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Ethnic Sensitiveness & Aggravated Tribal Economy Of Manipur

The ethnic insurgencies in the Manipur Hills are now taking a very different turn, and the smaller tribes find it so difficult to cope with the unbearable situations in the hotting up hills. Through selective atrocities, the weaker tribes are cowed into submission. Constant harassment of the smaller tribes by the contrast continues in the selected hill villages. The helpless and defenseless are struggling for survival in the midst of terrors. This is due to the chronic inability of the State Government of Manipur to keep the situation under control.

Kohima is regarded as the Bible Hills, so also Aizawl, almost all hill villages of Manipur are thoroughly evangelized though some hill men are still animists. The tribal people like the Tangkhuls, the Paites, the Rongmeis, the Thadous, etc. are undeniably highly advanced in certain areas when the ethnic tribal minorities are shivering with fear from tribalism and barbarism. One wonders as to whether the old tribal animism begins seeping back again. To quote one Bertil Lintner, a Swedish writer in his book called Land of Jade, it reads thus: ‘Although Christian in name and form, the essence of the entire meeting was one of rank superstition and primitivism’. In fact, some tribal Christians still recall old oracles.

Nothing can be called a civilization as long as the minorities are tortured and oppressed all the time without reason. One of the two versions may be chosen: the community that is small but hardworking and sympathetic, and the other community that is bigger in population having civil, military and ministerial might but oppressive and too demanding. Who is more civilized? The smaller tribes are the worst hit in the ethnic campaign. The Koirengs, the Kharams and the Mentes (now extinct) were always the victims of the Moirang Kings as retold by O. Bogeshwar in his book of Moirang Ningthourol Lambuba-Pt.II.

These brave people withstood all the onslaughts with their triumph and defeats destined only to occupy a unique place in the annals of Manipur. Unfortunately, no civil society worth the name has ever exerted pressure on the militants and the State Government to end this hooliganism. It may be observed that some tribal people are now advanced, and they are in the administration of the state. Sons and daughters of tribal richmen, high-paid officers and Ministers are driving motor cars of the latest brand and a good number of them own fine houses in and around Imphal city. On the other hand, tens of thousands of tribal people are living in deplorable conditions with their economy in aggravation which can be ascertained from the tribal villages located at the foot-hills.

As in the past, the hill people are completely tied down to agricultural work when no sufficient arable land is available for cultivation except at some places. Jhoom cultivation has not been carried on in large scale for quite a long time as it is not the answer for sustenance. The educated tribal youth have said good bye to agriculture, seemingly never to revert to fields. It is understood that jhooming has been described as dangerous for the hill soil. It is also realized that frequent cutting of trees and bushes leaves the soil with little fertility. Surely, these are the ills of jhoom cultivation.

Following experiences, the agricultural scientists or experts have known that the nature of the soil is such that a piece of hilly land has to be left out for a number of years to recuperate after harvesting. The cycle of recuperation varies from 5 to 6 years. For this reason, the hill cultivators are always in search of suitable land for cultivation. It is a pity that the State Government has not been able to assure the hill people of an alternative method of cultivation.

Right now, there is neither enough food for the belly nor enough rice to sell. It is a tough life for the hill people of Manipur in comparison with that of the plain people. This situation leads one to a demoralizing attitude towards life. One may take pride in the fact that most of them are now educated, and some are even highly educated.

Out of over seven lakh tribal population of Manipur, many of the hill men had held top posts in the State in the most unlikely manner when it is compared to the scenario during the time of the Maharajas.

During the last 20 years, one Government college has sprung up in each hill district and dozens of graduates have been produced every year. But its implication also has to be realized. There is no job avenue after downsizing and rightsizing of posts in various departments of the State. The insolvent state will not be able to provide jobs to even highly educated people as its resource is limited. The internal revenue generated by the State Government was as little as 10% in 2003-04. There was always deficit in the state budget. The state exchequer was backed up by grants and loans from the Central Government of India. Except for Assam State, all the north east States do not have enough resources to run their Government.

