Why Meiteis want Schedule Tribe Status under the Indian Constitution ?

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(Part-2)

By Dr.Khomdon Singh Lisam

Manipur- British period

In the agreement between Rajah Gumbheer Singh and the Governor General of India on 18th April, 1833, it was mentioned that in the event of war with the Burmese, the Rajah at the requisition of the British Government will provide hill porters to assist in transporting the ammunition and baggage of such troops.

Arrival of Christianity

Christianity came to Manipur after the defeat of Manipuris in the Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891. It was the long –cherished dream of the political agents in Manipur to convert the tribal population of Manipur to Christianity. The tribals in the hill areas had faith in their animistic rituals. They had a curiosity about a religion of a civilized world. They thought Hinduism was a religion of Brahmins and Pandits only or of those born in high classes. There was a vacuum in religious advancement. The British could recognize this and therefore their policy was to fill this vacuum by introducing Christianity with the idea of transforming the tribal way of life to the Christian way of life.   Sir, James Johnston disclosed this idea “I pointed out that the Nagas had no religion :that they were highly intelligent and capable of receiving civilization that with it they would want a religion and that we might just as well give them our own and make them in that way a source of strength , by thus attaching them to us”. The
British religious policy was -very clear. Their objective was gradual conversion of the hill Nagas and Kukis into Christianity. Christianity was allowed to penetrate the hill areas but indirectly from Imphal.

Christianity came to Manipur with the arrival of William Pettigrew at Imphal on 6 February, 1894. William Pettigrew wrote some books for his school in the Meitei language. He wrote a Manipuri-English dictionary. He also translated Bible in Meiteilon for the convenience of the British officers and others. Some Meitei lovingly described Pettigrew “as a Meitei born in Scotland”. During his stay at Imphal, he could convert one Poran Singh, a local Meitei into Christianity and Pettigrew adopted him as his son.  Thus a Meitei was the first Christian in Manipur. He shifted his headquarter from Imphal to Ukhrul to fulfill his evangelical objectives at the suggestion of Major Maxual. He opened the first school in the hill at Ukhrul on 10 February, 1897 with 24 boys. He learnt Tangkhul dialect and wrote two books for children in primary classes. The progress of conversion up to 1921 was slow. The converts were mostly young men reading in the school. Afterwards larger groups started becoming Christians. Nearly half of the converts in the state were Tangkhuls alone. The rate of conversion picked up by 1921. So long the converts included individuals but groups and even whole villages came to the fold. The number of schools multiplied so did the converts. The students who came to Ukhrul accepted Christianity during their studies. When they went back to their villages they proclaimed the Gospel among their people. Churches were established in many villages. There were many occasions when the whole family, clan and the village accepted the new faith. The Tangkhul New Testament was published in 1926. The Tangkhuls actively took part in spreading the new faith. They persuaded the neighbouring tribes to become Christians.

On 5 February, 1910, Willam Roberts came to Senvon, the biggest Hmar village in Tipaimukh on the invitation of the village chief, Kamkholun. Roberts, a young missionary from Wales, was responsible for the early conversion of Hmars in the Churachandpur district of Southern Manipur.  Roberts soon recruited native workers among the new converts for the new Thado-Kuki Pioneer mission at Senvon.  Two Vaiphei young men studying in Aizawl accepted Christianity on March 17, 1910 and become the first converts among the Kuki-Chin tribes in Manipur. The first Kuki Baptist Church was established at Tuyangvaichong village in 1916. Missionary work in Manipur Zeliangrong area started in 1919. K. Namrijinpou was the first convert among the Zeliangrong. There is a slow progress of conversion to Christianity among the Marams. Majority of the Marams till today are practicing their indigenous religion.  

Conversion to Christianity brought about a great change in social life among the tribal people. They learnt better ways of life and discarded the old customs. The “Longshim” (dormitory or sleeping house for boys) and “Ngalalong “(dormitory for girls) were no more necessary. According to their old custom, they used to bury the dead in front of the house. But now every Christian village has a cemetery outside the village. They are no more required to observe festivals and taboos. Now they observe Christian festivals-Christmas, Easter etc. They had different kinds of hair styles but now they cut their hair in western style. Earlier they had to marry within their clan that too a particular relative for example daughter of maternal uncle and the like, whether they loved each other or not. But now this is no longer in vogue. The church prohibits giving and receiving of bride price. The unmarried younger brother is not bound to marry the widow of his elder brother. The idea of superiority of one clan over the other does not prevail any more. Now all men are equal before the Lord.  The Christian impact is so great that all young people of today do not know the traditional customs, such as marriage, sacrifice, youth organisation and many others. The rice beer does not play the important part rather the church officially prohibits the use of rice beer among the Christians.

On 29 April, 1892, Major Maxwell, political agent declared that the Lallup system was abolished. The Lallup system was introduced by king Loiyumba in 1110A.D.  Instead of lallup, a uniform house tax of Rs. 2 per year was levied. Land revenue of Rs. 5 per Pari was levied. In the hills, a house tax of Rs. 3 per year was levied. The British exacted forced labour (Pothang) through the tribal chiefs in the name of the king.

The administration of Manipur was handed over to Raja Churachand on 15 May, 1907 at the age of 22 years.  He was assisted in his administration by a State Durbar comprising of eight Durbar members. He was the president of the Durbar. The Vice President was a British ICS officer from Eastern Bengal and Assam cadre. Besides them, there were six Manipuri members.

The terminology of “Nagas” and “Kukis” were introduced by the British to constitute other-wise unrelated tribes for administrative convenience. Over a period of time, these terms have enabled the different tribes to generate collective consciousness of oneness. The day to day administration of the entire hill areas was entrusted to a member of the Durbar, the vice president. The objective is the effective control of hill tribes. This was done to facilitate the day to day administration of hill areas and not to undermine the power of the king. According to clause 14 of the Rules for management of the state of Manipur, “the hill tribes are administered by the President assisted by one or more of officers on the Highness’s behalf in accordance with the rules approved by the Government of Assam”. The British recognized the tradition of tribal chiefdom, which was practiced from the time of Meidingu and Rajahs. The chiefs assumed two important judicial roles – first as an interpreter of customary laws and secondly as judges within their respective chiefdom. The administration was carried on to the tune of the Hill Peoples` aspirations and their age old traditional practices to woo the hill people to accept Christianity and make mass conversion of the hill people into Christianity.

When the village chief accepted the Christianity, the people in the whole village accepted the new faith. The Kuki Chiefs exercised enormous power and if they accepted the new faith the whole village would accept the same. This paved the way for large scale conversion. In a village, when some persons become converted, they organised a church in the village and send a teacher to spread the Gospel to the adjoining village. The people of neighbouring villages also became Christians.

On 16 October, 1919, Sir Nicholas Beatron Bell, the   then Chief Commissioner of Assam held an open meeting of Durbar at the royal palace of Imphal and proclaimed the new rules for the administration in the hill areas of Manipur. In order to have a better administration in the hills, the area was again divided into four sub-divisions:- Sadar, Churachandpur, Tamenglong and Ukhrul. In 1947, the Maharaja of Manipur enacted the Manipur State Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation, 1947 and codified the powers and responsibilities of village authorities in the hills and empowered the Chiefs the right to nominate the members of the village authority.

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