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Tribals – Who Are They?

The terms ‘Tribals’ and ‘Tribal People’ have not been precisely defined in the Constitution of India. A skillfully coined phrase ‘Scheduled Tribe’ occupies a large portion of the Constitution. But the Constitution does not define Scheduled Tribes as such. Article 366(25) refers to Scheduled Tribes as those communities who are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution.

This Article says that only those communities who have been declared as such by the President of India, through an initial public notification will be considered as Scheduled Tribes. Any further amendment in the list, is through an Act of Parliament. The list of Scheduled Tribes is State specific and a community declared as Scheduled Tribe in a State need not be so in another State. Identification of tribals in the Indian social structure was not known before the arrival of the British in the country. British are credited with initiating the task of tribal development. Various approaches, models, concepts and theories of tribal development have been adopted in the country after independence. Thus a question arises—who are tribals in India?

In anthropological literatures, various terms appear synonymous with the term tribe; for example primitive, indigenous, aboriginals, native, naïve, savage, original settlers, Adivasi, uncivilized men, barbaric, depressed class, simple society, pre-literate society, backward Hindus, etc. Right from the beginning, several attempts have been made to define the term “tribe”. But a common consensus has not been achieved. Different scholars have defined the term “tribe” in their own ways. Their definitions throw light upon some common characteristics of the term “tribe” on the basis of geographical characteristics as tribes reside in forest, hills, etc.

According to Imperial Gazetteers of India, tribe is a group of family which has a common name, whose members speaks a common dialect, reside in a common area and observe taboo in marriage, though in the beginning they would not have been observing this taboo. Tribe as described in the Random House Dictionary means “any aggregate of people united by the ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adhere to the same leader”. Truly speaking, hardly any of the population groups on the Indian mainland can lay claim of being a “tribal” group. The tribals in India comprise the groups which are declared tribals as per an order of the Indian President as the Scheduled Tribes.

The lists of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes, who were formerly known as depressed classes were published by the President of India, after the proclamation of the Constitution and before the common lists of Other Backward Classes had been published. This is all the more simple and unambiguous to anyone who has the knowledge about the Indian social structure that they can easily say who are backward and who are forward, why they have remained backward all these centuries and what criteria is to be adopted to identify them.

The Indian social structure consists of people belonging to many religions, like Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, etc. While all the other religions have divided people horizontally the Hindus are vertically divided into innumerable castes and sub-castes and each one of them is given a certain social status in the society. Therefore, if one wants to understand the reasons for the backwardness of some sections of Hindu Society, one has to necessarily understand how and when the caste system was established in this country, which is the root cause for the backwardness of the vast community.

The castes were not known to the ancient Indian, that is Pre-Aryans. The castes were the outcome of Chaturvanas, according to the Upanishads. The Chaturvanas, that is Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vysyas, Sudras etc were introduced by the Vedic Aryans, who came to India some three thousand years back, to keep their superiority by converting the professional groups among natives into castes and introduced strict caste rules and caste Dharma, which not only maintained the caste system but also kept each caste at a distant.

The Hindus are further divided into castes and sub-caste. Their break-up as per 1931 census roughly is as follows:-

1. Brahmin, 2. Kshatrias, 3. Vysayas, 4. Kayastha, 5. Farmers, 6. Gardeners and Pan Growers, 7. Pastural castes, 8. Fisherman, 9. Tappers, 10. Weavers, 11. Oil Mongers, 12. Salt makers and Earth Digger 13. Viswakarma, 14. Dhobi, 15. Hajjam, 16. Kumbhar, 17. Tailors and Dyers, 18. Agricultural Laborers, 19. Cotton Carden (Dhunia, Pinjara, Sahiriya, etc) 20. Herald Group.

Even though the people were named after their traditional occupations, due to modern development most of them have been dislodged from their occupations and they are reduced to manual and agricultural laborers who may form now more than 40% of the total population which excludes scheduled caste and scheduled Tribe population. The social injustice done to the vast section of the society for nearly 3000 years cannot be wiped out overnight.

