Socio Political and Economic of Society in Manipur: A Historical Backdrop.
As to the common ancestry of the three autochthon groups viz, the Meiteis, Nagas and Kukis, the British ethnologist T.C. Hodson wrote: 'tradition offers links which make the Naga, Kukis and the Manipuris descent from a common ancestor, who had three sons who became the progenitor of those tribes'.(2) Various ethnic groups belonging to the Southern Mongoloid group the Tibeto- Burmans, the Indo Aryans and a sizeable section of the Tais (Shan) came to Manipur from pre-historic times down to the present day. The present ethnic groups of Manipur are descendants of those migrating people.(3) In pre colonial Manipur under a feudal dynastic system of authority relations, ethnic categories subsisted with frequent interactions which could be economic interdependence, barter of essential goods and supplies, participation in community rituals, and of course, fierce protection of collectivities, village and clan settlements from external threat. Mutual trust was founded on the system of reciprocity. (4)
The hills of Manipur are the exclusive domain of the tribes (34 scheduled tribes), as the state's land law does not allow the Meitei and the non tribals to buy land in the hills and settle. This has caused resentment among valley dwellers especially in recent decades, as the population of the valley has grown exponentially to 834,154 in urban areas and rural population is 1,736,236, the total population in 2011 was 25, 70,390. The density of population of Imphal West per sq. km by residence 2001 to 2011 is 856, Imphal East-557, Bishnupur420, Thoubal-708 (valley districts) and Senapati-48, Tamenglong-25, Churachandpur-50, Ukhrul-31, Chandel-36 (hill districts).(5) Tribals are permitted to buy land, do business and settle in the valley. The valley of Manipur appears originally to have been occupied by several tribals which came from different directions. Comparative ethnographic studies suggest that it is fairly certain that the Meiteis might have belonged to the 'Tai' race of the Indo-Chinese group of Mongoloids. (6) It is not clear how the name 'Naga' originated. Naga legend tells of their migration and settlement in Manipur. It is reliably learnt that these tribes were in occupation of the present habitat in the early centuries of the Christian era.(7) Archaeological excavations/findings indicate that the Naga Hills of Manipur and Nagaland were inhabited by Stone Age people and the land mass had also served as continental highways and passes in pre-historic times. The finds confirm Paleolithic habitations in the Naga Hills of Manipur and Nagaland from at least 30,000 BCE onwards. (8) Some Kuki tribes migrated to the Manipur hills in pre-historic times but greater migration occurred in the eighteenth century. A traditional account is that the Kukis came out of the bowel of the earth called Chinlung, Sinlung or Khul, whose location was believed to be somewhere in China.(9).
The early Meitei society was an amalgamation of several different but closely knit and allied principalities once settled in different parts of Manipur. Each principality had its own chief and fixed territories. They were however, not states but independent tribal chieftainships who constantly fought each other for supremacy.
The principalities that constitute the Meitei confederacy formed the backbone of the social organization in the form of the salais (clans). Each salai consists of a numbers of sageis (subclan). The Meiteis use two terms of significance rather frequently in their social introduction among themselves: Yek- the name of salai and Yumnak- the name of sagei. A phunga (hearth) represents a family and is the smallest unit.
The local chronicles trace the existence of salai from the beginning of the Meitei history. However, the date of origin, numbers of salais, and the chronology of events leading to diversion or amalgamation of one with another, is open to question. All the puyas (records in archive Manipuri) agree that the salais descended from Sidaba Mapu or Sidaba Salailel, the Divine Ancestor of Ancestors. The Thiren Layat Puya asserts that all the sageis descended from one family, being born of the same lai (god). The Meitei community of today has seven clans. They are Ningthouja, Angom, Chenglei or Khabanganba, Looang, Khoomon and Moirang. (10) Among the Tangkhul Nagas each family is a distinct and separate economic unit operating as such in production, consumption, ownership of land and livestock. The core family is linked closely by kinship. The family consists entirely of persons related through descent, marriage or adoption. Tangkhul society being patriarchal each generation is linked to the next in a genealogical succession through males. As Tangkhul society descent is through the male line, in the absence of male heirs, the women may act only as caretaker and to control the disposition of the family property. Custom and usage circumscribe women's freedom of action.
