TODAY -

Land Commission Essential for Improving Ethnic Relations and Development in Manipur
- Part 1 -

L B Singh *



Introduction.

In most of the states in India, the people from the majority community live in the vast area, whereas the Schedule Tribes (STs) live in a limited area. However, in Manipur it is the opposite. The areas of the hill districts inhabited by the STs are about nine times the area of the valley inhabited by the majority and the other communities.

In addition, the Nagas and the Kukis being ST can buy and own land in the valley area also, whereas Meiteis and Pangals are restricted by law to buy land from the STs. As a result the Meiteis and the Pangals are heading to a precarious situation due to the limited area in the valley and ever increasing population.

In the absence of the proper land records of the hill districts, the Nagas and the Kukis are claiming 90% of the area of the State for the protection of their customs and traditions. However, the land is also required for the survival and the protection of the customs and traditions of the Meiteis and the Pangals.

Many writers assume that the socio-economic status of the Meiteis and the Pangals are similar to that of the non-ST of other states of India. However, extension of Inner Line Permit (ILP) in December 2019 to the State indicated that the majority community Meiteis are comparable to the tribes of Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh; and required to be protected.

The State is experiencing a relatively peaceful period after decades of uneasy tensions, economic blockades, counter blockades etc. It gives an opportunity to resolve the long outstanding land problem for ensuring lasting peace and prosperity for all the ethnic communities. The aim of this paper is to bring out the historical facts, the different land systems, land problems and recommend measures which are beneficial to all the ethnic groups.

Common Origin.

The ancestors of the Meiteis, the Nagas and the Old Kuki tribes were the original native settlers and the indigenous people of Manipur. The valley was originally submerged in the water and all the tribes, including Meitei initially settled in the hills. As the water level receded, some tribes from the surrounding hills moved down to the dried portion of the fertile valley and settled there. These tribes were the forefather of the various clans of Meiteis. Therefore, the hill districts of the state are also the ancestor's land of the Meitei.

All the above indigenous people have seven yek and salai. Most of the Old Kuki tribes have been identified as Nagas by themselves or by the Federation of Haowmee (FoH). The adoption or conversion of hill tribes into the Meitei or vice versa necessitated the assignment of salai and yumnak to the converted tribes; and is still being practiced.

There are strong linguistic and cultural affinities among the three major ethnic groups in Manipur. These people are predominantly Mongoloid and speak Tibeto-Burman languages. As per McCulloch, the major clans of the Meities appeared to have been the descendants of the Naga and the Kuki tribes. A number of well known scholars endorsed this view, though some writers refuted it. However, one can't deny the Naga and the Kuki-Chin elements in the evolution of the Meitei as an ethnic group [1]. The Nagas and the old Kukis of Manipur are, therefore, ethnically closer to the Meiteis compared to the other tribes of Nagaland or Mizoram.

Pre-colonial Period.

The tribal villages in Manipur came under the Meitei king during the reign of Garibniwaza Maharaja (1709 - 1751 AD). The office of Khunbu, Khunllakpa and Luplakpa were officially introduced in 1736 AD. Earlier, the heads of the hill villages were referred as Ningthou (chief or king). Loiyamba Shilyen prescribed the tribute to be rendered by the respective tribes, mostly in the form of forest products and agricultural produces. The Lalllup (service for labour) was imposed to the tribal villages.

The hill villages adjacent to the valley were administered directly by the Meitei King. However, the administration of most of the hill areas was practically left to the local tribes. Therefore, even during the zenith of the Meitei Kingdom, the Maharaja did not impose the land administrative system of the valley to the hill areas; the tribal villages were allowed to be administered according to their customs and traditions with minimum interference.

Garibaniwaza was the greatest and most successful conqueror in the history of Manipur. One of the reasons for his success in the war against Burma and Tripura was the participation of a large number of hill tribes. During the invasion of Burma in 1723 AD, about 4000 hill tribes joined the Manipuri forces under the King [2].

The present territorial boundary of the state was demarcated in 1873 AD by Thangal General of Manipur and the British Political Agent Dr. R Brown [3] . In the Anglo-Manipur War 1891 AD, the Meitei, Nagas, Kukis, Pangals and Gorkhas in the Army of the Maharaja fought together to protect the territory and the freedom of the kingdom which also included the hill districts. However, they were defeated and Manipur became one of the British Princely States in the subcontinent which was not annexed to the British India.