Interestingly, the social structure of the Mongoloid groups in the North Eastern region is quite contrast to the Hindu Social structure. These Mongoloid groups either preserved their aboriginal identity or they were partially or fully assimilated into Hindu society. Sizable numbers from such groups—Khasi, Mizo, and Naga— have now been converted to Christianity, although they still retain some distinctive attributes of their traditional way of life.

Assam, as it was before the creation of the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland, which were detached from its territory, provided a home to several ethnic groups and a multiplicity of culture. It extended to the entire North-East except Manipur and Tripura. The history of the Mongoloid groups in Assam is long and their positioning in the society that emerged is extremely complex. Both touch very sensitive chords and as such all generalizations about them will be open to doubts and disputations. On one point, however, there will be no disagreement that this element constitutes the bedrock of Assamese culture and society. Doubtless there have been cultural adaptations and adoptions, but the imprint of these groups is indelible.

In the history of Assam, its most important group consists of the people of Tai or Shan origin known as the Ahom. They established a powerful kingdom in the thirteenth century and continued to rule until the second quarter of the nineteenth century when the British conquered their territory. The Ahoms took others into their fold, freely inter-married with non-Ahoms, adopted the Assamese language, and were gradually hinduised.

One individual who shaped the cultural personality of Assam and brought about a transformation in Hindu society of the region was Sri Sankaradeva (1449-1569). He was a philosopher, poet, artist, preacher, and social reformer. He found the Assamese society in disarray. His modified version of Vaishnavism propagated and popularized the notion of salvation by faith and prayer rather than by scarifies and complex rituals. His main thrust was on social reform. Though he had to face much hostility, he continued to preach tolerance and advised his followers not to hurt the religious sentiments of others. It is true that he could not eradicate all the evils of Jati system, but he did unify and integrate Assamese society.

The Social structure of the Mongoloid people of Manipur is not as complex and confused as the social structure of the Mongoloid groups of Assam. There are several theories of origin of the Mongoloid people of Manipur. Given their common origin of the Tibeto-Chinese or Sino-Tibetan background, the Mongoloid people irrespective of the hills and the valley of Manipur had founded their Manipuri Nation providing equality in all respects to its members. The theory of origin of the Mongoloid people of Manipur, which is formulated by Shri RR Shimray may be quoted for ready reference; “It is believed that the Meiteis, occupying barely 700 square miles of Manipur valley, all surrounded by hills, are the descendants of either Makhelians or Tangkhul Nagas. Many from Maram, a direct descendant of settlers from Makhel, are said to have settled along the Koubru slopes facing Manipur valley. Finally they came down to the valley and settled there just the same way as the Irang Naga village, has shifted from Maohing, just above Kangpokpi, to Chingkhong which is now far in the south following the south west movement from Makhel. It is said that one of the Naga chiefs became the Raja of Manipur Valley. It is also possible that the Meitei tribes, before their conversion to Hinduism had erected the stone in memory of some big occasions. The legend goes that many of the Meitei Tribes and the Naga Tribes had the same forefathers. The languages the Meitei and the Tangkhul Nagas speak have great affinities with each other, as also with that of other Naga tribes of Manipur”.

Shri RR Shimray has also quoted TC Hadson in support of his theory, “Since their conversion to Hinduism, the Meiteis have claimed for themselves a Hindu descent. This claim, in his report of the Eastern Frontier, Captain Pamberton rejects, and says, ‘We may safely conclude them to be descendants from Tartar Colony from China’ For this conclusion I can see no reason and think there is far more ground to conclude them to be descendants of the surrounding hill tribes. The languages spoken by these tribes are in their pristine state. I conceive then that in their spoken language an indication of the descent of the Munnipoorees might be found. Tradition brings the Moirang tribe from the south, the direction of the Kookies; the Koomul, from the east, the direction of the Murrings; and the Meitei and Looang from the North-west, the direction of the Koupooes.