Most branch families are established in the village of the parents: Each member of the family has the responsibility to maintain close ties. This closeness relationship is now maintained within the lineage group called 'Meiphung'. The head of the lineage family and other male members decide questions concerning the Meiphung as a whole.
There are different kinds of kinship categories in the kinship structure. The entire social system rests upon the clan system. Shangnao-clan-is an association of people of both sexes, membership of which is determined by unilateral descent. Shangnao may be subdivided into a number of lineages called Meiphung-hearth or vathai, seed of the father which is a descent group consisting of persons unilaterally descended from a known ancestor through a series of genealogical links of relationship. (11) Youth dormitory 'Longshim', was common to all tribes, it was the crucible where young boys and girls were taught how to become responsible adults, while maintaining the customs and traditions of their tribe. After conversion to Christianity (after the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891) the Longshim has ceased to exist. Other Naga tribes have a similar social structure.
For example the Maring had a dormitory 'R' khang and also a kinship system clan, and sub-clans but they also had a social stratification Uppalam-senior lineage of the clans and Naolalam junior lineage. (12) Kukis also have 2 youth organizations-'Som' and 'Lom'-bachelor's dormitory, and an organization to assist all its members in every matter of life especially the economic life of the village. Family is a close knit unit and all clans can be traced back to a single family which has multiplied into numerous families and which in turn have managed to stay connected. Thus the clan or kinship is a continuation of the family unit on the paternal side, commonly bearing the same surname, and supposed to have a common ancestor. Like the head of the original family, each clan also has its own head called Phungiupa. Clan head man ship is hereditary. The clan assists all in need and plays role in social and cultural life. Among the Sintes, Innsung Dongta was the guarantee of kinship relations being a household council. (13) The word 'clan' is undoubtedly the best to apply to the Kuki subdivisions. It is evident from the genealogies of their chiefs that each clan has simply called itself after the name its chief, and the process maybe observed going on at the present day (14) According to T.S. Gangte: according to their culture and tradition the social system of the Kukis was so segmented that every individual was consciously aware that he or she belonged to a particular clan or sub-clan. Kuki society is well organized-made possible by the institutions of 'Becha' and 'Tucha'. Becha is a person who belongs to a particular clan, but in the event of any social function like birth, death, marriage cte. Becha assumes the responsibilities of managerial work and implements the decision of the head of the family on his behalf. It is the Tucha Sungao relation which has become an indispensable part of the social life of the Kukis (Tu means nephew and Cha- child of one's sister). The Tucha Sungao relationship is purely based on blood connection which expresses loyalty and solidarity of the relationship and mutual voluntary obligation. It is a by-product of matrimonial alliance. The position of a 'sunggao' in relation to his 'tucha' is nothing but to give. In a society where mother's brother's daughter's marriage is preferred, the sung-gao relative of an ego occupies high a position. (15).
It is apparent that the three main indigenous groups of Manipur's society all had in common a clan system although that of the Meiteis was different from that of the Nagas and Kukis. Both the Meiteis and the Nagas have a hearth which for the Meiteis denotes a family and for the Nagas seed of the father. The Meitei Pangal who made their advent into Manipur in 1606 A.D. in the reign of King Khagemba were prisoners of war, not military adventurers, traders or preachers. Perhaps because of the pluralistic nature of Manipuri society where the Meiteis of the valley co-existed in harmony with the hill tribals despite sporadic marauding raids, the Muslim prisoners of war were afforded generous patronage by the Manipur King who provided them with land for their livelihood as also Meitei wives as they had come without wives and families. The Muslims reciprocated by assimilating so completely into Meitei society that they were given the nomenclature of Mietei Pangal (Pangal is a corrupted form of Bangalas these Muslims were originally from Bengal). The liberal policy of the Manipuri King allowed the Muslims to follow their religion- a department was created under a Kazi to administer Muslim personal law to the immigrants. In a similar manner to the Meiteis, kinship was the clan to which he belongs. 'Shagei' was a kinship group-members related by blood. A Shagei contains many families-Yumnaks of the same clan, sub divided into Singlup or sub clans. According to the 'Loyumba Sinyen' a book on the division of people according to profession, there are about 50 such Muslim clans in Manipur. (16) Just as the Manipuri King allowed freedom of religion to the Meitei Pangals, the primeval religion of the tribals of Manipur was not interfered with, primarily belief in One Supreme God, and they maintained their own customs, traditions, especially those appertaining to the Passage of Rites.
