Sunday, October 11, 2009

Manipur - Struggle For Ethnic Identity

In pre-independence India, Assam was the only state in north-eastern India and it was under the rule of the Ahom dynasty. There were many internal struggles in the region as the entire north-east had people belonging to various ethnic groups.
Ethnicity refers to a collection of characteristics such as common lineage, shared history, a common culture and language shared by a group of people.
The Ahom ruler sought the help of the British in curbing the internal strife. The British observed that there were several differences between the hill-people and the plan-people. They decided to keep them separate from one another and in 1873, they introduced the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation which stated that if people from the hills needed to visit the plains. they required an Inner Line Permit
Christianity spread to the hill-people of the north-easy while most of the plain people were Hindus.

After independence, Assam was the only state that existed in the North-east. The other six were autonomous hill-regions that were economically funded by the centre. However, the funding came via Assam and Assam was accused of using large parts of the fund for its own benefit. Assamese was the official language of the entire region and the other ethnic groups did not approve of this cultural hegemony.
In 1964, Nagaland was the first new state to be created in the North-East; followed by the creation of Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura in 1972; Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram were created only in 1987.
There are several grievances common to all states of the North-East today.
They all have grievances with the central government as they feel that the centre extracts all the rich resources (such as oil and tea) from the North-East but the revenue generated is not used for the development of the North-East.
The north-east does not fit anywhere in the railway map of India indicating that it is cut-off from the rest of India; and very difficult to access.
Within each state in the north-easy, there are different tribes who are consistently at logger-heads with one another.
When we look at Manipur, we find that it is essentially comprising three sets of tribes - the Meitis, the Kukis and the Nagas.
The Meitis make up 60-65% of the population in Manipur. They are generally Vaishnavite Hindus and are concentrated in the plain-region. The Kukis and the Nagas accuse the Meitis for exercising a cultural dominance because what is depicted as Manipuri culture and the Manipuri language is essentially the language of the Meitis. This crushes the ethnic identity of the other two tribes.
The Nagas and the Kukis are mainly concentrated in the hill-region and Christianity is the pre-dominant religion. In the hills, the Kukis feel that the Nagar exercise more power and dominance.
Thus we see that the sub-national struggles in Manipur are essentially struggles for the assertion of an ethnic identity as each tribal group strives to maintain its independent identity.


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