The languages of the Murrings, Kookies, and Koupooees are all very similar and as the Koomul, etc the offshoots of these tribes were as before said, at different period the dominant tribes in the valley, it might be expected that the present language of the people, united under the name of Meitei, would have a very apparent likeness to these languages, and such is the case. All these tribes have also traditions amongst themselves that the Munnipoorees are offshoots from them. These traditions then, and the composite nature of the language, appear to me to afford more reason for supposing the Munnipoorees to be descended from the surrounding hill tribes than from a Tartar Colony from China. Besides the stories of their ancestors, which at times the Munnipoorees relate amongst themselves, show, that up to a very period, they retained all the customs of hill people of the present day. Their superstition, too has preserved relics, which alone would have led to the suspicion of an originally close connection between them and Nagas”.

During the reign of Pamheiba, the king of Manipur in the first part of the 18th century, after his acceptance of the worshipping of Rama, the 7th Avatar (Descent) or incarnation of Vishnu as his religious faith which was quite distinct from the other faiths of Hinduism, the Brahmans serving the rulers gave them Kshatriya status, which was later accepted by most Kshatriyas elsewhere also. They began following Jati norms and observing rules of ritual purity. However the king had strengthened the homogeneity character of his subjects inhabiting in both the hills and the valley and built a strong Manipur nation in Asia. As a ruler he curiously adopted the Persian sounding name Garib Nawaz.

Bhagyachandra Maharaja (Chingthang Khomba—18th century middle part), the grandson of king Pamhieba was a Vaishnavite, the devotee of Vishnu. He was the founder of the Manipuri Goura Vaishnavism, a religious sect and he had propagated Krsna Bhakti following the teaching of Lord Caityana. However he paid equal respect to the age-old belief and traditions of the Manipuris. He protected the self-contained institutional freedom enjoyed by every community. He had initiated integration over the entire region across the Brahmaputra valley, the Surma (Barak) valley and the Imphal valley through cultural bonds and marital ties.

Tripura Rajas had embraced Hinduism and large sections of Tripuris or Tripperas followed them. But such conversion had not created any discrimination among the Hindu Tripuris and the non-Hindu Tripuris who followed the old faiths. Tripura clearly shows the co-existence of Hinduism and old faiths. Tripura illustrates how age-old traditions are enmeshed with the Hindu heritage and the two functions together in harmony.

As for Manipur the first quarter of the twentieth century was the period of disorder. After the Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891 was over, while the people were being humiliated and suffering from the unbearable pain due to the defeat and loss of their leaders in the war, the attitude and divisive acts of the British imperialist had given great shocks to them. The British had treated the war as a clash of barbarism and civilization. The imperialists had stuck to the principle of the Benthamite Liberal School which was giving the message that ‘emancipate your colonies’, as well as the Benthamite jurisprudence which was giving the doctrine that ‘punishment is an evil and can only be justified if it prevents worse evils’ in dealing with the case of Manipur. In the House of Commons, Sir John Gorst declared on May 25th that no one would be killed in retaliation, but that those who were convicted of murder would be adequately punished.

The murder of Jubraj Tikendrajit (Senapati-Commander in-Chief, British version) by hanging unto death, the deportation of Maharaj Kullachandra (Jubraj-Heir,  British version) and another prince, Jilangamba for life to Andamand Islands in accordance with the final judgment in the trial given to them and further the denial to reinstate Maharaj Surchandra to the throne of the country were the firm policies of the imperial Government to close down the lineage of Maharaj Gambhir Singh thereby curtailing the rights of the members belonging to this lineage to claim for the throne forever. Manipur was, in fact, in the transition period.

No member of the royal blood came out to claim for the throne. While Narasingh’s eldest son Borajaoba, Senapati revolted against Maharaj Surchandra, which was popularly known as “Revolt of Yaiskul Lakpa”. Chaobiyaima, father of the future king of Manipur took site of his uncle and went to Cachar with the pain of peng of separation from his wives, children and the motherland. The Senapati was defeated and deported to Hajaribak. Chaobiyaima had not returned to Manipur considering the conflict between Manipur and the British. He took his last breath in Cachar. The nobles had also remained utterly nonplussed.