The first real divide among the indigenous communities of Manipur occurred during King GaribNiwaz's reign in the 18th century (1709-1748) Manipur had already come into contact with Hinduism in the form of Vaishnavism since the middle of the 15th century. Royal patronage was given to the worship of Vishnu by successive rulers. Cheitharol Kumpapa (The Court Chronicles of Manipur) records that in October 1717 GaribNiwaz was initiated to Vaishnavism and followed it for twenty years. Vaishnavism became the state religion of Manipur. The chronicle is silent about the date of the arrival of Shanta Das but with Royal patronage Shanta Das began to propagate Vaishnavism with full vigour after 1720 Panditraj Atombabu Sharma wrote: The Guru (Shanta Das) burnt all the books of the Meiteis to destroy the Meitei religion (17). When the Meiteis became the followers of Vaishnavism, a framework of pollution-purity relationship evolved (mangba-sengba), which alienated the non Hindu tribes. The Meiteis looked down upon the tribals and some even used derogatory terms to address them. They also maintained a distance from the tribals. At the end of the 19th century, the Christian missionary Rev William Pettigrew came to Manipur and was asked by the British Political Agent to work in the hills of Manipur. He was followed by other Christian missionaries who in a short span of time converted the majority of the tribal population to Christianity. This widened the divide between the Meiteis and the tribals. This social gap resulted from the mutual alienation, it became wider and wider, with the metamorphosis of the colonial subjects into free citizens of Independent India, because political democratization stimulated primordial sentiments. (18).
Education was an essential element for successful evangelism in the under developed areas (hill areas). The missionaries exalted the Bible as the ultimate source of authority and made it a pre- condition that if an individual had to worship God right, he must be able to read. One perhaps inadvertent effect of Christianity and western education coupled with colonial rule was the emergence of a middle class in tribal society which altered the balance of power. By virtue of modern education (which the Meiteis were not enthusiastic about in the colonial period 1891-1947) they dominated positions in almost all vocations, be it administration, education, governance, media, technology etc. they also assumed the reins of political leadership, gradually rendering the position and responsibilities of traditional chiefs, non essential (19). In fact it is only recently that a Meitei had become a Chief Secretary of Manipur (Mr. Nabakishore). However his tenure was abruptly cut short and he was superseded by a non Manipuri but A Manipur cadre officer. Earlier the bulk of the civil services was made up of non Manipuris and tribals, exacerbating schisms in society.
Another divide was created with the advent of Marwari businessmen into Manipur during the period of colonial rule. They became a pre-dominant business community as they were primarily traders and supplies, agents for a variety of essential commodities to different British companies and army units stationed in Assam (20). But they monopolized the rice mills and export of rice, and when there was a scarcity of rice in Manipur, and famine conditions existed, the women of Manipur,--the Imas of the 'Women's Market', asked the Marwaris to stop their export of rice. Since they did not comply, the Second Nupi-lan or Women's War occurred in 1939, and the rice mills owned by the Marwaris were kept closed until after Independence. This created an environment of mistrust between the Meiteis and the Marwaris, which subsequently spread to other non Manipuris who set up business after Manipur's Merger with India (October 1949).
