By Ningombam Bupenda Meitei
In 30,000 BCE (Before Common Era), or same as 30,000 BC (Before Christ) which is used in Christian world, when Sydney of Australia was occupied by Aboriginal Australians, which is also evidenced from radio carbon dating, and when Japan had the first ground stone tools, Manipur had its first evidence of Pleistocene man. The Manipuri Pleistocene humans were not Neanderthals, of Neander valley near Dusseldorf, Germany, but early Homo sapiens or modern humans. The two important early modern Homo sapiens sites which were close to Manipur were Annamite Mountains (Laos), with the fossils of modern humans dated 63,000 years ago, and Liujiang (China) with its date of fossils as 139,000-111,000 years ago. The study to discover whether Manipur Pleistocene humans came from Annamite Mountains of Laos or Liujiang of China could be of immense contribution to the making of modern humans as Liujiang man, who is a late Pleistocene Homo sapiens sapiens like Manipur Pleistocene man, is concluded to be as one of the earliest modern humans in East Asia by a scientific team led by a geologist Guanjun Shea of Nanjing (China) Normal University, or the study could also find the trace of Manipur Pleistocene humans to Annamite Mountains – a mountain range of eastern Indochina – that extends to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. There is no scientific record, till date, to show that any other form of Homos, or prior to the first recorded Pleistocene man, was found in Manipur. There could also be a possibility that Manipur Pleistocene modern humans came from Manipur Homo erectus who further got evolved from archaic Manipur humans. This possibility is of the nature which is supported and accepted in the case of Liujiang man by Regional Continuity Model (or Multi Regional Evolution Model) – a model that proposes that modern humans evolved more or less simultaneously in all major regions of the Old World from local archaic humans – unlike Replacement Model, which discusses that the origin of modern humans came from the archaic humans in Africa and later got migrated to the rest of the world. But, the question is – where is the scientific evidence of Manipur Homo erectus or archaic Manipur human? Having no such evidence also can not conclude, as of now, that the possibility of such archaic Manipur human will be absent forever, unless there is a rigorous scientific attempt to explore.
If Meiteis, who are the original inhabitant of Manipur, had a written history since 33 AD, then there is also a question – how has the writing of the royal history begun suddenly in 33 AD? Whether or not the writing by Meiteis existed before 33 AD, and if so, then whether the Meitei civilization began much before 33 AD? – are the queries of deep interest in today’s world of scientific research. If Meitei civilization began in 33 AD, then how and from where such great civilization originated? Whether such ancient civilization, which has a continuity, if it had, since the pre – 33 AD, is a point to reflect on. It is in this regard that the proposition that Meitei civilization existed much before 33 AD becomes valid if Meiteis are the descendants of the Manipur Pleistocene man, who was born 32,000 years ago. Meiteis had to exist even much before 3000 BCE in Manipur. Since the Manipur Pleistocene man is recorded as the first modern human of Manipur in Manipur, therefore the genetics and lineage of that Manipur Pleistocene modern human must be in Meiteis, of today, because Meiteis are the present living evidence of being the original inhabitant of Manipur since the first modern human settlement in Manipur. Till now, scientifically, there is evidence that Manipur Pleistocene man is the first original inhabitant of Manipur. If Meiteis are not the descendants of the first Manipuri – the first Manipur Pleistocene modern human, then from whom modern humans Meiteis have descended and whether Meiteis can claim as the first modern humans inhabiting in Manipur by accepting that Meiteis are not the descendants of the first settler of Manipur – the Manipur Pleistocene modern human. In order to state that Meiteis are the original inhabitant of Manipur, they cannot claim that they are not the descendant of the first original inhabitant of Manipur – the first Manipuri in the form of the Manipur Pleistocene modern human. If Meiteis claim that they are not the descendant of the first Manipuri – the Manipur Pleistocene modern human, then Meiteis cannot conclude that they are the original inhabitant of Manipur because they accept that they are not the descendant of the first inhabitant of Manipur – the Manipur Plesitocene modern human. By accepting that a modern human is not the descendant of the first inhabitant of a geographical location bound by its space and time, the modern human is admitting that he or she is not entitled to claim as also the first original inhabitant of the very same geographical location. By accepting that the modern human is the descendant of the first inhabitant of the geographical location, the modern human is entitled to claim that he or she is, inherently, the original inhabitant of the very same geographical location. The descendants must show their lineage and genetics continuously flowing down from their common ancestor, and their common ancestor cannot be diverse and considered to have existed in different times of human evolution because any diversity destroys the status of having a common ancestor. The attempt to dismantle a common ancestor could lead to a series of complexities in understanding and locating one’s origin of civilization, and thereby any civilization without its proper origin could be heavily criticized. The beginning of such criticism could also be the beginning to spell confusion and ask further question – has such civilization, whose origin is not clear, ever existed or not? The birth of such uneasy question could be a serious attempt to ridicule and belittle the descendants who have been the preserver, protector, admirer and follower of that very civilization. Such an attempt could be a dawn of further making the young descendants drawn in the whirlpool of dilemma when the young descendants ask for their original ancestor who gave birth to such a great civilization. A scientific approach to ensure that such a dawn becomes a dusk soon so that a new morning sunrise will make the civilization enlightens more is the inner proactive call of today’s young descendants of the great civilization.
