Imphal, May 3 (PTI) Thousands of people Wednesday turned up at the ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ called by a students body in all the ten hill districts of the state to oppose the demand for inclusion of Meitei community in the ST category. The All Tribal Students Union of Manipur (ATSUM), which called for the march, said it was organised to express dissent to the “persistent demands of the Meitei community for its inclusion in the ST category” gaining momentum.
The lawmakers of the valley areas are openly endorsing the Meitei demand and there is need for appropriate measures to collectively protect the tribal interests, the students union said.
The Meiteis inhabit the Manipur valley, which constitute about ten per cent of the area of the state, and claim that they are facing difficulty in view of the large scale illegal immigration by Myanmarese and Bangladeshis. They are on the other hand not allowed to settle in the hill areas as per the existing law.
Tribal villagers from interior hill areas came in buses and open trucks to the nearest hill district headquarters to attend the rallies.
In Naga-dominated Senapati town, the district headquarters with the same name and located about 58 km from the capital town of Imphal, the local bodies forced total shutdown of markets and suspension of public transport from 10 am to 1 pm to ensure that maximum number of demonstrators participate in the rally. Thousands joined the processions, waved placards and raised slogans opposing ST status for the Meitei community, police said.
Representatives of the Senapati District Students’ Association also met the deputy commissioner and apprised him of their concerns.
At Churachandpur, the second largest town in the state, people defied prohibitory orders and gathered at the public ground and took a rally till Tuibong peace ground to show their support to ATSUM, the police said.
Prohibitory orders were clamped for an indefinite period in the town last week following the violence to protest against the drive to evict villagers from reserve forest areas. Additional security forces were rushed to the town from other parts of Manipur to control the situation after the vandalisation of a venue where Chief Minister N Biren Singh was scheduled to address a programme.
Similar rallies were also held at Tengnoupal, Chandel, Kangpokpi, Noney, Ukhrul and were participated even by school students, the police said. Meanwhile, counter blockades were put up in the valley districts, including at Sugnu in Kakching district, in support of granting ST status to Meiteis. Protesters shouted slogans demanding ST status for the community and protection of reserved and protected forests.
No untoward incident was reported from anywhere in the state till the filing of the report.
The Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee Manipur (STDCM), which is spearheading the movement for the inclusion of the Meiteis in the ST category for more than a decade, said the demand is being made not merely for reservation in jobs, educational institutions and tax relief.
“It is more about protecting the ancestral lands, culture and identity of the Meitei people, who are threatened consistently by illegal immigrants from Myanmar, Bangladesh and outside by people from outside the state,” a STDCM functionary said. The Meitei community accounts for around 53 per cent of the total state population. Tribals inhabit the hill areas which accounts for more than 90 pc of the state territory. They are Christians by faith and account for more than 40 per cent of the population. PTI COR KK KK
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