My encounter with the Tribal Research Institute (TRI), Manipur

Zomminlun Gangte *

As I stood on the complex of the Tribal Research Institute, Manipur, which was sprawled across an area of 4705 square meters and housed a two-storied building of 2500 square meters including, a museum, a library, and an auditorium. I asked to myself, how come I have never heard of this place which played such an important role in cementing the identity of the tribal of Manipur before?

The answer as I soon came to realise was that, like all the other institutes of Manipur which bore some significance for its inhabitants, this too was undermined and ignored by the Government.

Although, I was appreciative of the developments in and around the building, it saddened me to see showcases after showcases lined up on the wall with nothing on them to display.

The place was hauntingly empty, barring the library, which was of course filled with books from various authors documenting the cultural, custom, ritual, religious, etc facets of the tribal life. Despite these misgivings, I was surprised to find a vast collection of handlooms, artifacts, jewelleries, crockeries, musical instruments, etc used by the various tribes residing in Manipur.

However, I was sad to hear that it was not yet opened for the public as they were currently undergoing renovation. The staff at the Tribal Research Institute, Manipur, were very helpful and even provided us with a brief history of the institutions, functions, and problems faced by it.

The main functions of the TRI include development of languages, literature (publication of books, grammars etc), recording and preservation of folk literature, documentation of ethnographic profile of the different tribal communities of the State’s Scheduled Tribes.

  • To conduct research and evaluate studies on problems relating to Scheduled Tribes.
  • Organization of seminars and workshops and training programmes for the cause of tribal development.
  • Documentation of tribal customary laws.
  • Assisting the State Government in formation of the perspective plans for TSP, PTGs, etc.
  • Advising the State Government in the evaluation of the State Government Schemes for development and welfare of Scheduled Tribes.
Besides these activities, there are programs like Information/Data Bank on tribal and documentation of tribal lives. Publication of books in tribal dialects as an encouragement measure to develop their language and grant publications to approved tribal textbooks for school education are also in the list.

Publication of approved textbooks in tribal languages, Development of tribal languages is one of the capacity building measures. The TRI of Manipur has been in close contact with the various Tribal Literature Societies and help the Societies for production of text prescribed textbook, preparing guidelines of writing the language etc.

The system of writing in most of the tribal languages has not yet been systemised except that of the Paite. More efforts are being made to systematise the writing system of the languages of the tribe in order top inseminate knowledge and quick to improve reading habits of the literature persons.

This will form the non­monetary part of Tribal Development. The TRI of Manipur with long experience in the development of tribal languages can play a leading role in any Scheduled Tribe Development, not only in Manipur but also its neighbouring Sates.

Publication of books in tribal languages: This is exercised under the program “Encouragement of books in Tribal Language/Dialects”. It is a continuing programme. Tribal writers are given financial assistance to publish books in their own languages to encourage them to produce books related to custom, culture, history, social life, health, education and other issues. Different language groups had been assisted under this programme.

Information/data bank: This programme envisages to collect information on different tribal communities of the State such as population, religion, tribe to which they belong, education, occupation, live-stocks, facilities/amenities available to the villagers, annual income, etc.

Documentation of tribal life: Documentation of life cycle of different tribal communities is one of the main functions of Tribal Research Institute. The documentation will cover every aspect of life right from the institution of family to death.

Although all the above functions and aims look good on paper, ground reality is that, little or nothing will be achieved until and unless the public take notice and give the institution the recognition that it deserves. The Institute organises many workshops, seminars, etc every year and for a change, people should go and participate or volunteer in whatever they are interested in and show their support for their State.

It would indeed be a very sad thing if the organisers still have to run around asking people to participate and volunteer, when there are many other North-Eastern States that do not have a Tribal Research Institute of their own and have to rely on their neighbouring State’s Institute to showcase their culture and tradition. There are only three Tribal Research Institute in the North-Eastern region and we are among the blessed ones who have it in their State (the other two are in Assam and Tripura).

We complain about how bad the roads are, how unscrupulous our Ministers are, how inefficient our hospitals are, but, have you ever thought as to what would have happened differently if we had the best roads, the most honest Ministers, the most efficient hospital.

Do you think that we would be much more safer in our vehicles? Would the per capita income of the State increases by leaps and bounds? Would we have lower infant and adult mortality rates?

I don’t think so! Because, we as a society do not care until and unless the trouble is directly related to us. We must ask ourselves, how come a State with one of the highest literacy rates in the country be so ill-educated in matters relating to the society. No wonder people are more in number during municipality elections rather than the general elections which goes on to show how narrow minded we are.

We are happy to receive Rs. 200 for a vote in their favour whereas we fail to realise that the same people who gave us that Rs. 200 is cheating us of lakhs to which we are entitled. Therefore, we must realize that it is never too late and use our resources to the best of our ability for creating opportunities for the future generation if not for the present.

So, will we be the ones to make the image of our State to global audience and showcase our rich and varied cultural diversity or, will it just be another building alongside the National Highway like the Tribal Research Institute.

The choice is yours! And this time, there will not be anyone to hand you a Rs. 200 note for the choice that you are about to make.

* Zomminlun Gangte wrote this for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on June 10, 2010.

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