Colonial Period.

The British rule in Manipur can be divided into two phases, viz. the rule of British Superintendent (1891-1907CE) and the indirect native rule (1907-1947 CE). During the British Superintendent, a five year old child, Churachand Singh, the great grandson of Maharaja Nara Singh was selected as a minor King and the British Political Agent directly managed the administration.

The British immediately abolished the Lallup system, and imposed a House Tax of Rs 2/ and Rs 3/ per annum for each house in the valley and the hill respectively. In addition, land revenue of Rs 5/ per annum for each Pari (2.5 acres) was also imposed in the valley. In the hills, the assessment of land revenue was impractical for the shifting Jhum cultivation and adjusted by higher House Tax. There was already a Revenue Department in the valley headed by Phunam Selungba and the land revenue in kind varied from two to twenty four baskets of paddy per Pari depending on the normal yield of the land.

The people in the hill districts could not bear the financial burden of the House Tax and they faced extreme misery due to the monetization of the economy. In the valley, there were 1206 cases of land sale to recover arrears of revenue in 1907-08 [4]. The people suffered due to widespread famine in the kingdom. The people had to provide food, Pothang (carry luggage) and hospitalities to the revenue officials, police, army, colonial employees etc. In practice, the Lallup system was re-imposed in the valley and the hill.

The Political Agent appointed five Meitei Sadars to supervise the collection of revenue and continued with the earlier Pre-colonial policy of employing Meitei Lambus. In 1893, the hill areas were divided into five sub-divisions. A Lum Subedar and seven Lambus were appointed for each sub-division. After the Kuki Rebellion (1917-1919 AD), Sub-divisional Headquarters were opened in Imphal, Ukhrul, Churachandpur and Tamenglong.

The British followed the policy of isolation for the tribes. It was convenient for the British to give the task of collecting the House Tax to the Chiefs and allow them to continue the administration; and maintenance of law and order as per the customs and traditions. The arrangement saved the manpower and effort for the British.

When Churachand Singh attained majority in 1907 AD, the Administration was vested in a Durbar with the Raja as President. A British ICS officer was selected as the Vice President and he was entrusted with the administration of the hill areas.

The Constitutional Monarchy, Merger with India and the Hill Administration.

After the departure of the British in August 1947, Manipur became an independent Constitutional Monarchy. The Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 extended to the whole of the Manipur state, including the hill areas except where a specific reservation of power was made to any hill authority under the provision of the Manipur State Hill (Administration) Regulation 1947.

In October 1949, the independent Kingdom of Manipur merged with the Union of India. Some writers stated that the hill districts were not included in the merger as the agreement covered only 700 square miles or 26500 Paris/hectares and no tribal Chief was invited to sign the accession agreement. When the Maharaja of Manipur signed the merger agreement, it was for the merger of the whole territory of the Princely state of Manipur, as delineated in the map of survey of India. When the Maharaja signed, tribal Chiefs in the Kingdom were not required to sign.

In 1916 AD, the Raja ceased to be the President of the Manipur State Durbar (PMSD) and he was given the revisionary powers over the Durbar proceeding subject to the approval of the Political Agent. A British ICS officer became the PMSD and he administered the hill areas in the name of the Maharaja of Manipur. The PMSD was to consult the Raja on all important matters concerning the hill tribes [5].

The hill administration was transferred from the PMSD to the Maharaja WEF 10.08. 1947. The Political Agent did not attend the handing over function stating that "the hill administration was purely under the charge of the Maharaja since 1916".

Surfacing of the Land Problems between the Naga, Kuki and Meitei

The Meities converted to Hinduism about 300 years back and the shameful behaviour of treating the tribals as untouchable by some orthodox Hindu Meiteis affected the harmonious relations between the various ethnic groups in Manipur. It was aggravated by the propaganda of some sections of the Christian missionary. Further, the British administration sharply increased the division between the people of the hill and the valley. It also created a deep sense of hatred in the minds of the tribal for the Meitei due to the alleged exploitation by the Meitei Lambus.

