Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh on Tuesday said that an all-tribe committee will decide on whether the Chin Kuki community would be removed from the state’s Scheduled Tribes list, reported PTI.

The statement came after the Centre had asked the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state to examine a representation seeking the removal of the “Nomadic Chin-Kuki” from the list.

The representation was made last month by Maheshwar Thounaojam, the Imphal-based national secretary of the Republican Party of India (Athawale).

Thounaojam wrote to Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda stating that indigeneity should be the main criterion to define Scheduled Tribes.

He had also requested the Centre to accordingly determine “who should be correctly in the Scheduled Tribes list of Manipur”, while making a case for the inclusion of Meiteis.

On Tuesday, Singh said that the state government will be able to send its view on the matter only after getting the panel’s recommendations, reported PTI.

“They were included in the [Scheduled Tribe] list of Manipur but how they were included needs to be re-examined,” Singh told reporters. “Before commenting, we have to form a committee consisting of all tribes [of the state].”

Notably, the members of the Meitei community, who account for 60% of Manipur’s population, have been demanding inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes list for several years.

In an order on April 19, the Manipur High Court had asked the state government to consider petitions for including the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list “expeditiously, preferably within a period of four weeks”.

The order led to widespread protests in Manipur. On May 3, large-scale violence broke out after thousands of people participated in a protest march to oppose the Meitei community’s demand.

Over 200 people have been killed in the state since the ethnic conflict between the Meitei and Kuki communities started. Nearly 60,000 persons have been forced to flee their homes.

‘Attempt to erase Kuki-Zo tribal status’

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum criticised the chief minister, alleging that he and his government are trying to “erase our status as tribals”.

The tribal group said on Wednesday: “It is no secret that the state government in Manipur, controlled by the majority Meitei community, overtly and covertly supports the Meiteis in the current ethnic conflict. The communal Biren Singh administration has now opened a new front by pushing for the removal of the Kuki-Zo community from India’s Scheduled Tribes list.”

The group said that any attempts by Singh to use the state machinery to target the Kuki-Zo community would escalate the ongoing conflict that would “be detrimental to him and the state”.

It alleged the decision to remove the Kuki-Zo community from the Scheduled Tribes list was a well-coordinated move by the state government and “Meitei chauvinists” but added that the task is not easy to undertake.

“The criteria used by India’s government to declare communities as STs were decided by the Lokur Committee in 1965,” it said. “The Manipur government is now trying to push for changing the criteria in its attempt to displace and deprive Kuki-Zo tribals of their rights and their land.”

The committee had recommended five criteria for recognition of a Scheduled Tribe – primitive traits, distinct culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large and backwardness.