The All Tribal Students’ Union announced it would hold a Tribal Solidarity March on May 3, 2023, in Senapati, Kangpokpi, Ukhrul, Churachandpur, Chandel, Tengnoupal, and Tamenglong, all tribal-dominated districts. The Delhi Tribal Students’ Forum, Sadar Hills Tribals Union on Land and Forest (SHITULF) and Tribal Churches Leaders Forum (TCLF), Manipur, have also expressed their support for the march. Similarly, Churachandpur based Students organisations like the ZSF, KSO, HSA have also extended their support.
The march will be held tomorrow after the representatives of the tribal students’ organisations met in April and discussed how they would manage the rally with the theme, “Come now, let us reason together” to collectively voice their opposition to the STDCM’s demand for ST Status for Meiteis. The ATSUM has also set up a district-level coordination team to ensure the march goes as planned. Other measures like mobilisation of resources and participants, sufficient media coverage, and coordination with apex organisations were also discussed for the march.
In reaction to the rally being called by ATSUM, Section 144 CrPC has been imposed by the Government in various hill districts. The assembly of more than five persons and carrying sticks, firearms, and lethal weapons is prohibited.
Various tribal organisations in Manipur have voiced their anger against the Meiteis’ demand for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes list. Many have reasoned that the Meiteis, an “advanced community” in Manipur, will significantly hurt the interests of the backward tribal communities if they get ST status. Several valley-based Meitei groups have also started protest demonstrations from Moirang.
The ATSUM has released many public statements saying that granting ST status to the Meiteis will violate the very principle of protective discrimination of marginalised communities like the ST and SC groups. It will hurt tribals’ access to reservations in educational institutions, government jobs, and customary laws over land use.
ATSUM General Secretary, SN Andria, have expressed concerns about how Manipur’s already sensitive social fabric will be in jeopardy if the Meiteis become a “tribe among other tribes”.
Manipur’s tribal people have become more vexed, especially with the recent Manipur High Court’s order to the Manipur Government, terming it as a judicial overreach. The High Court directed the State to submit an ethnographic report alongside the socio-economic characteristics of the Meitei community to the centre. The Hill Areas Committee (HAC), composed of legislators from the hill districts, passed a resolution on April 20 to pressure the State and Central governments to appeal as the matter is affecting the hill areas. In response, Meitei leaders spearheading the ST demand have expressed their intent to file contempt proceedings against the HAC.
Though the Meiteis have a lot of political clout in Manipur and have also had greater access to development compared to the hill areas, their fears of being reduced to an ethnic minority and their lands being grabbed by the influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar have worsened.
STDCM President Dhiraj Yumnam said that the organisation would resume their agitation (which they called off after the court order for four weeks) more intensively if the Manipur Government does not submit the ethnographic report as per the court order. Responding to the tribals’ opposition to their demands, he said that all tribes should support their cause as what happens in the valley would also adversely affect the hill people.
Various Meitei groups in social media, like different Facebook groups calling for a counter-blockade against the tribals’ march on May 2, have been circulating on social media.
There is a tough road ahead for both the Meiteis and the tribals, who have formed a strong collective against the Meiteis’ demands. The situation will become more tense whether or not the Biren Singh-led government sends the ethnographic report of the Meiteis. The rift seems to be growing, especially with the riots and violence in Churachandpur, Manipur, on April 29, 2023, to voice their resistance and anger against the church demolitions and to take land surveys without locals’ knowledge to declare tribal lands as protected & reserved forests and wetlands. A viral video of ISTV, a state-level news channel, calling the Paite language a Myanmarese language further angered and alienated the Zomi and Kuki-Chin people.