Manipur High Court allows appeal against Meitei ST status order

Manipur High Court revisits decision at the heart of ongoing Manipur violence, allows tribal bodies to appeal the Meitei community's ST status

Relief camps such as this are now a common sight in Manipur, where thousands of people have been displaced by ethnic violence (photo: Getty Images)
Relief camps such as this are now a common sight in Manipur, where thousands of people have been displaced by ethnic violence (photo: Getty Images)


Manipur High Court has allowed an appeal against its controversial 27 March order which directed the state government to send a recommendation to the Union tribal affairs ministry to consider the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for the state's majority Meitei community, court sources said on Saturday, 21 October.

The 27 March order is what eventually led to the horrific ethnic violence that broke out in Manipur on 3 May, primarily involving the Meitei and Kuki communities. While Meiteis form approximately 53 per cent of the state's population and live mostly on the plains, Kukis comprise about 46 per cent and largely occupy the hill districts.

A high court official said a division bench of Justices Ahanthem Bimol and Guneshwar Sharma on Friday allowed four tribal bodies to appeal against the order, saying: "The main grievances raised by the applicant is that they will be prejudicially affected if they are not given a chance to have a say or to raise objection in the matter of granting ST status to the Meitei community."

The tribal bodies include All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) and All Manipur Tribal Union.

Justice M.V. Muralidharan, who was acting Chief Justice of Manipur High Court and has recently been transferred to Calcutta High Court, had passed the earlier order on a petition filed by members of the Meitei community seeking that the state government be directed to act on their pleas for inclusion in the ST list.

The division bench said: "Taking into consideration the nature of arguments of counsel appearing for the parties which needs to be examined and decided on the basis of the materials available in the connected writ appeal and writ petition and taking into consideration the grievances raised by the applicants, we are inclined to grant leave sought by the applicants in the present application."

Appearing for the tribal bodies, Collin Gonsalves argued that "if the Meitei community is wrongly granted ST status, then this will adversely affect the existing tribal ST in employment and education where reservation for STs exist and that the Meitei community being dominant and advanced politically, economically and educationally will grab majority of the ST reserved seats".

Appearing for the respondents, advocate M Hemchandra said "in spite of having records of Meitei community as Meitei tribes", they "had been left out at the time of preparation of ST list under the Constitution of India" and that "Meitei tribes have approached authorities concerned for the last many years but failed to consider for initiation of process for inclusion into the ST lists".

The high court on 27 March had directed the state government to submit the recommendation to the tribal affairs ministry to consider inclusion of the Meitei community in the ST list by 29 May.

This snowballed into a major controversy when thousands of tribals turned up for the ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ called by ATSUM on 3 May in all the 10 hill districts of Manipur to oppose the demand for inclusion of the Meitei community in the ST category, leading to large-scale and ongoing ethnic violence.

According to Manipur Police, over 175 people have been killed, over 1,100 injured, and scores are missing in the ongoing strife.

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