On September 13th the Imperial Government’s decision regarding the future of Manipur was announced. A collateral relation of the ex-maharaja Chura Chand aged five years, was selected to fill the throne with the inferior title of Raja, during his minority the State to be administered by a British officer, tribute and other incidents of feudatory relationship being established, the title to be hereditary descending in direct line, provided that each successor should recognize the British Government.

The British had abolished the customary system of succession to the throne among the brothers which continued from pre-histories times (ages before the birth of Christ). The division of the Pakhangba dynasty into two clans as the Karta clan and the Narasingh clan had become distinct. Although Manipur was not so important to the British after the whole of Burma was put into their complete grip, they thought of the necessity of Manipur to be included only into the integration process to build up the aggregated Indian empire by consolidating England’s imperial possessions and by pushing her imperial frontiers as far back as they would go. In such circumstances the war broke out with the feeling of anti-British imperialism on the part of the Manipuris and the war came to the end in favor of the British.

However, Manipur was on the whole viewed by the British with much ignorance, considerable bias and hostility. They had taken steps for reform measures with the idea which was contributory to the imperial outlook, i.e. belief in the superiority of the white race. This feeling of superiority of the British had developed from the beginning of the nineteenth century onwards over other parts of the world. This consciousness was a blend of a variety of ideas. Christianity was the purest of faiths and those beyond the holy pale were either infidels doomed beyond redemption or the merely ignorant who lived in darkness. In fact, racial feeling was a potent element in the composition of the Imperial mind till the close of the era of empires. Evangelical movement of England was thus accompanied with the Utilitarian thought of imperialism wherever the British Imperialists had reached. The Utilitarian and the Evangelical became allies in the cause of saving the soul of the Indian. That was the same to Manipur.

It is easy to see why Christianity was always quoted in support of imperialism. Christians believed that their faith was the vanguard of human progress. Imperialists were convinced that imperialism was the instrument through which the message of progress could be transmitted to the uncivilized world. Christianity thus came to be seen as a hand maiden of imperial rule. It was enough to believe that Christianity meant progress.

Imperialists thought that Manipuris were backward and Christianity was a force for progress and thus Christianity would make them progressive. The official machinery in India had already withdrawn recognition of Indian religions and a Christian Memorial to Queen Victoria in 1885 gratefully acknowledged that the voice of Christian men prevailed. The missionary bodies in Manipur and their supporters took the advantage of this situation and clamored for a clear-cut and forceful policy of undertaking a vast and serious program of proselytisation. Besides, the British had refused to understand the people of Manipur.

This attitude and outlook of reluctance of the English had created a bitter feeling of inferiority and resentment to the ruling elites of Manipur. The Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891 was over. But the war of the Anglo-Manipuri racial feeling, racial prejudice and racial superiority continued. The ruling elites of the country claimed that they too had a civilization of their own, which was better than or at least equal to that brought by the feringee  and everything could be better than what the foreign  ruler recommended for any sort of the benefits of the Manipuris. This is the historical background of the Anglo-Manipuri counter and encounter. During the encounter the ruling elites of Manipur had created racial and social barriers to show their racial purity and national pride on the basis of the caste system of Chaturvarnas i.e. Brahmans, Kshetriyas, Vysyas, Sudras etc which were introduced by the Vedic Aryans according to The Upanishads.

Their attitude towards the British was full of ambivalence against the British. They hated the foreign ruler because he was a foreigner, because he was the ruler, because he was white and alien. The combination of so many grounds of hatred was too strong to allow any softening of feeling.

Their contempt for the English grew so strong that they had not thought of the far reaching consequences of their practice which was devised to keep themselves aloof from the supporters of the English and to isolate those who were patronized by the English. The final outcome of such practice of the Vedic Aryan principle of casteism was the confusion and intricacy in the mind among the people belonging to the same stock, i.e., the Mongoloid stock.

At the same time, as the century advanced in years, there had developed a clear cut distance of the British administrators from the missionaries. The official lack of interest in religion became a factor in running the administration of the empire. The administrators did not really care about the war of faiths and devoted their energies to administering to the needs of the only Mistress they knew- the Empire. How much more exciting and rewarding was the conquest of a province or the transformation of a district than the preaching of the Gospel! The administrators valued stability and law and order above everything else. The slightest threat to peace was a nightmare to their official conscience. Thus the administrators decided in favor of toleration and adopted neutrality more as an expediency than out of respect for religions.