The further question is – if Meiteis are the descendants of the first original inhabitant of Manipur, the Manipur Pleistocene modern human, then who are the ancestors of the other tribes of Manipur? Can the same common modern human, the first original inhabitant of Manipur – the Manipur Pleistocene modern human, be also the common ancestor of the other tribes of Manipur? If yes, then it shows that Meiteis and other tribes, who are also the descendants of the first original inhabitant of Manipur, are the descendants from the same common ancestor? Having the same common ancestor must also mean that Meiteis and other tribes are children of the same ancestor, thereby meaning that what Meiteis should be entitled to, the same should also be similarly entitled to among the other tribes, and vice – versa. In the case of vice – versa, what is or are entitled to the other tribes, the similar must be entitled to among the Meiteis, and if this is the case, then the status of tribal which is entitled to the other tribes must also be given to the Meiteis. The larger question is, if Meiteis claim that they are not tribal before like the other tribes of today in Manipur, then it also connotes that Meiteis and the other tribes are not the descendants of the same common ancestor – the first Manipuri namely, the Manipur Pleistocene modern human. If this is the case, then, the further question is – if Meiteis claim that they were not tribal in the past, then it also means that they do not share the genetics and lineage of the other tribes who claim their tribal status in the past, because the sharing of the same lineage can only take place if they all have a common ancestor who is the first original inhabitant of Manipur. If Meiteis and the other tribes do not have the common ancestor – the Pleistocene modern human, then from where the other tribes have come? Whether the other tribes had another ancestor or not – is also a point to reflect on. If the other tribes had their ancestor who was not the same as that of the ancestor of the Meiteis, then who is that ancestor of the other tribes? Can that ancestor of the other tribes be also the same ancestor – the first original Manipuri, Pleistocene modern human – of the Meiteis? If it is not, then there has to be another different ancestor of the other tribes, or it could also be many ancestors of the other tribes, but the question is also – who is the first original inhabitant of Manipur; whether the ancestor of the Meiteis or the ancestor or ancestors of the other tribes? There could also be a possibility to posit that the other tribes had the same common ancestor who is none other than the first original inhabitant of Manipur, the Manipur Pleistocene modern human. But, the moment when such proposition begins, the problem is whether the other tribes could show the continuity of lineage of the Manipur Pleistocene modern human in terms of their civilization or written history, etc. It is in this regard that to claim that the lineage is valid, the presence and presentation of continual recorded history and civilization would play a critical role. Therefore, the other tribes, without a continual civilization since 30,000 BCE, to claim that they are the true descendants of the first original inhabitant, the Manipur Pleistocene modern human, will be extremely difficult to be resolved by modern natural sciences of today’s modern physics, chemistry and biology. But, the other tribes too could very much be a part of Meitei civilization with its continual written records and history backed by scientific verification, and therefore, the Meiteis and the other tribes could, perhaps, be understood as the children of the same ancestor. If the proposition of ‘the children of the same ancestor’ is accepted, then today’s Meiteis can also not fully claim that Meitei civilization is a continual process and human evolution contributed by the Meiteis only because the other tribes, who are also the children of the same ancestor, did contribute to the making of the great Meitei civilization. Having stated this, it also does not mean that the other tribes were not significantly recognized of their contribution to the making of Meitei civilization, but rather the entire combined civilization, which is known as ‘Meitei civilization’ today, could be the result of the civilization of the entire children of the same common ancestor. But, then, the question is – if it is the result of the combined effort, then why is it named as ‘Meitei civilization’ after ‘Meiteis’ only? The nomenclature or naming or, indeed, giving a name to that very civilization has to be studied further. Who first coined the name ‘Meitei civilization’? But, the larger issue is, besides the name, even if ‘Meitei civilization’ is not named as such and it is named as ‘X civilization’ or ‘Y civilization’, the larger contribution to that very civilization will be, undoubtedly, Meiteis who have been continuously protecting the civilization, and therefore, it is in this sense, that calling that civilization as ‘Meitei civilization’ would be more appropriate. Stating this notion of appropriateness, in ancient texts of Meitei civilization, the contribution of the other tribes too is also evidenced, and therefore, the idea of only Meiteis for Meitei civilization is great but more than greater than it could be the entire children of the common ancestor for Meitei civilization, which is nothing but their shared common ancient civilization which is given a name ‘Meitei civilization’.
