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
Respected Chairperson, Distinguished Guests, Scholars, Friends and all the members of the family of late Professor Gangmumei Kamei,
Good Afternoon to everybody here. When I approached by Dr. Ram Kamei, son of Prof. Gangmumei Kamei, regarding the Second Annual Memorial Lecture which was instituted by the GK Foundation, I was immediately pushed back to my golden memories of personal acquaintance with Prof. Kamei (those days known as Kabui) during the early 1970s. It was possible through Prof. BK. Roy Burman, an acclaimed scholar of eminence in anthropology in the country as well as an-ardent researcher on North-East India.
Within seconds of my meeting with Ram, I suffered from dilemma, whether I could do enough justice to this highly prestigious assignment. I hesitatingly accepted the invitation for the simple reason that it was no body than late Prof. Gangmumei Kamei with whom I had built up a solid personal friendship and academic bond.
Having agree to deliver this important Endowment Lecture. I landed into the second problem as to select the subject of my talk. I was already aware that the First Memorial Lecture was delivered by Prof. J.B. Bhattacharjee, former Vice-Chancellor of Assam University, Silchar, Assam and a pioneering historian of his time in the whole of this county with specialization on the history of North-East India.
Friends, by now you can easily assess the way I have been subjected to a mental constraint before finally settling down to my job, though I am thoroughly aware of my intellectual limitations and inadequacies. At this stage, to begin with, let me first pay my high regards and tributes to late Prof. Gangmumei Kamei, a high profile personality of this part of the country, who was equally placed on a much higher academic pedestal throughout India.
When I was first introduced to Prof. G.K. he was a bright young scholar pursuing his academic research in addition to teaching history in Manipur University. His basic interest was in the area of social formation in North-East India with a special reference of Manipur in particular. His valuable contributions (books and papers along with various important addresses) would profusely and eloquently speak of them. Apart from this, he was vigorously involved at one stage in the ‘action programmes’ for development, specially of certain hill regions of the state, through the Institute of People’s Action (IPA), established in Awangkhul in early 1977, by way of evolving a method in participatory research.
What I observed in him was that he was carrying always a fresh and inquisitive mind to know things around with special emphasis on the people at large for an intimate understanding of their total living conditions. On the one hand he was academically disposed to serious enquiry into their varieties of socio-cultural and politico-economic networks and cultural interactions, on the other he was politically disposed to the cause for their development. In a sense, it could be re-framed as a tripod, namely society, economy and development.
For my presentation today I consider these three important components and club them under culture. Throughout my professional life I have undertaken various kinds of field studies with an anthropological perspective over a varied and divergent field situations covering tribal communities – food gatherers to settled cultivators, rural non-tribal peasant communities – both in dry and wet cultivation areas and urban communities – in the mainland as well as in the island situation. On the whole I will make a quick journey here across these broadly designed categories of human population, primarily in the form of a narrative as briefly as possible.
I had been to the Andaman Islands between 2002-03 and had the opportunity to visit the Jaroa tribe. They are one of the four negrito tribal groups living in the Andamans. The Jaroa are considered as one of the most backward primitive tribal groups in the country living in the west coast of south and middle Andamans. They are fully engaged in hunting and gathering of food from the available forest resource base. By and large they are basically wandering groups of population without having any permanent settlement. They roam around the jungles almost naked without cloths, but invariably with bow and arrows in hand. Their practice of archery starts from the early age. Around the time I visited there they were roughly estimated having total of 250-300 heads. The scholars who studied them intimately found that they are apparently organised along a nuclear family at the root and then are integrated with the local and territorial groups. They recognise themselves as the ‘Ang’ and the outsiders as the ‘Eenen’. They call their hut or settlement as the ‘Chadda’. In spite of their virtual isolation in space a time they demonstrate quite remarkably certain markers of cultural excellence, creativity and wisdom. Their skill in using bow and arrow, their perception about the waves of the ocean and accuracy about navigability with the indigenously built canoes, their knowledge and efficiency about extraction of honey and other forest produce from the deep jungles, their workmanship in preparing the iron blade used in the arrow shaft, their method of preserving smoked meat taken out of the hunted wild pig, their memory of identifying a person immediately whom they had seen much earlier and so on have been the subjects of scientific investigation by the interested researchers for a long time. For a comparison they may be placed between the less know, less contacted and still hostile the Sentinelese tribe on one side and more exposed and frequently contacted the Great Andamanese and the Onges on the other. The last two groups use some cloths provided by the agency of the Government mainly. These four negrito tribal groups of Andamans live at different levels of contact with the administration of the concerned department of the government. Three instances could be interesting in explaining this situation. The entire world receive a message very recently that a foreign visitor who tried to reach close to the Sentinelese faced the hostile group and was killed with arrows. A few years back I met a Great Andamanese boy in full uniform at the Port Blair airport, who was flown to New Delhi for taking part in the Republic Day parade. The third instance took me by surprise. Two Great Andamanese ladies one day suddenly entered my office room at Port Blair to demand for some job for them. I wanted to know from them the actual cause for such demand. They replied in Hindi that they were not being looked after well according to their need for sustenance of life. They expressed to me that their earlier wondering life in the jungles was rather better than this sedentary life provide to them by the government who failed to fulfil their expectation.