However it could not prevent or curb missionary activities. The official neutrality encouraged the missionaries to greater activity by depriving them of official support. While the administrators were insisting on the policies and programs for development the missionaries were doing much good by their educational and philanthropic undertakings. They spread education through schools where government enterprise was absent or weak.

During the British rule the map of India was divided into red and yellow colors. The red color showed territories of the British Indian Provinces   which were directly governed by the British Government. The yellow color indicated territories of the Indian States, which were ruled by the Indian Princes. The two parts were usually called the ‘British India’ and the ‘Indian India’, or simply the Provinces and the States respectively.

The relations of the British Government with the Indian Princes, at the initial stage were the policy of neutrality and nonintervention in the affairs of the Indian States. On seeing the utility of the States during the days of Mutiny, the British Government, by the Proclamation of 1858, assured the Princes that their territories would not be annexed any further and that the British Government would respect the “treaties and sanads” entered into with them in the past. In fact, the actual relation of the States with the British Crown had remained a matter full of indefiniteness and was often summed up in the word, “Paramountcy”. In a Government of India Pronouncement of the year 1877, it was declared, “Paramountcy is a thing of gradual growth, established partly by conquest, partly by treaty and partly by usage”.

However Lord Curzon (1899-1905) had reintroduced rigid internal and external control over the States. This rigid policy and the infinite vagueness about the term Paramountcy had always been a cause of great irritation and resentment for the sensitive and progressive Princes. They were often puzzled at the arbitrary manner in which the British Government interfered in the affairs of the India States. In actual practice, the British Government claimed all kinds of powers over them. Some of the princes, therefore, began demanding that the rights of Paramountcy should be stated clearly. In 1916, Lord Harding started the policy of consulting the Princes and in 1921 the Chamber of Princes was introduced as a Paramount advisory body on behalf of the Princes. Consequently they welcomed the setting up of the Butler Committee in 1927, which was asked to investigate the affairs of the Indian States and to report as to the extent of power possessed by the British Crown over the Indian States. But the report was a mere repetition of the position taken up in the Government of India Pronouncement of 1877. According to the report of the Butler Committee the number of the Indian States was put at 562.

Manipur was included in the list of these Indian States. Just like other places in India, the divide and rule policies of the British had affected Manipur, too. In India, the term “Tribe” was used by the British for those groups of human beings, who were not included in Varna Vyavastha of the Aryans in Indian society. British are credited with initiating the task of tribal development. But they never concealed their motive in following the ‘tasks of mercy!’ The aim was either to keep the tribals isolated from the ‘national’ mainstream, or by the same process, to convert them to the religion of Christ so that they could identify themselves more with the Crown and its interest in the country. Several laws were enacted and regulations were passed to exclude tribal areas from the general administration.

The same thing had happened in Manipur. The division of the tribal and the non tribal had created a distance among the people of the country.

Besides, the administration which was carried on by the British political Agent in consultation with the Vice President or President of the Darbar over the tribal areas on behalf of the Maharaja and further the exclusion of tribal administration from the jurisdiction of the Darbar had widened the distance. The eminent leaders of the Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha had realized the worst effect of the encounter of the ruling Manipuri elites against the attitude and outlook of the British and the policies of the British rulers to exclude the tribal administration from the purview of the Maharaja and the jurisdiction of the Darbar. The Mahasabha had deleted the term “Hindu” from its name and title in its fourth session held at Chinga in 1938 with the evolving of the Mahasabha from the religious and social platform to a political platform. The Mahasabha’s founding leader, Hijam Irabot became the President of the newly formed political platform. The formation of the political platform had sowed the seed of Indian national politics to the soil of Manipur. The ideologies of different Indian political parties and philosophies of different Indian political leaders reflected on the political leaders of Manipur.