The Merger agreement was another bone of contention as the indigenous communities believed that the Manipuri Maharajah Bodhachandra was forced to sign the Merger Agreement, where as when India became independent, so did Manipur, which already held elections in 1948, and had its own Assembly with its own Chief Minister. The Maharajah remained only a nominal head. After the Merger, Manipur with a recorded history from 33A.D. was reduced to the position of a part 'C' state. This again was a cause of resentment, and Manipur was granted statehood only in 1972, much after Nagaland. This also widened the chasm between Manipur and the rest of India (excluding the North East). As the Merger was regarded as a forcible one, there arose in the 1970's-1980's a movement for secession from India by various groups of non state actors. This in turn led to the imposition of the 'Armed Forces Special Power Act' which allowed the army to shoot at sight and which lead to the loss of several innocent lives and human rights violations. India beyond the chicken neck which joins India with the North East region was now termed the 'mainland', and in course of time it was felt that the Indian culture and traditions were adversely impacting the tradition, custom and beliefs of the Manipuris, leading to the twin epidemics of drug abuse and HIV/AIDS, as also the phenomena of drug trafficking. Many young people became addicted to heroin in the 1990's, and it was believed that the centre was responsible for this phenomenon, (Manipur is in close proximity to the Golden Triangle) as many top brass especially in the military and para military force were abetting drug trafficking. Hindi movies were banned in the 1990's because they brought in an alien culture which led to a degradation of moral values. The non state actors also banned the use of alcohol and Manipur became and still is a dry state from the 1990's. The peaceful fabric of society was fraying, bit by bit.
There has also been a demand from the Nagas for 'Nagalim' or 'Greater Nagaland': The Nagas-NSCN-IM have had several rounds of talks with the Centre which has recognized the unique history, identity, sovereignty and territories of the Nagas. A Framework Agreement was signed by Prime Minister Modi's Government and the NSCN leaders about two years ago but the contents of this agreement were not divulged. This created suspicion between the Meiteis and the Nagas as also the Kukis and the Nagas, especially as the Nagas had carried out what was termed as an 'ethnic cleansing' of the Kukis in 1992 in which many Kukis lost their lives and possessions. The Nagas claimed that the Kukis committed severe atrocities in the past. According to the Kuki elders, had it not been for the Kuki chieftains intervention to subside intense internecine clashes, for e.g. among the Tangkhul Nagas, their population today would be much less. There are opposing versions of 'atrocity' in which people suffered: On record, over 900 souls perished mainly women, children and the elderly, 350 villages were uprooted and in excess of 50,000 were rendered refugees in their own land (i.e.--Kukis). The state of the Kuki mind from 1986 to 1992 can be best described as stupefied- having surrendered, with arms to the Government after the MNF (Mizo National Front) capitulated the Kukis were defenceless. (21) The Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act 1956 created opposition and discontentment because the Kukis feared that the Government would do away with the rights of the Chief over the land, so the Kuki National Assembly demanded a 'Kuki state' in 1960. A representation was sent to the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on the 24th March 1960 demanding creation of a Kuki state. The said Act 1956 was amended in 1967 with more stringent provisions which would weaken the rights of the Chiefs. The AMSU (All Manipur Student Union) pressurized the Government of Manipur with a memorandum dated 19th September 1989 to enforce the MLR and LR Act 1960 in the hill areas of Manipur. The Kuki National Front was formed in May 1988 to pursue creation of a Kuki homeland within the framework of the Indian Constitution and a memoire was sent to the Prime Minister of India, Shree Atal Bihari Vajpayee (22). Gradually Manipur society was marked by schisms and divisions.
Meanwhile the Central Government signed an Agreement with the NSCN-IM in Bangkok in 2001 and this agreement caused chaos in Manipur, as the agreement arrived at, was 'without territorial limits'. The Meitei and other valley residents reacted immediately, mayhem resulted, the Assembly was burnt down, MLA's residences were attacked and when the police were called in, 18 people were killed in the police firing. This is known in Manipuri history as the 'Great June Uprising' and is commemorated in every year in a special park where these martyrs were buried. The divide created in society was not possible to bridge as indigenous communities viewed one another with fear and suspicion.
The Centre was forced to roll back the term 'without territorial limits', but in a Framework Agreement signed with the Modi Government, certain decisions were taken. The local newspaper of March 24th 2017 revealed the contents of this Agreement signed about two years ago. Mr. Muivah says it recognizes the legitimate right of the Nagas to integrate all Naga territories. Should the centre agree to integration of Naga inhabited areas to carve out a 'Greater Nagalim' outside Nagaland, Manipur stands to lose more than 80 percent of its geographical area. (It will also become land locked) Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his campaign speech in Imphal in February 2017 had assured the people of Manipur that the Naga peace deal does not contain anything that can harm Manipur's territorial integrity. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh also made the same assurance to the voters of Manipur. Muivah is a Naga from the Ukhrul district of Manipur. BJP now have a coalition Government in Manipur in collaboration with the Nagaland based Naga People's Front. Muivah stated: the political concept of NSCN is rooted in a sovereign state and Government. (23) The Naga demand has widened the gap between themselves and other communities of Manipur.