I am trying to bring a point home which needs some introspection and re-examination. At a given point of time, space and cultural milieu the four negrito primitive tribal groups of Andaman islands share a differential level of human existence. The last wo groups have marginal populations strength, the Great Andamanese having 26 and the Onges having 100 approximately. Despite substantial funding by the Government for their welfare and development the result has been far from the desired or declared goal. At this state let me bring another example of the kadar, a food gathering tribe living in Kerala and Tamil Nadu states. They are found in the adjoining hill ranges of Palghat district in Kerala and Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu in the Western Ghat region of South India. By physical appearance some of them closely resemble the physical characters of the negrito tribes of the Andamans. But there are some differences also which I observed during my visit to these areas during the year 1977. Based on 1971 Census population figures the Kadar numbered around 2000 spread over various hill ranges belonging to these two states. They were exposed to the external society as well as market network mainly through the introduction of plantation work and connectivity of road transport. A good number of them were engaged as plantation labourers under the private contractors from the plains. Unlike the classical hunter and food gatherer of the Andamans, the Kadsar still remained substantially dependent on forest collection. They were sliding back and forth between a wandering and a semi settled life. Though some permanent settlements were provided by the government, they still preferred their leaf huts of temporary nature. After the contact with the outsiders they have accepted to use cloths and dress. They have been used to cooked food. So far the knowledge of forest ecology, including flora and fauna, is concerned they appear will acquainted with all these surrounding environ. They demonstrate excellent craftsmanship on various items made of bamboo. They create wonder with only simple cutting instrument in hand. They have also been subjected to systematic exploitation as the collector of minor forest produce. They have never been suitably paid back against their rich volume of collection of honey, cardamom, cane, bamboo etc. They were even physically exploited by some outsiders in earlier generations which is now reflected from their phenotypical appearance.
I will now draw upon the example of a plains Scheduled tribe, namely the Santal, living in many areas basically belonging to the eastern regions of our country such as West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. They have also largely migrated in other parts of the country such as Assam and Andaman Islands. I will base my observations from some villages in the Burdwan district (now Bardhaman), West Bengal, where I had undertaken a study on Socio-cultural Context of Agricultural Farming during 1972-73. The Santal, among other cultivators of land, were a formidable tribal group to have engaged themselves fully in agricultural activities. Most of them were agricultural labourer, some of them were share-croppers and a few among them also owned very nominal amount of land. They were appreciated by all sections of the villagers as hardworking good cultivators as well as skilled agricultural labourers. Further, their way of community life including their collective participation in various rituals and festivals were also a point of reference to other sections of the village people. Their aesthetic sense as reflected in the colourful outer muddy wall of the thatched hut, their expressive dance and musical chores, melodious use of bamboo flute and indigenously made drum attract anybody’s immediate attention. Coming down to the mundane level one could easily notice their poverty stricken condition in daily life. This was apparently linked with the endogenous modes of agricultural production which slowly accommodate the exogenous exploitative mechanisms with the emergent changes in the technology of agricultural production.
Let me now mention in a broad sweep my first hand exposure to human landscape in the hilly terrains in certain North-East India regions dominated by the practices of shifting cultivation (Mizoram), orchard cultivation (Meghalaya), terrace cultivation (Nagaland), settled cultivation in the valley regions (Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh). In all these instances I observed during the late 1980s to early 1990s some kind of ordered response of the local tribal inhabitants to their immediate environmental milieu. They are variously integrated to their respective socio-economic traditional systems, cultural identity mechanisms and political control institutionalized by local-self governance. These elaborate societal processes have been gradually evolved over time and the participating people have adapted them through generations.