And again, there is total absence of even small scale industries in the hill areas and there is no question of any big industrial projects owing to lack of power facility. It is still a dream that Tipaimukh dam will supply 161 Megawatt of power to the state of Manipur free of cost.

The news that Railway line will be extended to Tupul initially and then to Imphal finally is interesting. This publicity makes the people happy. But when? In the 60s, primary education led to high school education and high school education paved the way for college benches. A tribal who passed his matriculation examination wished to become at least a school teacher and he could do so. Some chose services in Government offices. A meritorious tribal graduate or a master degree holder became even an IAS officer or a college lecturer. It will not be so now as job opportunity is no more abundant. Besides, one tribal called Miri of UP State has become so competitive and brilliant, only to eclipse the north east candidates in the UPSC Examinations.

The tribal people can produce something of some kind for survival but the production is very low, lethargic and not on a viable economic level. Also, there is no tradition of producing the articles outside tribal villages. Communications have always been a great bottleneck in the hills. As we all know that motorable roads exist there only in name. During rainy seasons, the roads become impassable, blocking all kind of vehicular movement and everything that are the day to day affairs of the hill people. Due to such poor communication, consumer goods cost almost double in the remote areas. The difficulty can vanish only with improved communication system in par with the plain areas so that their economy can be boosted.

Even worse is that the state bureaucrats, engineers, doctors and urban elites seem surprisingly unmoved by the plights of the tribal people. It is a nightmare in believing that the hill areas of Manipur will be developed even in the near future. This mistrust has become a hurdle for unity or integrity. The human psyche of the major community will be wrong if Manipur valley alone is projected as Manipur. Everything should not concentrate there. The model of other states can also be followed. For example, the Summer Capital of West Bengal is Darjeeling and the head office of MBSE is located at Tura, though some imbroglio is on.

Life in Manipur hill villages is much more sophisticated now than it used to be 20 or 30 years back. A modern tribal home also requires all the consumer goods which an average valley family needs. But one thing for sure is that the hill economy is worsening. Without naming a particular hill village, old grandpa had no other engagement in life except sitting at home. He longed for Autumnal and Spring festivals only. He was content with a bowl of rice-beer or a sizeable mug of home-brewed liquor in between. He required no fine clothes. His granary was plentiful with paddy of the best variety, and he had no intention of selling some amount of it either as he had little use for money. His economy was really sound enough.

Today, his grandsons and grand-daughters are eager to acquire advanced education from good institutions located outside Manipur. Of course, they are from U-Haul district and had done it as early as 1950 or even earlier. In the present case, even the three D.M. College are not worthy for them. Let them know that Zoramthanga, the present Chief Minister of Mizoram, many I.A.S. officers of direct recruitment and political heavy-weights of Manipur studied in the undivided D.M. College, the talk of the entire north east in those days. The college had produced a number of eminent scholars too. The aspiration of the tribal students for knowledge imparted to reputable colleges and schools in Delhi and elsewhere renders a number of tribal parents helpless.

The area of Manipur Hills is too big for a small effort, and gigantic push is required. Huge funds are to be allocated to meet the needs of the hill people for road construction and land reclamation. The weaker section of the society or the neglected ethnic tribal minorities in the context of Manipur who have not been fully covered by various projects and developmental schemes of the State Government of Manipur should also be brought within the realm of advancement. There is the Tribal Sub-Plan for elevation of the socio-economic conditions of the tribal people of Manipur. At the first sight, the plan appears to be attractive. Alas! In the preceding years, crores of rupees were pumped into aid projects and developmental schemes of dubious nature which served primarily to fill the pockets of corrupt officials and hungry middlemen.

On several occasions, bundles of G.C.I. Sheets were exchanged with cheaper ones at hardware stores. A separate fund should be allotted for the economically and socially backward ethnic minorities in the Sub-Plan so that it will be more meaningful and credible. The time has come for both the bigger tribes and the smaller ones to share what are available in the plan.

The write-up is an attempt to show to the intelligentsia, the policy framers of the state and the civil societies to be aware of the grievances faced by the smaller tribes who have been deprived of all their shares and legitimate dues in a number of different ways for so long.

*The article is written by R Yangsorang Koireng

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