In March this year, the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee of Manipur—an organisation formed to demand Scheduled Tribe status for the state’s Meitei community—staged a 30-hour shutdown across the Imphal Valley. While Meiteis have historically been a relatively dominant community in the area, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government was quick to declare its support for the demand. Manipur’s chief minister, Biren Singh, gave assurance that the government was making every possible effort to include Meiteis in the list of Scheduled Tribes. A BJP man himself, Singh is in a good position to lobby with the central government, which can help fulfil the Meiteis’ demand.
However, having seen no movement on the issue over the past few months, the STDCM again organised several protests in September.
While the Meiteis inhabit the valley, the hills are occupied predominantly by Naga and Kuki tribes. The valley constitutes about 57.2 percent of the population, while the hills hold about 42.8 percent. Historically, there has been tension between the tribes and the Meiteis. Since Independence, India has followed an affirmative-action policy towards the Scheduled Tribes, which included protection of tribal ways of living and their social and cultural institutions. This meant imposing restrictions on buying land in tribal territories. Despite their growing population, Meiteis have not been allowed to buy land in the hill areas. The community, which has been dominant in almost every sphere in the state, including politics, has enacted several local laws to neutralise these restrictions, but these have often failed to find approval from the centre or the judiciary, besides meeting stiff opposition from the hill populations.