Maharaja Churachand had sincerely loved his people of Manipur. He had his own consummate statecraft to enlighten his people with his temper and urged of modern age which was influenced by the high peak of British imperialism. He stood firmly as an exemplar facing all sorts of contemporary challenges to build up the synthesis of the old and the new systems of polity of Manipur. In other words, Churachand Maharaja was the symbol of synthesis of tradition and modernity in upholding the civilizational antiquity of Manipur. He asked the Darbar to submit in time proposals on different matters to reform State administration including uniformity of administration in both the hills and the valley considering the sentiments and aspirations of the people. He did not care for any difference with the Political Agent. In the later part of his life, he suffered severe injuries of self-reverence due to the clash between him and the imperialist. It is an undeniable fact that Sir Churachand Maharaja K.C.S. I.C.B.E. was the patron of modern Manipur.

Before the Second World War broke out the Maharaja had passed away in 1941. But the successor, his son, Maharaja Bodhchandra had inaugurated the Constituent Assembly of Manipur on March 10, 1947 and granted his consent to the enactment of the Manipur State Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation, 1947 and the Manipur Courts Act, 1947 submitted by the Constituent Assembly. Both the laws had been enforced from August 10, 1947 and on the same day the Governor of Assam had discharged the Hill (Tribal) areas administration of the State to the king of Manipur. It was taken away from the king by the British Government in 1907. In fact, the term “tribe” is a legacy of British rule. There was no mention of tribals in the monarchical history of Manipur until the arrival of the British.

The imperial power came to the end and the loss of Indian empire was too painful to the British because they dreamt of the permanent dominion over India and they thought that this dominion, like time, was eternal. They treated Indians like Aristotle’s slaves-perpetual children always in need of strong guiding hand and concluded their reason that how they could go free if they were incapable of growing up. This was impossible and incredible, for time and circumstances were working against the dream and thought of the British. Everyone knew that one day, however distant and remote, the British would return to their homeland. Ultimately the fateful day was the ever celebrated 15th August, 1947. From this day Manipur was also set free from the yoke of British Imperialism. But the British had left certain conditions as regards the relations between Manipur and Dominion India. The conditions were reflected in the Stand Still Agreement which dealt with particularly common subject like defense, external affairs, communication, currency, trade and commerce, etc. The aim of the Agreement was that both the countries should jointly honor the conditions without imposing upon each other.

After 56 years of British rule, independent Manipur successfully conducted general Assembly elections in the 53 Assembly constituencies of the State in accordance with its own Constitution, “the Manipur State Assembly Constitution Act 1948”  which had restored the undivided administration of both the hill and the valley. But the Assembly did not last long. Manipur was merged into India on October 15, 1949. The merger was affected before the submission of the Draft Constitution of India to the Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1948. The Draft Constitution was finally enacted, with suitable amendments after thorough discussion clause by clause, on November 26, 1949

The Constituent Assembly which had framed the present Constitution was set up in 1946 under the Cabinet Mission Plan. The Constituent Assembly, when it met for the first time on December 9, 1946, was not a sovereign body. Before its transformation into a fully sovereign body on August 15, 1947, the Constituent Assembly had also set up various sub-committees to report on the various aspects of the Constitution. The two sub-committees: the Committee on Chief Commissioners’ Provinces and the Advisory Committee on Tribal Areas were very much concerned with Assam and particularly Manipur. Dr. Ambedkar, the Law Member of the Government of India was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee and he was to give a legal form to the decisions embodied in the reports. Gopinath Bordoloi, the then Chief Minister of Assam, was Chairman of the North East Frontier (Assam) Tribal and Excluded Area Committee and the Committee was popularly known as Bordoloi Committee after the name of its chairman. The report submitted by the Bordoloi Committee dealt with various aspects relating to administration of the tribal areas such as thoughts on development, special features of these areas, land, forest, jhumming, court, finance, control of immigration, service, etc Dr BR Ambedkar and Gopinath Bordoloi spoke strongly in favor of special provisions relating to the tribal administration. Dr Ambedkar said: “Tribal people in area other than Assam are more or less Hinduised, more or less assimilated with the civilization and culture of the majority of the people in whose midst they live but with regard to the tribals in Assam that is not the case. Their roots are still in their own civilization. Dr Ambedkar further said, the position of the tribals of Assam was somewhat analogous to the position of the Red Indians of the United States as against the white emigrants. The United States created boundaries or reservation in which the Red Indians live. They are no doubt, citizens of United States of America but they are actually independent people. The government of USA realized that their laws and mode of life, their habitat and manner of life were so distinct that it would be dangerous to bring them immediately at one time within the range of laws made by the white people for the whites and white civilization. This was the main reason why we insisted upon the creation of District Councils and Regional Councils on the lines adopted by the USA for the Red Indians.

