Constituent Assembly Of India & North East Frontier Agency
- Part 3 -

Dr. Karam Manimohan Singh *

According to this plan, the Naga Hills, Mikir Hills, Sadiya areas, Balipara Tract, Manipur, Lushai Hills, Khasi and Jaintia Hills in Assam, and the Chin Hills and Burma Hills were to constitute a Buffer State between Burma and India. But in spite of the strong propaganda by the Political Department that plan had been almost frustrated by the anti-British and anti-Imperialist attitude of some of the prominent Hill tribes and specially the strong protests lodged by the Manipuris who knew the mischievous intention of enticing the subjects away from the Union of India and of creating division among the Hills tribes.

But up to February, 1947, the political Department was still trying to create another disruption and division among the Manipuris by encouraging the Hills to secede from the plains and join those Hill Districts around Manipur State so that they might still carve out a Hills Zone to prolong their sphere of influence. It would be clear from the following facts by exposing their attempts at the furtherance of this aim:

1. A separate Hills Cadre was formed for the administration of the Hills apart from the valley administration, which was directly under the Manipur State Darbar.

2. Pro-British Hill men were appointed as Hills Welfare Officers who were paid from the State coffers, for propaganda of the Political Department.

3. No British-Indian were allowed entry into Manipur State and the adjoining Hill Districts without permission. Political workers were generally prohibited to enter these areas and when they were allowed, of course after the Congress coming into power in the Province, they were looked with suspicion and not even allowed to mix with the villages. The most irritating and obnoxious part of it was that Manipuri political workers of the valley were not allowed to go to the Hills within the State territory itself.

4. Missionaries were also used by the Political Department to carry on their propaganda of mischief-making. The British missionaries were whole-heartedly co-operating with the Political Department to sow the seeds of discontent and separation. While preaching the message of exclusivism among the Hills in the name of religion as the self-made trustee of these Hill man, they did not encourage the Hill people to keep any political contact.

5. The British officers in the Hills sub-Divisional Head-quarters acted as agents of the Political Department. Moreover, the Political Agent and the President of the Darbar toured the Hills for days together and invited some Hill Chiefs, gave them money and offered them feasts and tokens of loyalty.14

With the vast resources of men along with the help of the above agencies the British were in a position to create a psychological make-up among these Hill people which led to so much enmity and distrust towards the plains people. The separatist tendency was so strong among these people as in the case of the whole of India. The agents of the Political Department had incited the innocent Hill men by engineering communal and religious hatred among them.

Serious clashes were apprehended at one time on account of British mano Cuvred attack of the Hill men over the plains, of which some were much afraid because arms and ammunitions were in the hands of the these people. The timely and prompt handling of the situation by the Bordoloi Cabinet and the Assam Provincial Congress Committee and the immediate attention of the Interim Government, particularly of Pandit Nehru, had averted any untoward incident.

Although the problem was of a very subtle and complex nature, the findings of enquiry on the separatist tendency among the Hills of Manipur might be described as follows.

1. The Hill men were naturally poor and backward owing to the scarcity of water for cultivation and bad communications in the Hills. A Hill man not necessarily quarrels with a plains man. Used to endless suffering rain, cold and heat, he thought of his family's stomach problem and when he was in want of food, he generally superstitiously resigned to his fate.

2. The British Government took up the administration of these Hill areas directly in their hands from 1919. But they could do nothing to improve their lot. Though the sources of income from these areas were very small, the Manipur State Darbar had to pay for their education, social and economic uplift. On the other hand, the Political Department was importing British officers to carry out their imperialistic motives by propping up some Chiefs or educated Hill-men to suit their purpose. Innocent Hill-men were made to believe the baseless insinuation that their backwardness were due to the plains-men and their administration.

3. The Hill-men were not allowed to freely mix with the outsiders. As in the excluded and partially excluded areas in other parts of Assam, they were not given any scope for cultural and social contacts. An idea of exclusivism and separatism was always encouraged. The British officers looked with suspicion at any attempt for mutual contact and understanding.

4. Some educated Hill-men from the northern and western Hills of Manipur raised the question of cessation from Manipur State partly as a sort of political bargaining and partly due to British diplomacy. They did not, of course, represent the general Hill opinion. Other Hill tribes in the east and the south raised objections to their proposal. These so-called educated Hill-men's view about separatism did not even reflect the opinion of the whole population of their own tribes. The Chirus and the Marings vehemently opposed this move and added that their close social, economic and administrative contacts would nullify any such suggestion and any separatist policy would be just suicidal.

5. They made claims for political safeguards in the course of the Constitution making process in Manipur. They demanded a separate electorate and a coalition ministry with individual responsibility were also being contemplated for the administration of the State in the new Constitution. But these political and constitutional safeguards would not solve the problem as the common Hill-men's problem of stomach could not be solved in that manner and spirit.

From the above considerations it was clearly evident that the Hills-problem was an economic one. They were ill fed, ill clad and uncultured. Their life was short, shabby and brutish. Their social and cultural backwardness was an adjunct of their economic backwardness. The economic and social uplift of these tribes was an all India problem. Their backward condition was an instrument in the hands of the British Political Department who exploited the situation for their own ends. The division of the Hill-men and the plains-men was a creation of that Department. The Hill-men had suffered a great deal due to the INA attack during the Second World War. Their house had been burnt down and their farms uncultivated. They were living on roots and fruits due to scarcity of food stuff.

The responsible British officers instead of relieving them in their intensified economic struggle during the period of rehabilitation and reconstruction were just fanning the flame of separatism by putting the blame to the plains-men. But the economic interdependence between the Hill-men and the plains-men could never be permanently weakened in spite of their propaganda and insinuations. It would be a folly on their part to join other Hill Districts of Assam as the communications were very difficult and their social, economic, culture and ethnic connections with the plains Manipuris were closer and the communications easier.

Dr. R.M. Lohia in his draft proposal during the Congress Socialist Party Conference at Calcutta in February, 1947, concluded with the following remarks.

These Tribal are militant people like the Manipuris on the plains, and if they are taught how to fight their day to day economic struggles, we will gradually he able to install self-confidence among them and the inferiority complex with them can be finally removed. The exploited classes in the Hill have a common cause with the exploited classes in the plains. Only through class organizations can we get rid of the economic and social exploitation of the Hill-people.


* Dr. Karam Manimohan Singh wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was posted on 05 November, 2018 .

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