In the backdrop of what has been said in the preceding paragraphs, it will perhaps not be out context to proceed with a discussion regarding the word ‘tribe’ and ‘development’. There is no doubt that even now we carry uncritically the intellectual legacy of defining or refining these two important terms for a comprehensive understanding. The popular notion of tribe in fact emerged with the rise of colonialism during the late eighteenth century carrying a racist stereotype with reference to the people of Asia and Africa. Attempt was made during 1931 census operation to enlist the primitive tribes. The number of forest tribe in 1891 was 16 million. The number of tribe in 1931 became 22 million. These people were called as the backward tribes under the Government of India Act in 1935. Since then and till date it has taken a long journey to understand the problems of the tribal population of India, which present nearly eight percent of the total population. In some states of North-East India, as you already know, the tribal population remain as the decisively dominant group in the percentage of the total population. By and large the question of intimate relationship of the tribes with forest needs to be discussed in a detailed analytical perspective. Since this issue itself is a broad topic for study and research, I will not take up that discussion here excepting a minimal reference to the point just mentioned. The symbiotic relation of the tribes with forest is well known. The Report of the Committee on Forest and Tribals in India prepared under the directive of the Ministry of Home Affairs in the early 1980s noted that, “this symbiotic relationship suffered a setback during the colonial rule when forest was looked upon only as a source of maximization of profit and not as a vital link between human habitat and the larger environment....There cannot be any development of forests without development of the forest dwelling tribal communities..The scheduled tribes live mostly in forest areas...Therefore, the two directive principles of the Constitution, namely Article 46 and Article 48A, which seek to protect the economic interest of the forest tribes remain mutually reinforcing”.
Integrated development of the forests and tribes have been the major concern right from the Dhebar Commission of 1961, the National Commission on Agriculture of 1976, the Central Board of Forestry from time to time between 1950 to 1980, the National Forest Policy of 1988, the National Tribal Policy of late 1990s to the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill of the early 2005. It is interesting and important to note here that while the British Forest Policy of 1894 recognised the rights and privileges of the tribes on forest resources, this became rights and concessions at a later phase. Subsequently, only concessions were granted to the forest dwellers. Now, in the latest Act, the earlier condition of granting right of the forest tribes on forest resource came back for serious re-consideration. Forest, specially in North-East India, has become a subject of prime importance in the backdrop of its rich bio-diversity on the one hand and systematic depletion of green cover on the other. Macro politico-economic forces are operative in a big way in the process of manipulation towards the ruin of ecological balance. This has obviously become a great challenge for the local tribal communities to put up a formidable resistance against such destruction and to save themselves from t he resultant economic exploitation and legal deprivation.
There are some important dimension when we discuss development in general and tribal development in particular. The meaning of development as such is highly relative in its content. Its actual message presupposes certain indicators that may be actualised in a specific situation. General emphasis is put on the economic aspect of the problem-both from indigenous and the induced point of views. There are other concomitant parameters like social, cultural, educational and even political which demand to be considered with equal importance. There is further one more distinction between the approaches of ‘welfare’ and ‘sustainable development’ so far the economic programmes are concerned. A cursory look into the tribal development programmes initiated since the first Five Year Plan till the eleventh Plan period would justify the point made above. This has invariably gone through various stages of experiment from the local to the national level, namely from sub-plan in t he fifth Five Year Plan to Antyodaya under Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) in the 1980s. What is actually important to take into cognizance is the ration of the total investment between the expenditure on the programme itself vis-a-vis the expenditure to maintain the infrastructure in order to carry out such programmes. This angle of interpretation will perhaps take us close to go for some alternative paradigm for tribal development which will keep pace with the national development perspective. This prelude with help understand the human culture in a larger canvas.
