Humane Journey into the Nature of Human Culture: A Personal Narrative
- Part 4 -

Dr. S. B. Chakrabarti *

This article is the lecture delivered by Dr. S. B. Chakrabarti , Former Deputy Director, Anthropological Survey of India, Government of India ; General Secretary, The Asiatic Society, Kolkata, on the 2nd Gangmumei Kamei memorial Lecture

It was reported that only 31% of the population of this urban centre are original settlers while the rest are migrants who came to the town at a later date. That is why the town having an area of 3.5 square miles and with five municipal wards rose to 17 wards during the field investigation. The population strength rose from 4,217 (1901 census) to 44, 964 (2001 census) representing major religious groups, such as Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Among the migrants there is an apparent socio-economic divide.

In the municipal town under reference here there are more than 35 ethnic groups of all social categories high caste, medium level caste and so called low caste in the Hindu hierarchy, apart from the Muslim and Christian families. In the naming of the neighbourhood one gets a clear reference of the traditional social ties and the modern secular trends. The same trend is also visible in the existence of varieties of religious and cultural institutions on the one hand and through the activities of the recent educational and literary institutions/associations on the other.

The growing town in a rural milieu thus reflects, as we have observed, a surviving feudal touch of the existing zamindar families in matters of social relations and cultural performances in the life of the urban people. The impact of SriChaitanya and his Bhakti movement is still continuing side by side with secular political activities among the town dwellers both the earlier and migrant population in their own respective areas.

This has been a rich experience to observe how the people in the midst of a transformation handle their growing diversities in society, culture and polity and ultimately try to maintain a mutually re-enforcing moral community more of a rural nature than of an alienated urban characteristic. In case of the present case study it was observed that the noisy scene of the whole day in the core of town life ultimately returns to a calm environ produced in the greenery around which presents the vestige of an encircling rural milieu.

Now, I will take up a brief review of my last leg of journey into an island town i.e. Port Blair in Andaman Island. I had a done a quick survey there during 2000-2002. This only island town fall under the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Port Blair stands at a distance of 1225 Km from Kolkata, 1190 km from Chennai and 1200Km from Vishakhapatnam. Historically, since its inception as a penal settlement during the colonial occupation, Port Blair has remained unique in its social character.

Declared as a municipal town in 1951 it was basically peopled by the migrant population. Migration as a spatial, socio-cultural, politico-economic phenomena has already figured substantially in the academic research throughout the world. From a record it is seen that 1931 census enumerated 19223 population in Andamans. About 98% out of them were Indians. Among the Indians, 4704 persons out of 18845 were born in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The others migrated there form different part of India rendering it a true reflection of cosmopolitan character.

Immediately after independence lot of fresh batches of migrant came to Port Blair from mainland in search of job or fortune in business or miscellaneous economic activities. Thus the township with in 1971 expanded to 14.14 in 1981 and 16.00 in 1995 with the inclusion of more and more neighbouring village area. It appears form a record that the number of population rose from 7789 in 1951 to 100186 in 2001.

They came from various parts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The combined three southern states constitute about 73% of the total migrant population followed by Bihar (7.72%), West Bengal (6.46%) and Uttar Pradesh (5.73%). The major ethnic groups in the town of Port Blair and around initially were the locals, who were born out of the union among the convicted parents and known to be pre-1942 people.

Most of them were the Moplahs (a mix of Arabs and Malayalees of Kerala), Bhatus (known in UP as the criminal tribes), the Ranchi people (mainly from Chotanagpur area). Among the Bengalees, Madrasees, Telengis etc. a number of various caste people form diffent regions of the respective states came gradually and got settled. Among the locals of pre-1942 and even among others who migrated later, the ethnic identity was more apparent than real.

A new breed of population dominated the social scenario in terms of their typical social aggregation adn interaction which were not governed by the traditional caste hierarchy of the places of their origin. Over the years with the increasing availability of opportunities through education, job facilities, trade and commerce on the one hand and consolidation of community based social and cultural institutions along with diverse activities in the field of art, literature, performing arts and so on the township of Port Blair accommodated elements of varieties in all fronts across all divides and thereby justifying it to be considered as mini India in all senses of the term.

Now I am on my last leg in this journey of a personal narrative, incidentally focussing on certain aspects of human culture as were observed in various field situations. It was part of my professional enquiry trying to understand the perceptions of people who created the self-cultivated meaning of life as they exist. The same set of people also confronted many adverse situations in course of this existence and tried out ways and means to get adjusted or adapted to the system.

In the long journey of human civilization people also evolved or adopted newer mechanisms which were transcended down the generations. This is how a particular social formation takes its shape. Prof. Gangmumei Kamei throughout his professional life very seriously looked for studying the problems of social formation. As an eminent historian he was well aware of the importance of this subject.

Naturally, he spent lot of his time studying it very minutely. I will cite only two instances, among others, which will justify my statement. He delivered the Presidential Address during the eighth annual session of the North East India History Association, held at Kohima, Nagaland in 1987. He talked on "State Formation: An Enquiry into the Process of the Emergence of States with Special Reference to North East India A Review".

He also delivered Professor H.K. Barpujari Endowment Lecture, 2009. His subject of talk was "From Tribalism to Feudalism: Evolution of the Meitei State in the Pre-Colonial Period". In a sense these two very important discourses addressed essentially the question of social formation. On these two occasions Prof. Gangmumei Kamei made an nearly exhaustive discussions first on the theoretical backdrop bringing home almost all the much discussed conceptual imports contributed by the pioneering researchers of this country as well as abroad.

Next he referred to the case of state formation in North East India juxtaposing them with his own work on the Meitei of Manipur. Apart from the broad politico-economic framework he also looked for the regional social and cultural factors that facilitated these unique stages of social formations.

You will kindly notice that I have so far consciously avoided getting into any theoretical exercise because my immediate purpose in the present narrative was to reflect back on my various field journey from time to time covering almost a period of more than 30 years of engagement in research in cultural anthropology.

I need not emphasise before this erudite gathering the important academic alliance between the historians and the anthropologists which is necessary while exploring the common grounds in the study of human society and culture. If by any chance, even minimally, any such context has emerged out of my narrative, so very loosely portrayed here, and Prof. Kamei's theoretical treatment, imaginatively speaking, giving a shape towards the explanations of these varied social, economic, cultural and political formations pointed out in the preceding pages, Gangmumei would have blessed us from his resting place, for taking up his academic cause with the possibilities of application of this knowledge for a successful and meaningful social transformation.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen for kindly lending my your patience.

Wish you a very happy New Year 2019.

(Concluded ......)

* Dr. S. B. Chakrabarti wrote this article which was published at Imphal Times
The writer is Former Deputy Director, Anthropological Survey of India, Government of India and General Secretary, The Asiatic Society, Kolkata
This article was webcasted on April 03, 2019.

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