It is true that Dr BR Ambedkar and Gopinath Bordoloi had formulated their views and theories in view of only the administrative set-up of the then undivided Assam and they did not take opportunities to study differences between Assam and Manipur. They might comprehend that the monarchical culture of Manipur was homogeneous in its unilateral love of heterogeneity for the last more than two thousand years. But they had remained silent and the reason of their silence may be presumed in such a way that any differences in this regard would be taken as an internal problem because Manipur became an integral part of India. On the other hand, their endeavor might be overshadowed by the integration plan of Sardar Patel who felt that integration of various units was far more important than forming cohesive units at that time.

Besides, the Indian National Congress which was represented by 211 out of 233 participating members, wisely decided to push on with the work of constitution-making. On December 13, 1946 Jawaharlal Nehru moved the “Objectives Resolution”, which was passed on January 22, 1947. Its beginning two paragraphs had clearly stated the plan of the integration of India which was accomplished within less than a year-and-a-half after independence. They run as follow:

“The Constitutional Assembly declares its firm and solemn resolve to proclaim India as an Independent, Sovereign Republic and to draw up for her future Government a Constitution:

WHEREIN in the territories that now comprise British India, the territories that now form the Indian States and such other parts of India as are outside British India and the States, as well as such other territories as are willing to be constituted into the independent, sovereign India, shall be a Union of them all”.

Nehru’s own outlook on India was fundamentally shaped by speaking to and reading Rabindranath Tagore. It was Tagore’s provocation that Nehru developed a theory of nationalism that was inclusive, not exclusive. The future Prime Minister of free India had first met Asia’s first Nobel laureate in the early 1920, when he accompanied Gandhi to Santiniketan following a Congress meeting in Calcutta. The trip is recalled in Nehru’s autobiography, the first footnote of which incidentally mentions the striking coincidence that Tagore was born on the same day in the same month of the same year as his own father, Motilal. He cited: “Rabindranath Tagore wrote in one of his famous poems about India: “No one knows at whose call so many streams of men flowed in restless tides from places unknown and were lost in one sea: here Aryan and non-Aryan, Dravidian, Chinese, the banks of Saka and the Hunas and Pathan and Mogul, have become combined in one body”. But no one denies the fact that before independence the North-Eastern region was little known and obscure.

After a long trip through India’s North-Eastern borderlands in 1953 Nehru wrote to the Chief Ministers of States that the region “deserves our special attention, not only [of] the Government, but of the people of India. Our contacts with them will do us good and will do them good too. They add to the strength, variety and cultural richness of India. As one travels there, a new and vaster richness of India comes before the eyes and the narrowness of outlook which sometimes obsesses us, begins to fade away”.

Now an unavoidable question arises: “How far Indians are prepared to overlook the difference between the inclusive nationalism of Nehru and the exclusive administration of Dr BR Ambedkar and Gopinath Bordoloi?” India respects and celebrates the linguistic, cultural and religious diversity of its peoples. But it is true that the yardstick of insisting on this diversity is the reintroduction of the tribal system in the Indian polity which has been envisaged in the Constitution of India. During British imperialism the tribal system was the result of divide-and-rule policy of the British rule. After independence Assam becomes the first victim of such British legacy. Assam has been divided into different parts. The political geography of undivided Assam is lost forever. The North-Eastern region has become the most trouble spot in the Indian Union since independence. In comparison to other States of India Manipur has the greatest tribal concentration. If Manipur is put into the foothold of Assam who would be bold enough to take its responsibility?

*The article is written by L Memo Singh

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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