Recent events in India are disturbing as authorities in Manipur issued shoot at sight orders for minorities fighting for their rights through peaceful protests in the northern state of Manipur. Anusuiya Uikey, the state governor ordered to shoot the protestors and stated that ‘in extreme cases where warnings and reasonable force fail to work’, shooting them is the right course of action. This order came to the fore despite the fact that it could further antagonise tribes, especially the Kuki, Naga and other minorities who are largely Christian. These tribal people constitute approximately 40 percent of the total state population of about 3.5 million and are evidence of the BJP’s exclusionary agenda.
The decades old dispute in Manipur has been raised before by the Meiti tribes over resources such as forested land for farming, low cost bank loans, health and education facilities. Recognition as a scheduled caste tribe will also provide them with a specified quota for government jobs. The truth however is that after enjoying all the perks and privileges—like good jobs—as a Hindu group such, they experienced special treatment at the expense of other minorities.
The protestors in one of India’s worst episodes in 2023 were triggered by a Manipur High Court verdict from a one-judge bench headed by M.V. Muralidaran where he directed the government to consider the request of the community’s desire to be included as part of the scheduled tribes list within the next four weeks. It also sought to send a recommendation to the union government for its consideration. The Meitei people however, were not considered under article 341 and 342 of the Indian constitution which describes Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) as falling under “chaste” Hindu castes which are considered to be a very advanced community in Manipur. As the classification was upheld, the Meitei’s were satisfied and proud of their inclusion despite coming at the expense of other communities. They also successfully managed to get included in the ‘other backward classes’ (OBC) which provided them with a greater quota of important positions like IAS, IPS. This was not the situation before reservation when they competed on merit and fell under the general or unreserved category.
This motivated Meitei’s to grab as many government posts and seats as they wanted in higher education institutes in Manipur. Other than this, the Meitei’s are not eligible to buy land from Scheduled Tribes which is protected under Article 231C of Indian constitution. However, Meitei’s being inducted into ST provide them with an additional quota of 7.5 percent with an already 27 percent OBC quota that allows them to purchase land from tribes in hilly areas despite being the ancestral forest dwelling place for minority tribes.
On one hand, such injustice has happened while on the other, unrest started after the High Court gave an order for Meitei’s to be included in the SC. Almost 60 people have been killed from the 250 that were injured in the violence that started on May 2, 2023. There has also been a huge loss to property and vehicles, as well as the buildings in the state with approximately 1,700 of them being burnt in the crisis. Internet connections were suspended by the Modi government since then while the government of India remains silent about the outbreak of protests. It has only reacted by imposing curfews and providing shoot at sight orders for the protestors.
It is the duty of any sovereign state, provincial or local governments to compensate marginalised communities and not to provide a clean chit to majoritarian agendas. The negligence of BJP towards vulnerable people however, and safeguarding them from attacks is both stark and revealing. Their due share being denied to them has further complicated the problem in Manipur and could have a trickle-down effect on BJP ruled states throughout India.
Hence, it is the foremost responsibility of the state to protect their scheduled tribes and castes and provide them with justice they deserve. In India it is being denied and minority tribes feel that the government has failed to safeguard their rights as homes are attacked and their due rights are not provided to them completely.