I will now enter into another domain of my field journey. This is the major livelihood activities of the largest section of population in the country, i.e. agricultural production. I will place my observations in brief on my fieldwork in the peasant villages in West Bengal, Karnataka and the Andhra Pradesh. My purpose in these studies primary was to enquire into the socio-cultural context behind the major economic livelihood activities centring around the cultivation of soil. Since the agricultural production is organised covering a wide range of specific dimensions, such as techno-operational, organisational, national or perceptional and ritual, it requires one to understand this huge universe mainly in terms of people’s cognition, their technological operation from preparing the soil to the reaping of the harvest. These entire human activities are ultimately controlled to a large extent, visibly or invisibly, by the market forces and its designed network. Therefore, the dynamics of this whole agrarian situation warrants a close scrutiny, intimate understanding of the involved intricate processes and finally a logical interpretation of the total system of production, consumption and distribution. In the studying this system of management of land and its produce cultivators’ knowledge about the climate, quality of land, livestock, varieties of seeds, agricultural implements, optimum condition of field operation are very important. Next comes the question of social organisation of production and management of labour. In each step one finds the involvement of a number of categories of people. There are absentee landlords, who own substantial amount of land but are not directly involved in the cultivation. There are land owners who live in the villages but only supervise their engaged labourers or share-croppers. Likewise we find a category of landowners who directly cultivate their lands. This is followed by other categories, such as small owners of land who combine their cultivation as the share-croppers of others’ land; then there are share-croppers of small patches of land who also work as agricultural labourers; and finally, there are agricultural labourers of three kinds – (i) those who work for a land owner throughout the year, (ii) those who work as the migrant labourer against a specific contract, and (iii) those labourers who work on daily wage rate (cash, kind or both). This hierarchy of engagement of rural population in cultivation almost goes close with the existing social hierarchy in the villages – whether it is in eastern or southern Indian region as observed by me. Invariably the upper layers of Hindu castes would belong to the landowning groups of people, while the people in the relatively lower rung in local social hierarchy would form the main force of the agricultural labourers. But in rural set up all of them were seen to share a kind of a common cultural canopy so far their understanding of the universe of agricultural activities, their beliefs and ritual engagements were concerned. That is why even after the pace of industrialisation and urbanisation, the majority of Indian rural population who are substantially engaged in the agricultural production share among themselves distinct cultural traits. They have somehow withstood the massive techno-economic onslaught emanating from the mechanisation of agriculture and commercialisation of its produce. They have managed to continue to a great extent their traditional agro-emotional living wading through various phases of experimental planning for rural development. The life of the rural cultivators (peasants of all categories) appear to be culturally articulated with everything that surrounds their immediate environment.
The cultivators’ socio-economic and cultural domain may be captured on two settings- natural and super natural. Natural setting in composed of three elements – physiographic, organic and super organic. Physiographic elements include land, climate etc. The land is really the mother to a cultivator. They show moral and cultural obligations to land while cultivating their crops. Even during sale or purchase a piece of land they perform many obligatory rituals. They have developed their own perceptions about climate, rainfall and other geographical eventualities base on generative knowledge and practical experiences accumulated through proverbs, folklore, myth, rhymes and oral traditional handed down to them through generations.
The organic elements include plants and animals as well as human being. They have developed a set of notions guiding their optimal operation for growing various crops from selection of seed to the harvest of produce. Similarly they have stored in their knowledge pool the ideas about milch animals and drought animals. They look upon themselves significantly as a moral community vis-a-vis the outsides, specially the urbanites so far their own cultural core of rural living is concerned.
The super organic elements have both endogenous and exogenous categories. The former includes micro socio-cultural parameters, such as traditional technological know-how for labour intensive production, self-consumption and internal redistribution. They show the capability of rationalising as to what to produce, when to produce, where to produce, how to produce and why to produce. This approach is equally applicable to their choice and decision regarding the pattern of self consumption and mode of internal redistribution of the produce. The latter i.e. the exogenous category includes macro politico-economic parameters, such as the management of modern techno-economic inputs for capital intensive production, surplus mobilisation and external commercialisation. Most of the average cultivators more often than not feel threatened by these emergent factors and forces slowly thrust upon them by the encroaching agents of the penetrative market network. This is somehow beyond their control to check, therefore, they have no option practically other than to be subjected to such an unbearable condition form which they cannot even afford to withdraw themselves immediately. The internalization of the modern inputs of agricultural production (improved seed, fertilizers, pesticides etc) and the externalization of the output i.e. the produce (not only the surplus production, even the quantity kept for self consumption) take place through a chain gradually built into the operative system. The supernatural setting is composed of two types of elements namely, gross and subtle. The cultivators by and large participate in a number of observable ritual performances which are connected at each step of cultivation. These rituals are believed to have protective, prohibitive and promotional effects of the expectations of the cultivators for good harvest and well being of all kinds of livestock as well as safe human life. The gross element is super natural setting assumes all mundane aspects. The subtle element assumes supra-mundane aspects which are not immediately observable but based on a perennial belief system transcended across the generations. There are specialists, priests or others, who mediate between the cultivators and the invisible outer domain through worship, prayer and so on.