After the exposure to the British administration, modern education, World War II etc. the tribals became more conscious of their political rights and ethnic identity. They are no longer ready to live under the dominance of the Meiteis who are also backward and exploited by the other Indian business communities in Imphal.

In 1950, the Nagas and the Kukis of Manipur were included in the list of Schedule Tribes (ST). However the Meiteis and the Pangals were left out. Several provisions in the constitution of the country protected the ST from exploitation and safeguarded their economic, political and social development etc. Jawaharlal Nehru's "five principles" for the policy to be pursued vis-a vis the tribals included respect for tribal rights in land and forest, allowing development along the lines of their own genius, avoiding the imposition of alien values etc.

The Nagas and the Kukis are aware of the limited geographical areas and the impending land crisis in the valley due to ever increasing population. They want to keep the entire land in the hill districts for themselves; and keep away the Meiteis and the Pangals from the hills. The new status of ST gave an opportunity to the Nagas and the Kukis, the legitimate right to demand for the protection of their ethnic identity; customs and traditions from the non-STs.

The Naga movement for the integration of Naga inhabited contiguous areas of adjoining states to establish "Greater Nagalim" acted as a catalytic in the land problems in Manipur. The Nagas claim that all the hill districts, except for Churachandpur and Pherzawl belong to them and the Kukis are recent immigrants. They demanded for land tax from Kukis and it led to the Naga-Kuki conflict of 1993-97; and more than one thousand precious lives were lost. The Kukis then augmented their militant outfits and demanded for a separate "Kukiland" or a "Territorial Council".

Land Systems.

The Meitei and the Pangal follows an individual land ownership system in the valley as per the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform Act (MLR & LR Act) 1960. The State Government has absolute control over the vacant lands, wetlands etc. in the valley.

The Nagas and the Kukis follow traditional land system and are objecting the implementation of MLR & LR Act 1960 in the hill districts. There is also a lot of difference between the traditional land systems of the Nagas and the Kukis; and their land systems are briefly described in the succeeding paragraphs:

Land System of Nagas.

(a) The social and the political organizations in the Naga villages are more democratic than those of Kuki tribes. The Naga chiefs are bound by the advice of the village council and elders. All lands belong to the individual or the village community, but not to the Chief. He is only a religious head; and the ex-officio chairman of the Village Authority.

(b) The Nagas enjoy the right of inheritance and occupancy, which cannot be superseded by the Chief. The individuals have land tenures and can sell it to anyone from his village, although transactions with people from outside the village are prohibited.

(c) There are three distinct zones in a Kabui village viz. homestead zone in the centre, the woodland surrounding the homestead and the Jhumland zone surrounding the woodland. Only the homestead land is managed by the Village Authority; and the woodland and the Jhumland are controlled by the elder of the clan or Rampao.

(d) There are five distinct zones in the Tangkhul and Mao villages viz. homestead land, woodland, terrace land, Wet Rice Cultivation land (WRC) and Common Public Land. All these lands except for the Common Public Land (CPL) are owned by individuals and the CPL is controlled by the Village Authority. The individuals are not obliged to pay anything to the Chief or the village Authority, except for the House Tax to the Government.

(e) The youngest and the eldest son inherit the parental home in the case of the Kabui and the Tangkhul Nagas respectively. The other sons move out unless the father provides a part of the homestead land as a gift. There is an increasing trend of giving the land to all the children, including girls by the father in the form of gifts.

(f) Jhum cultivation is rare in the Mao, Maram and Paomi Naga villages. It is also not popular among the Tangkhul Nagas, but is still practiced in some villages. Only 15% of the Anal and Moyon Nagas in Chandel district practice Jhum cultivation. In the case of Kabui Nagas, the Jhum plots are fixed and the cultivator would return to the same plot at the end of each Jhum cycle; and gradually converting the Jhum plot to WRC or terrace farming. Therefore, there is relatively less damage to the environment due to Jhum cultivation by the Nagas.

Land System of Kuki.

(a) The Kuki Chiefs claim to be the owner of the village land including the forest. The chief has the supreme authority in the village and the villagers are at his mercy. The chief can expel any villager and bring a new person to cultivate his land. However, most of the Chiefs are mature and treat the villagers quite well. In case of Hmar's the entire village community own the land and this system go well with the shifting cultivation.