It is the western invention of a term ‘tribe’ that has become a politically and socially motivated tool to constitutionally label some children of the same ancestor as ‘tribe’ while the other child as ‘non- tribe’. If this understanding is accepted, then there shall be no confusion over who can claim the rightful heir to the first original inhabitant of Manipur, the Manipur Pleistocene modern human. Otherwise, there could be a discourse to discuss the possibility and eligibility of who will be called as the second, the third or the fourth original inhabitant of Manipur; whether the time gap between the first original inhabitant and the second original inhabitant of Manipur can be in terms of thousands or hundreds of years. Can there be two different original inhabitants of the same place? Should not the first original inhabitant be only considered as the ‘only original inhabitant’ of the geographical space? Will the status of ‘the first original inhabitant’ be threatened if there is an attempt to bring in a newly created status called ‘the another original inhabitant’? There is a school of thought which believes that all modern humans were, once upon a time, tribes, and therefore, all modern men and women originated from the tribal societies. But, such acceptance will be hard for the Queen of England or the Pope of the Vatican City or the Archbishop of Canterbury to digest, in today’s context. Hence, all are not tribes because all can not be tribes, and its reason, perhaps, could be all were not tribes. Yet, this notion of ‘tribe’ and its constitutionality, in today’s world of constitutional rights, have become a point of fissure, more than fusing the tribal and the non – tribal, between the tribes and the non – tribe. Can such fissure result to a volcanic eruption oozing out the past distinctions between the tribes and the non – tribe? Or, can such fissure be concealed forever if such past distinctions are reconciled and harmonized with the acceptability of the notion that all are the children of the same common ancestor? The entire children of the same common ancestor must be given almost similar access to what any child of the entire children gets or is entitled to. If that is so, then the entire children must be either called tribal or non – tribal, because the distinction of the same children into two categories as tribal vs non – tribal means that the children are not of the same common ancestor. Then, the notion of the children belonging to different ancestors could create a complex question of – who are the original descendants of the original first inhabitant of Manipur – the Manipur Pleistocene modern human?
In today’s Manipur, after 1949 when Manipur and India were governed by one Constitution called ‘Indian Constitution’, the notion of dividing the tribe vs the non–tribal is becoming more vivid and explicit. The question is – why? The reason is not only in the Constitution of India that has listed the other tribes of Manipur in Scheduled Tribe category while Meiteis were and are not yet listed as Scheduled Tribe, but more fundamentally important than it is the question of who the descendants of the first original inhabitant of Manipur are. If the Queen of England does not claim herself to be a tribal, then why should any king of Manipur in Meitei civilization ever claim that he was a tribal? If the Pope of Rome or the Archbishop of Canterbury does not admit that he is a tribe, then why should any ancient Meitei intellectual or a Meitei high priest or ancient Meitei scholar accept that he too was a tribe? But, the larger question is – if Meiteis claim that they were not tribal, it also means that they were not the same as the other tribes were, and therefore, it is an acceptance of a clear distinction between the two different humans – the Meiteis and the other tribes, who cannot be the children of the same common ancestor. If the Meiteis and the other tribes cannot be the descendants of the same common ancestor, then who will claim the heritage, rights, ownership, position of heirship of the original first inhabitant of Manipur, the Manipur Pleistocene modern human? Can such claim be rightfully taken only by the Meiteis or the other tribes or rather, which tribe among the other tribes? But, the Meitei civilization is a testimony of the larger role of Meiteis in the making and safeguarding of the ancient civilization which was sown by the first original inhabitant of Manipur – the Manipur Pleistocene modern human in Manipur. Again, the question does not end here, as the next inquiry is – whether the common ancestor, the first original inhabitant Pleistocene modern human of Manipur, of the Meiteis was a tribal or not. If that Pleistocene modern human of Manipur, also the first original inhabitant of Manipur, is recorded or discovered to be a tribal, then Meiteis too can not claim that they are not tribal, by looking at their ancestry which was tribal. But, if that Pleistocene modern human was not a tribal, then it shall be an imposition of false history to accept that Meiteis were also tribal in the past. Was the first original inhabitant Pleistocene modern human in Manipur, also considered to be the ancestor of the Meiteis, tribal or not? – is for the modern natural sciences to dissect and research.
