The Indian government has initiated a comprehensive review of the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status of certain communities in Manipur, specifically focusing on the Kukis and Zomis. This move comes in response to a representation made by Maheshwar Thounaojam, National Secretary of the Republican Party of India (Athawale). Thounaojam’s representation has prompted the Centre to request the Manipur government to consider the deletion of the “Nomadic Chin-Kuki” from the ST list in the state.
During a meeting with Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda, Thounaojam highlighted the need for reevaluation, asserting that Kukis and Zomis should not be entitled to the benefits of ST status as per the Indian constitution. The argument presented by Thounaojam draws parallels with a Supreme Court judgment pertaining to the state of Maharashtra. In the mentioned case on January 5, 2011, the Apex court ruled that individuals who are not original inhabitants of India are ineligible for ST status.
Maheshwar Thounaojam, in the memorandum submitted to the Union Minister, claimed that Kukis and Zomis are not original inhabitants of India but rather refugees. Citing this as illegal, he argues that the ST status should be revoked based on their non-original status. Thounaojam’s stance aligns with the legal precedent set by the Supreme Court, emphasizing the importance of being original inhabitants to qualify for ST status.
In a letter dated December 26, 2023, the Union government acknowledged the gravity of the matter. However, it clarified that any decision regarding inclusion or exclusion from the ST list must originate from the concerned State government. Consequently, the representation made by Thounaojam has been forwarded to the Manipur government, urging them to provide recommendations on the proposed deletion of “Nomadic Chin-Kuki” from the ST list.
This review process raises several socio-political and legal questions. The potential reevaluation of ST status for Kukis and Zomis could have significant implications on their access to government benefits and affirmative action programs. It also underscores the complex interplay between constitutional provisions, legal judgments, and the need for regional perspectives in determining community status.
The ongoing review of the ST status of Kukis and Zomis in Manipur reflects the nuanced challenges in defining the eligibility criteria for such classifications. As the state government evaluates the proposal, it will need to carefully consider historical, legal, and social aspects to arrive at a balanced and fair decision. This development emphasizes the importance of an inclusive and consultative process to address the complexities surrounding tribal status in India.