There has also been a spurt in Ethnic Identity, pitting one indigenous community against the other. In the recently concluded election in Manipur, (2017) no non local was allowed to contest, and a Muslim elected from Jiribam is facing opposition from the Meiteis on the ground that he is an illegal migrant, not a Manipuri- yelhoumi. (24). But the Manipur Muslims demanded a Cabinet post for him. (He has been made a Parliamentary Secretary) So Muslims who were so readily accepted by the Meiteis in 1606, are now viewed with suspicion, and special police monitoring is conducted currently both at Jiribam and Moreh (last Indian town on the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur) to prevent fleeing Rohingyas finding shelter in the state. A new schism has been created in society.
In the last decade the indigenous people have raised a demand for enforcement of the 'Inner Line Permit' to regulate the inflow of outsiders and migrants, and forced the Legislative Assembly to pass three bills in this regard in 2015. However the tribals, both Kukis and Nagas have violently opposed these bills as being anti tribal. The Meitei fear that non Manipuris who permanently settle in Manipur will adversely impact the demography of Manipur to the detriment of the indigenous communities. This has widened the chasm between the Meiteis and the non Manipuri residents of the state. The action of the former Chief Minister of Manipur Okram Ibobi Singh to create 7 new districts in the hill areas just prior to the state elections, also alienated the Nagas who feel that their ancestral lands are being threatened. In the reaction to the bill passed by the Assembly in 2015, there was much violent reaction, and in the Kuki dominated district of Churachandpur, 9 innocent people were killed in the police firing. This was in September 2015. Only recently the corpses of eight of the dead have been buried, as the Joint Action Committee laid down certain conditions, before the last rites could be performed. This long delay made the Kukis resentful and angry.
The non-Manipuris also live in insecurity especially the unskilled and skilled migrant labour who perform tasks that local people do not want to perform, such as loading and unloading of trucks, construction works etc. Many non locals have also been shot and many a time police have set up shelters for them in a dharmshala. The demand for the Inner Line Permit stems from an archaic legislation called 'the Bengal Eastern Frontier Act, 1873 which prevented any non tribal to enter the demarcated Lushai territory without a valid pass from the district administration' (25). A large section of people are not conversant with the fact that the British enacted this legislation to protect their commercial interests in North East India and it was they who imported migrant labour for their tea and rubber plantations in Assam.
Another schism in society was caused by the 139 days blockade imposed by the United Naga Council from 1 November 2016 as a protest against the creation of 7 new districts. Coinciding as it did with the Prime Minister's implementation of demonetization; it adversely impacted every individual, family, community, business, service etc. and caused tremendous hardships to the people, including the Nagas themselves. It is to the credit of the newly installed BJP government in Manipur that they have been successful in raising the blockade, but the Nagas are still demanding the rolling back of the seven new districts created by the former Congress Government.
Women have always been held in respect and accorded honour in Manipur. From the beginning of Manipur's recorded history, women as individuals or groups have exercised power and authority in different historical periods. Since society and polity in Manipur was organized through the concept of blood relationship and kin, women were closely associated with the source of power in the centre.
Certain institutions of women in the traditional polity helped shape and mould the character of women in the early state: the cultural institution of women's affairs- The Pacha Loishang and the Sana Keithel (Golden Market established by King Khagemba in 1614- an exclusive women's market). During the period of colonial rule it was the women who fought two wars against the British- the Nupi lal of 1904 and the Nupilal of 1939. Women's mobilization on a large scale is a feature of identity politics.