To accept that Meiteis should be given Scheduled Tribe status because they were tribal in the past, it could mean that the Meiteis and the other tribes had the first original inhabitant Pleistocene modern human as their only common ancestor, and hence all, including the Meiteis and the other tribes, who are the descendants of the same common ancestor, must be given equal share to every opportunity in Manipur, which was firstly founded by none other than the first inhabitant – the Pleistocene modern human – 30,000 years ago. Therefore, all the tribes – including the Meiteis and the other tribes have every right to have an access to any right, which is constitutionally valid in today’s context, in Manipur.
To reject the Meiteis from getting listed as Scheduled Tribe status because they were not tribal in the past, it could mean that the Meiteis and the other tribes did not have the first original inhabitant Pleistocene modern human as their only common ancestor, instead they had different ancestors, and hence, the Meiteis and the other tribes are still different. But, the question – who are the original inhabitants of Manipur? – can only be answered by none other than the original descendants of the original first inhabitant of Manipur, the Pleistocene modern human, who sowed the ancient civilization since 30,000 BCE. This also could further question whether the other tribes, of Manipur today, who enjoy the status of Scheduled Tribe today under the Indian Constitution, have the same right of heirship to Manipur as claimed by the descendants of the original first inhabitant of Manipur – the Manipur Pleistocene modern human. How can the descendants of another ancestor, who is not the first original inhabitant of Manipur, claim as the original inhabitants of Manipur since time immemorial? The time, here, indeed, is not since immemorial, as it began in 30,000 BCE by the ancestor whose lineage and civilization are preserved by the Meitei civilization till today. Therefore, the Meiteis and the other tribes can not have the same right to have an access to every right, which is constitutionally valid in today’s context, in Manipur.
Or, there could be a possibility of accepting that all, the Meitei and the other tribes, are the children of the same common ancestor, and they are all tribal, but the Indian Constitution recognizes the other tribes as tribe under Scheduled Tribe List while the Meiteis, also being a tribe, are yet to be recognized as a tribe under Scheduled Tribe List, approved by the Parliament of India. It is in this scenario that the notion of ‘the children of the same common ancestor’ is accepted and Meiteis too, though accepted by the other tribes as one of them, but can not enjoy the rights and privileges of being a constitutional beneficiary of being listed under Scheduled Tribe category. The larger query is – can such understanding of accepting the two notions: “the children of the same common ancestor, and hence all are the original inhabitants of the same land of Manipur” and “Meiteis were tribal like other tribes in the past but can not and should not be given ST status under the Indian Constitution at present” go together?
