes are indigenous peoples of India. The moot point is when Meiteis term themselves as Yelhoumee or indigenous people; they are in effect referring to themselves as Scheduled Tribe in India’s Constitutional context. The only hitch is that Indian Constitution does not recognize Meiteis as Scheduled Tribe or Indigenous or Yelhoumee and hence do not enjoy any Constitutional safeguard. Whatever the Meiteis may claim but from the Constitutional perspective Meiteis are at par with Biharis or Maharashtrians of Mumbai.

The Constitution has pitted the 10 lakhs odd Meiteis against 100 crores plus mainland Indians. The equation is 0.1 against 99.9. This cannot be considered a level playing field however egoistic or self pride the Meiteis may project. This is the reality. When Calcutta, Bombay and Madras Universities were established in 1857, Kingdom of Manipur was in the process of rebuilding itself from the ruins of “Seven years devastation (Chahi Taret Khuntakpa)”. Primary education system did not even exist at that point of time in Manipur. That is another historical reality.

On inclusion of Meitei in the schedule of tribes of India, they will have Constitutional safeguard of their traditional land under the Fifth Schedule. Ethnic identity of Meiteis will also be protected. Above all, the Constitutional divide between Meiteis and their hill brethren will cease to exist, and a harmonious and cohesive society based on ethnic equality will be ushered in, in due course of time.

In such a scenario where there are appropriate provisions in the Constitution with regard to Scheduled Tribe, shall we demand inclusion of Meitei in the schedule of tribes of India first for ILP System?

*The opinion is written by Lt Col Laishram Lokendra Singh (Retd)

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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One Comment

  1. Rajo singh says:

    Yes meitei should be included in the Schedule tribe as mainland of India had treated us as tribes of North east.
    Then only Indian constitution will give privilage to meitei community. There is no use of remaining as general in Manipur.