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E-Pao! Opinion - The Meiteis Question

The Meiteis Question

By: An inhabitant *



Are these so called Meiteis a Caste Hindus or a tribe or belonging to a different category? Although we have to know as per the Indian constitutional procedure, they have been generalized (may be for the sake of convenience or other real reasons) as belonging to the category of Hindu society having caste features (subdivided into Caste Hindus-Brahmins i.e., the Meitei Bamon and common Meiteis and Scheduled Caste-The Meiteis Lois).

This is a very difficult and a bitter question to the Meiteis. To have a better understanding of this question, we need to know the different school of thoughts prevailing among the Meiteis and the different experiences undergone by a Meitei in his/her interactions with the non-Meiteis. No doubt there is no denying reason of the Meiteis being an indigenous group of the people of this land.

What do we understand by the term tribe? This is a very complex and ambiguous term and to address its different connotations in detail is beyond the scope of this writing. I hope someone adequately qualified in this field shall do it in the future. Academically/literally the term refers to those groups of people with primitive and backward features like having very simple social structural features unlike the major recognized civilized societies.

Thus it inherits the colonial baggage i.e., associating the tag with some groups considered to be uncultured/uncivilized/savages. And the concept tribe/tribal after disseminating in the common/lay man perceptions take many negative meanings such as in India's experiences, they are considered culturally backward/ill-mannered people/Junglee.

Or more decently put, they are the dwellers of the forest such as the Adivasis of central and eastern India. On the positive side, the tribe associated with a kind of society devoid of economic exploitation and its enviable classless and egalitarian nature. This is a Marxist way of understanding the tribal society categorizing these positive features as primitive communism.

Mostly, this so called tribes are economically and educationally a world away (or most will called it backward) from the modern standard. Indian constitution recognized such groups of people and listed them as Schedule tribes with many constitutional privileges and safeguards like Scheduled castes which listed groups of people which are marginalized and discriminated within the Indian caste system.

In both the case the purpose is to empower them and uplift their imposed inferior social status. Although such policy addresses some of the ills encountered by these groups by empowering many members of such groups, the still greater forces of social consciousness created at one point of time which is currently prevailing among the mainstream Indian masses look down or discriminate against members of these groups.

The majority of the groups of peoples having mongoloid features are listed as tribals in the Indian constitution. The Meiteis are the only few constitutionally non-tribal mongoloid groups.

May be because of this factor or some deeper understanding, mainland Indian considers them as tribal no matter how hard they try to challenge the tag as they consider themselves as a group having a civilization which is 2000 years old and considering the perceived negative connotations associated with the tag which will compromise with their self-pride in interaction with the mainland Indian.

Or it may be due to their having signifantly different cultural features (which are in tune with the Far East Asian societies despite the prominent Meiteis being consider themselves as belonging to the Caste Hindus i.e. the upper caste Hindus), that they are unable to fit the Meiteis within any established civilized groups of India.

We can distinguish two schools of thought prevailing among the Meiteis regarding the origin and structure of the Meiteis society and the Meiteis perception about the surrounding kindred groups of the people.

Let us start from the Brahminical school of thought which place Brahmin/Meitei Bamon at the top and the common Meiteis as Kshatriyas and others at the lower rung in descending order by importing the rigid hierarchical Brahminical caste order in terms of one birth to a specific bloodline based on the belief of its divine origin irreversible to human intervention into an erstwhile more or less egalitarian society.

It roots the origin of Meiteis as the descendents of Arjuna of the Mahabharata. It might try to transform the then prevailing nascent/negligible social inequality which was subjected to change through social mobility from time to time into a crystallized structures in the then society.

Subsequently in the process, this Brahminical institution might have been trying to infuse non-egalitarian characters into the Meiteis mentality employing many negative meanings in the then existing differences of the people which were not wholly negative rather common contradictions attuned to the then prevailing context in a evolving national society out of a disperse hordes of Sino-Tibeto-Burman Mongoloid race.

The stage of Brahminical order also brought about many enrichment into the sphere of the already existing cultural and art forms of the Meiteis society. But the institution needs severe criticism of its inegalitarian intent and the members of this institutions must move fast to root out this social ills.

Another school of thought is the Sanamahism School which rooted the origin of the meiteis as the descendants of the Lord Pakhangba, one of the Son of the Meiteis Almighty God Sidabamapu, the creator of the Universe.

This is widely believed as the school developed in the ancient Meiteis society as a distinct form of indigenous cosmology to shape the then evolving Meiteis socio-political formation out of the influx of different groups of Sino-Tibeto-Burman race coming from different directions. There is an unchallenged realistic understanding that the Yek-Salai system of the Meiteis is the visible remnant of the erstwhile different groups of the people.

They opine that with the advent of Brahminical School of thought that the Meiteis egalitarian socio-political formation came to an abrupt end with the crystallization of the concept of the Meiteis which was earlier fluid and ever evolving by bringing in many alien thinking like pure-impure duality, high birth and low birth.

One could rightly infers from this knowledge that the concept Meiteis might have been developed in the fast changing historical landscape of the land in the natural development of organizing and unifying man into a better and uniformly ordered peaceful society out of the confusing anarchical nature which renders vulnerable to fatal onslaught of the nature's dynamics.

With this concept, we can try to dig out the genesis of the Meiteis concepts like the 'Haos' and 'Lois'. The Haos might be the non-Meiteis subjects yet to be fully integrated with the Meiteis socio political formation/separate independent groups of the same Sino-Tibeto-Burman race. The lois are believed to be those groups already incorporated within the Meiteis formation process which did not toe the line of the then Hinduised rulers' dominant cultural paradigm.

The relevancy of the Meiteis mode of historical evolution in organizing and unifying the inhabitants of the land may not be suited in the prevailing circumstances but we have a lot to learn from it.

The urge and the need of unifying the inhabitants of the land have become an active interest and endeavor of the people of this land in many forms.

We should not be deterred in looking for feasible and democratic ways to realize this unification into a single political whole for a digniful existence with enviable strength and egalitarian character.


* 'An inhabitant', a Pseudonym, writes regularly to e-pao.net
The writer can be reached at nongallakpa_horam@yahoo.co.in
This article was webcasted on January 14th, 2006


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