How can there be a simultaneous acceptance and agreement of two contradicting premises: “All the children, the Meiteis and other tribes, of Manipur are of the same common ancestor” and “Meiteis can not come under ST as they are not a tribe like other children, who are tribes, of the same common ancestor”? What could be the conclusion of such contradicting premises? The inherent fallacy in the argument itself is evident merely because there cannot be an acceptance of two contradictions, because such acceptance will only tantamount to the inconsistency of the logical arguments, therefore, either of the two premises has to be taken and both cannot be chosen either simultaneously at the same time or even differently at different points of time for a convenient use in different contexts and background. Two such antagonistic premises cannot be forcefully joined as the truth of Manipur. The truth can never be two. The truth has to be only one. The choice of the truth may be uneasy. But, the truth has to be true only because it cannot be false. Hence, truth, which is not the sum of two false, has to bring a light to the present scenario of whether to accept that Meitei civilization of 32,000 years is true, and if true, then whether the civilization was of tribal in nature, and if yes, then, Meiteis should be given a constitutionally recognized tribal status, and if no, then Meiteis should, in fact, be also not given the status of ‘Other Backward Classes’ as Meitei civilization cannot be a product of the world of ‘other backward classes’ in its civilizational, linguistical, cultural, sociological, economic and educational sense. Therefore, Meiteis should demand for going back to its pre – OBC category era, or Unreserved category, which is popularly known as ‘General category’ in 2016. Why should Meiteis allow themselves to be in OBC when Meiteis have such a great ancient civilization of 32,000 years? If Meiteis have accepted themselves as ‘backward’ in OBC, does it mean that it is far more honourable to accept the status of ‘backwardness’ instead of taking the tag of ‘tribal’ in 2016? Have Meiteis forgotten the 32,000 years old of their ancient civilization, which exists till today, when they were listed under OBC category under the Indian Constitution? If the same logic of great Meitei mental, physical, cultural, economical and social calibre is applied and appreciated, and therefore, the Meiteis should not claim for Scheduled Tribe category, then the same logic should also not be forgotten and hence be applied equally, with the same motivation and pride, to the present Meiteis who are under OBC, as Meitei is a community which is constitutionally recognized as ‘backward’ by the Constitution, and therefore, Meiteis, instead of enjoying the rights and constitutional privileges of being in OBC, should protest against the inclusion of the Meiteis in OBC, afresh in 2016, so that the pride and history of Meiteis is retained in the 21st century. Therefore, the Meiteis should again demand not for ST, but rather to remove OBC from the community and get back to the pre – OBC era category called ‘Unreserved’ or ‘General’ category for the Meiteis because the Meiteis, of the 21st century, can compete anywhere in the world, and therefore, the same Meiteis too can compete anywhere in India, which is governed strictly by its reservation policy, which is not a regressive but an affirmative policy of a vibrant democracy.
So, where should Meiteis go? Whether should they demand ST (Scheduled Tribe) because they were tribe like any other tribe, who is now under ST category under the Indian Constitution, of Manipur? Whether should they protest against the inclusion of Meitei as ST because Meiteis were never a tribe in the past? Whether should they demand for the reversion of OBC category of backward Meiteis to the Unreserved or General category of forward, progressive and highly competent Meiteis? Whether should they accept the 32,000 years old Meitei civilization bereft of tribalism? Whether should they consider that the first original inhabitant of Manipur, the Pleistocene modern human who sowed the 32,000 years of Meitei civilization, was tribal? Whether should they accept that all the children of Manipur had a common ancestor? Are Meiteis the descendants of the first original inhabitant of Manipur in 30,000 BCE? Should Meiteis realize the 21st century scenario? Should Meiteis live with its ancient civilization for the coming hundreds of centuries in future? Is the question – “Is 32,000 years of Meitei civilization a sign of tribalism?” – a source of pragmatism in today’s world economy and fast moving and shifting domestic national and regional politico-administrative and social fabric? Could there be a middle path which takes both the ancient civilization and the realities of the 21st century together in harmony? Can such middle path be possible in a democracy? Can such middle path exist in today’s world of rationalism, logic and science? Can Meitei’s philosophical quest of logic and science resolve the classic argumentative inquiry of whether Meitei should be given Scheduled Tribe category or not under the Indian Constitution in the 21st century? Is today’s demand of Meiteis for ST also a litmus test of accepting the same common ancestor of Manipur and hence all its children are the original inhabitants of the land of Manipur? The people, in a democracy, and its democratically elected government in Manipur cannot choose to remain silent like Buddha’s noble silence when Buddha was asked transcendental questions. But, both the people and the government of Okram Ibobi Singh must, democratically, farsightedly, pragmatically and maturely, look forward to Buddha’s middle path in such a critical juncture of a history in making for the future generations of Manipur so that the future generations of the state live in their best possible harmony among themselves with Mother Nature. The silence of Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, in this case, cannot be equated with that of Buddha’s noble silence, as the silence of the elected Leader of Manipur will only help in building trust deficit among the people and therefore, the Chief Minister must proactively discuss the issue in its utmost seriousness without any delay, whether the state Cabinet should recommend Meitei for Scheduled Tribe or not in 2016.
Ningombam Bupenda Meitei is a poet, author and orator.