The Tripura factor

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Look at Tripura where the indigenes were reduced to a minority in their own land. That was the catchphrase of the 80s when the anti-foreigners movement was sweeping the northeastern region. The vibrations emanated by this catchphrase were so powerful that the message went home. It is back again to haunt our minds in the wake of the anti-migrants stir. We were so overwhelmed that we did not to bother to check the background or Tripura’s case then.

Tripura was not the only state in the region overwhelmed by cross border migration from the then East Pakistan and present Bangladesh.

Every state of the region was affected by it. Yet why was Tripura so seriously affected? Why was the impact no so serious in other states? Was there something unique in Tripura’s case? We simply did not bother to ask. Well, Tripura’s case was unique.

A case-study has revealed that before 1947 and even in the pre-colonial period, the rulers of Manikya dynasty in Tripura first invited high caste Bengalis to Tripura towards the end of 13th century. Bengali cultivators were encouraged, particularly at the advent of the 20th century, for the purpose of collecting greater revenue through wet cultivation of paddy as the local tribal population practiced shifting cultivation. In fact, there were initially reluctant to take to wet cultivation.

The Kings of Tripura had even encouraged the Bengali middle class to take up administrative posts in Tripura to manage a land revenue system along the lines of the system of Permanent Settlement introduced by the British Governor General, Lord Cornwallis, in the province of Bengal. Thus, for the native Manikya rulers, Bengali immigration was a means for their economic prosperity and administrative convienence and also an inspiration for the arts and culture. During the British occupation of Indian territories, Tripura remained a princely State. But it was after Independence in 1947, during the period between 1951 and 1971 that the demography of this State underwent fundamental changes, first due to Partition, and later due to the India-Pakistan War resulting in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Thus, three distinct phases of immigration into Tripura can be identified:

  • immigration occurring till the pre-Independence era,
  • immigration caused by the partition
  • immigration during and following the 1971 India-Pakistan War.

While the first was encouraged, a curious mixture of state and push-factors caused the last two. Such large levels of immigration, moreover, also led to increased pressure on land. Whereas the tribals were used to practicing Jhum, wet-rice cultivation by the Bengali immigrants restricted the tribals’ freedom to choose and abandon land at will for purposes of production. Although a system of reserving lands for the tribals was adopted by the Kings, it failed to deliver any far-reaching economic benefits to them. After the first influx of refugees came the Hindu Bangladeshi immigrants.

The State enacted the Tripura Land and Land Revenue Act 1960 that stipulated that only registered land would be recognised. Most tribals being illiterate did not register the community land they were living on for a thousand years according to their customary law. So they were declared encroachers on the land that was their habitat for hundreds of years.

The land that was alienated from them was used to resettle the Hindu East Pakistani immigrants whose influx continues till today. Because of the influx, its tribal proportion has come down from 58 percent in 1951 to 31 percent in 2001.

The tribes have lost more than 60 percent of their land to the immigrants. Manipur’s case is different. We have land tenure system in the valley and some areas of the hills through the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, while non-tribals are prohibited from buying land in the hill areas of the state not covered by the MLR & LR Act.

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