(b) Kukis normally practice Jhum cultivation, though terrace cultivation and WRC are adopted in some places. Jhum location is selected every year by the Chief in consultation with the Village authority. The individual acquires no right in the Jhum land and cannot lay claim to any land. In the new Jhum cycle, the individual cannot claim for the old Jhum plot.

(c) The Kuki Chief is hereditary and is passed down to the eldest son. Each Thadou Kuki household gives 5 tins of paddy per year to the Chief. He is also entitled for the right hind leg of hunted animals, one day free labour of one person from each household in a year etc.

(d) The Kukis have the habit of migrating in search of fertile virgin soil for Jhum cultivation to increase the productivity or yield. It is causing concerns for the environmental protection and conservation.

Who is the Victim of the MLR & LR Act 1960 ?

The Assam Land and Revenue Regulation 1886 were extended to Manipur by a Notification in May 1952 and the Patta system of land holding was introduced to the valley. The MLR & LR Act 19 60 was enacted in the Parliament to provide a uniform system for land revenue and land reform in the state of Manipur. The Act is supposed to be applied to the entire State, except in the "hill areas" which as per the Act means such areas in the hill tracts of the State of Manipur as the State Government may, by notification in the Gazette, declare to be hill areas.

The Government of Manipur has so far notified 1478 villages as hill areas. Practically, the Act has been applied to the entire valley and only in the limited surveyed areas of the hill due to the objection by the tribals. They are against any Uniform Land Law for the valley and the hill districts; and insisting for the management of land as per the old customs and traditions. Both the Meiteis and the tribals felt that they are the victim of MLR & LR Act 60 and the Act is discriminatory. The views of the tribals and the Meiteis are as follows:

Views of Tribals.

(a) Section 1(2) of the original MLR & LR Act 1960 stated that "It extends to the whole of the State of Manipur except the hill area thereof". However, Section 1(3) of the MLR & LR (Amendment) Act 1975 empowered the State Government to extend the whole or any part of any section of the Act to any of the hill areas of Manipur.

(b) Section 2(j) defined "hill areas" means such areas in the hill tracts of the State of Manipur as the State Government may, by notification in the Gazette, declare to be hill areas. The tribals feel that the "hill areas" should be termed as the "tribal areas" and the whole hill districts should be included in it.

(c) The tribals are apprehensive of the provision for the transfer to a non-ST by way of mortgage to a co-operative society which does not require permission of the Deputy Commissioner (DC) and the consent of the District Council. The co-operative society whom the land is to be transferred is not clearly defined.

(d) In 1962, the provisions of the Act were extended to 89 villages and Makhow Tampak in Churachandpur district, 14 villages in Mao Subdivision; and 809 hectares in Tamenglong district by Gazette notifications. The tribals regarded it as an encroachment of their land.

(e) The villagers of the Saikot village in the Churachandpur district were treated as possessor of vacant Government land when the MLR & LR Act 1960 was extended in1962 and they had to pay premium for the allotment of the land they have been in occupation for generations. The villagers also have to pay both the hill House Tax and the land revenue.

(f) Many tribal villages in close proximity were merged with the valley districts in the maps of the hill districts prepared by the Manipur Remote Sensing Application Centre (MARSAC). The Committee for the Protection of Tribal Areas in Manipur (COPTAM) demanded the rectification of overlapping of the district boundaries.

(g) The State Government is partial and only looked after the interest of the majority community, Meitei and attempted many times to extend to the MLR & LR Act 1960 to the hill districts by various amendments.

References:

1. P 20 to 24, History of Manipur Pre-colonial Period, Gangmumei Kamei 2015.
2. P 307, History of Manipur Pre-Colonial Period, Gangmumei Kamei 2015.
3. P 80, Geography of Manipur by Dr. Th. Nabakumar Singh, 2014.
4. Chapter 2 Colonization of Manipur, Shodhganga.inflinet.ac.in.
5. Ch. 3 Manipur Administration under the Raja and the Durbar https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in.


To be continued ....


* L B Singh wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a Retired Captain, NM, Indian Navy and can be contacted at bimollaishram(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on July 01, 2020.



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