In tribal society women are accorded both respect and honour for example the special power accorded to Tamgkhul Naga women who are honored with the title of Pukhareila (facilitator) and intervene in fueds between clans and villages to bring about an amicable solution. Women play a significant role in the traditional life, of the Kuki. This is exemplified in the practice of 'Longman' (corpse price). This is the price of a woman when she dies- claimed by her father, eldest/youngest sons in the father's absence, as a token of love and affection between uterine kinsmen. Meitei Pangal women also enjoy respect and freedom of mobility and do not hide behind the veil. With changes in polity and the political landscape especially after Manipur attained statehood (1972), women's groups are pro-active and in the forefront of all movements to achieve specific objectives. Sharmila became an icon of the state, greatly revered in society after the Malom Massacre in November 2000, when she undertook the longest fast in human history, demanding the removal of the Arm Forces Special Power Act (16 year fast). Women enjoy not only special status but also Special privileges and responsibilities in society. (26).
It is apparent that the pluralistic nature of Manipur's society has been dented many times and to a considerable extent especially with the rise of ethnic nationalism. However the present Govt. of Manipur is attempting to bridge the hill-valley divide and restore peace and harmony in tandem with development to all communities resident in the state.
Salam Irene-Women of Manipur p.2 cit. T.S. Gangte: Kuki Naga Ethnicity in Current Manipur Polity.
Salam Irene-Manipur: Land, People, Demography p.58 cit. in Madhu Rajput, Editor, Understanding North East India-Cultural Diversity, Insurgency and Identities. Cit. T.C. Hodson 'The Meiteis'.
Ibid-pg. 60 cit. Gangmumei Kabui-History of Manipur, Vol. 1, Pre-Colonial Period, pp.15-23.
Ibid-pg. 61 cit. Lokendro Arambam (2005): Ethnicity and Politics of Identity: The Manipur Experience.
Y. Thamkishore Singh-Census of India (2011): Primary Census Abstract Manipur-Series 15.
Rena Laishram-Early Meitei History, pp.6, 2009.
Salam Irene- Manipur: Land, People, Demography op.cit. p.63.
Home Raikhan-Naga History: Through a Clan and Tribe, pp.140-141,2016. T.S. Gangte op.cit
Reena Laishram- Early Meitei History, pg. 36-36 cit M. Ibohal- The Outlines of Constitutional History of Manipur in Naorem Sanajaoba (ed) Manipur: Past and Present, Vol. I, 1988, p. 293, N Ibochauba (ed) Thiren Layat, p. 32, List prepared in connection with Census, 1901 in T.C. Hodson, The Meitheis, 1989 (Reprint) p. 182.
R. Simon--Social Structure and rise of Middle Class Among the Manipur Tangkhul Naga Tribe, Unpublished Ph. D. Thesis, Manipur University, 2010, pp. 11-19
Molung Dominic Maring--History and Culture of the Maring- unpublished Ph.D. Thesis Manipur University, 2016, pg. 34-41.
Ginneiching--The History and Culture of the Simte Tribe in Manipur, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Manipur University, 2012, p. 57.
E.W.Dun-Gazeteer of Manipur, p.32.
Tingneichong Gangte-The Kuki Women- Role and Status cit. in. H. Sudhir- Tribal History of North East India, pp. 162-163.
Salam Irene--The Muslims of Manipur, pp. 36, 50-51,85. Gangmumei Kabui, op. cit. pp. 252-253
W. Nabakumar-Communalism and Ethnic Divide-Anathema to Secular Society.
Salam Irene, Ginneiching Simte, Thenkhogin Haokip-Tribals of Manipur and Modernisation p.81 pp.107-108.
Salam Irene-The Marwaris and the Economy of Manipur pg.257.
Seilen Haokip- Rhetorics of Kuki Nationalism-A Treaties pp.37-38.
T.S.Gangte-Land Problem and Ethnic Tension in North-East India with special Reference to Manipur pp.4-7.
The Sangai Express, Imphal, 24th March 2017.
Md. Chingiz khan- Is MLA Ashab Uddin A local Manipuri, published in Tehelka Volume 14, 31 July 2017 p. 36.
Sajal Nag-The Making of Inner Line p.13-published in Vision for Meghalaya- On and Beyond the Inner Line Permit.
Salam Irene--Women of Manipur--An alternative perspective, pp. 13, 15, 19, 23, 25, 35.
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|Publication:||Political Economy Journal of India|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2017|
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