The whole country has undergone a systemic adoption of agricultural development programmes since the first Five Year Plan period. Occasional shifts have been effected depending on the priority for improving a target group. Thus, for the improvement of production and income of the small and marginal farmers, agricultural labourers down to the specific poverty stricken rural families, lot of occasional programmes have been launched during each plan period. Conceptually, the use of ‘appropriate technology’, ‘balanced growth’, ‘inclusive development’ and so on have been the idealized emphasis in each induced programme. In spite of all these measures and efforts towards the desired target the neat observable result has been questioned and debated by the academics, administrators, planner and the social activists. I am not going into any technical details or statistically based assessment or counter assessment at the moment excepting making a mention that the question of poverty in India has basically a rural dimension. Therefore, in order to grapple with the ground reality we have to fall back upon the micro-level data base usually generated by the researchers in specific field situations. This approach in a sense help us understand how, despite the advance of technological development in agricultural production, a substantial number of the rural people engaged in cultivation have perpetually remained below the so called poverty line. Further, and interestingly enough, how all the possible constraints notwithstanding, the cultivators of different descriptions manage to maintain in a village situation the internal social relations and sharing of common cultural values embedded in the very structure of a particular mode of production. Once these grass root realities are retrieved with a dependable data base it will automatically drive us towards taking correct initiative based on macro politico-economic considerations inherent in all major development programmes, specially in the agrarian sector, including a review of the various Land Reform measures and Tenancy Acts in different states of the country.
My narrative began with the journey among the so called backward primitive food gathering tribes. Eventually it passed through the villages of the settled cultivators – both in dry and wetland cultivation regions. Now the narrative will enter into my journey in the urban towns – one is situated in West Bengal and the other is island town of Port Blair, Andaman. As a student of Anthropology we had to take course in human evolution. This included both biological and cultural evolution of mankind. One could perhaps notice that while the narrative proceeded through the sections as used in the preceding pages it has taken an evolutionary approach starting with food gathering communities, passing through the peasant communities, and landed into the urban communities. Our basic concern has been to understand human culture from the relatively simple stages of societal development that still exist. Then we have moved gradually to the complex stages. These stages are normally determined by the social organisations where the respective communities are encapsulated along the tradition that they inherit through the ages. In order to get in to the root of human culture for a comprehensive understanding my task as a student of cultural anthropology has been to depend primarily on close and intimate observations on these communities as they express themselves through their performances in various activities – social, cultural, political and religious. In the process they combine or recombine their mutual interpersonal or intergroup relations. Perhaps this journey is not that easy into the human terrain, because it entails lot of complicated entry points. As a researcher in the field one has to evolve differential strategy during any field journey and adopt certain techniques in eliciting required information from the people. It is relatively easy to observe a Jaroa or a Kadar, but difficult to communicate with them. The constraint is not only language but the nature of their movement in the jungles during day time. It is nearly impossible even now to stay close to them in a camp in the evening. The rural cultivators are rather accessible within reach but one has to care enough for all kinds of social and economic divides that constitute the village life. In urban centres it requires a different strategy to capture the realities of life contextually diverse in nature.
The basic approach in taking up two different small urban centres was to pick up an immediately observable and directly accessible spatial unit. The management size of the population in such a given universe normally remains rooted in a common mode of social and economic interactions. The most question that haunted us initially was what happens when a land space (cadastral unit) changes its character in terms of the basic modes of production. It is assumed that with the changes in land use pattern the concomitant social relations and cultural responses will be certainly affected. In view of this I led a team of cultural anthropologists and human geographers in a field work in Barnipur town under the district of 24 Parganas (south) in West Bengal. This small town in situated within easy access to Kolkata by road and rail transport being the hinterland of an encircling rural milieu. Originally an enlarged village, which stood by the side of an important stream (Adi Ganga) and a life line for trade and transport, Barnipur carries with it number of important historical events. It is known, from available records as well as from the peoples’ responses to our queries, that SriChaitanya Mahapravu stayed here about 500 years ago. The Barnipur area had the first municipality in 1869. The famous litterateur Bankim Chandra Chattopdhyay became the Deputy Magistrate in the local court here between 1864 to 1868. The historical Hindu Mela, known for its link with India’s struggle for freedom, was organised here during the late nineteenth century. A high school was established here way back in 1858. Large scale migration of rural population had taken place for seeking opportunities in advanced education, various employments, business and so on. The place initially known for production of betel leafs, gradually turned into large scale plantation of different fruits, and finally turned into urban agglomeration with the establishment of modern buildings for dwelling and office accommodation of various institutions, extension of road and modern transport network and so on. The changes in the land use pattern was recorded from the Land Revenue and Settlement offices and visibly reflected on the cartographic maps that were prepared based on 1932, 1962 Survey records and compared with the data collected during 1998-99.
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 7.7sq.km in 1971 expanded to 14.14 sq.km in 1981 and 16.00 sq.km 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”.
(Contd. on page 3)
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.
Rinku Khumukcham, Editor of Imphal Times has more than 15+ years in the field of Journalism. A seasoned editor, was a former editor of ISTV News. He resides in Keishamthong Elangbam Leikai, with his wife and parents.
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