A partial supplement to the paper presented by Dr David Vumlallian Zou

“A Partial Supplementary & Inference to the paper entitled
‘Land, Custom and Law among the indigenous hill peoples of the Indo-Burma borderland’     
presented by Prof. Dr. David Vumlallian Zou during the
3rd World Zomi Convention of: ‘Marching on’
[25th -27th October, 2013:Lamka]”
By: Dr. Joseph Suantak, Panellist of the paper.[setting:19-10-2013]

drjosephsuantakIn complete honesty: As the panellist of the paper of such outstanding scholar, or should I be allowed to say, ‘Prof. Dr. David Vumlallian Zou, one of the most prominent social scientists among the Zo people/Zomi in the 21st c.; all I could say is: “Based on my brain racking evaluation and judgement — it’s technically superb and exceptionally an excellent brainstorming write-up!”

Well, I have no much knowledge nor more words to add up academically however, instead of going through part after part of the three parts as well as the sub-section or sub-titles in detail, I rather opted to lay out what I thought to be the ‘between the lines’ and the relevant objectives of the paper as follow.

*[For more details of the said paper presented by Prof. Dr. D.V.Zou, see the 3rd World Zomi Convention Souvenir]

I:Preliminary note:

While ‘marching on’ into the wilderness and throughout the British colonial regime to this day the idea of ‘I Gam leh Nam dingin…!’ [For our land and people/nation (‘ethnic’ and ‘tribe’ based)] naturally evolved into the most popular watchword among our socio-political leaders and enthusiasts. Of course, it is now a fashionable catchy phrase. Yet, in our struggles to bring about a geo-socio-political reformations and solidarity, we often ignore the ‘Gam’ which should have come first, and then followed by the ‘Nam’. And now, the result is, ‘Out of the frying pan into the fire’. In view of that, to educate ourselves, once again, with what the constitutional laws and regulations during and after the British colonial regime have done unto our ancestral ‘Gam’ becomes an indispensable task which, we should give foremost priority. And perhaps, bearing this in mind a resourceful scholar Dr David Vumlallian Zou came up with an informative paper which throws light on the genealogy of the key legislations and regulations of both colonial and post-colonial states that concern the ancestral land of the indigenous hill peoples of the Indo-Burma borderland — in most cases, they (the hill tribes) must have been unaware about it i.e., the constitutional laws, acts, regulations and whatnots.


Briefly speaking, in c.33CE the presence of some of the hill tribes of the now called ‘Manipur’ was already felt at the time of the arrival of the first Meitei  ‘Poireiton’ and his wife, who passed through one of the now Manipur hill villages in their search for a land free from diseases and death [see the ancient chronicles of the Meiteis entitled ‘Ningthourol Lambuba’ and also ref. ‘Cheitharon Kumpaba’]. However, it was only by the 1940s that the indigenous hill peoples of Manipur begin to grasp a bit of the ins and outs of the modern political structure and its future prospects. In fact, in 1946, in view of the impending constitutional changes the hill tribes showed a great amount of political consciousness. Based on a source from Daiho Mao, the Mao-Angami-Tangkhul Nagas made it clear that they would feel humiliated if the British officers make them to step in Manipur state and their administration is put directly under the Manipur Durbar while the hill tribes in the southern part of the State were not allergic to live together with the plains people if under an ‘agreed settlement’ [Bimal J Dev & Dilip K Lahiri,1987:68,69]. In this connection it may be noted that, for quite some time in the 19th century the British policy was to consolidate the control over the tribals in the borders of Burma and Cachar through the King of Manipur. At that stage, the British officials advanced the theory that the King was the owner of all lands within his jurisdiction [BK Roy Burman, 1987], but close to their departure the British administrators shift their policy and hence encouraged the establishment of self-government in the hills of the Indo-Burma borderland. However, ‘with the failure of their plan to join Manipur hill tribes with other hill tribes of Assam and Burma it was considered desirable to evolve means whereby all powers exercised by the President of the Darbar would be returned to the Maharaja by specifying safeguards against the exploitation of the hill people’ [Confidential File No.12C of 1947(AS)].

According to the ‘Confidential Fortnightly Report of the Poltical Agent of June 1947,’ a largely attended meeting of leading hill men from among the Kukis, Mao Nagas, Maram Nagas, Kacha Nagas, Tangkhuls and Koiraos passed a resolution demanding that either 25 per cent of the State revenue or all the revenue derived from the hill areas be spent in the hills.

Whatsoever be the agreement[s] at the time of the merger of the hills with the plains into one political unit, what Dr. Hutton, a social anthropologist had prophesied in connection with the erstwhile Lushai hills seems to bear its fruit in the context of Manipur. He had warned the erstwhile British-India government that ‘history is full of instances of lamentable results of attempting to combine alien population into political units… failure to separate hills from Plains would produce dangerous results… the hill vote would be of no importance. Unsuitable methods of administration would be introduced in all departments of Governmental activity and thereby generate rebellious spirit in the tribals’ [V. Venkata Rao, H.Thansanga, Niru Hazarika,1987:17]. As a result of the hills and plains of Manipur comes under one political organization, the tribal customary land rights and ownership have been axed. Today, to worsen the critical geo-political situation the wrong notion of the ignorant British colonial administrators, that is, the whole land both in the valley and in the hills belong to the king of Manipur have been based by the valley or plain people [i.e., Meitei] to set their foot and, lay their hands on the ancestral land of the hill tribes. ‘In fact the seeds of confusion sown by the British at the time continued to yield their bitter harvests even after independence of the country’ [BK Roy Burman, Shillong:1987].

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India had outlined five fundamental principles within the broad framework of which tribal development should be pursued. According to him, the tribals “(i) should develop along the lines of their own genius and we should avoid imposing anything on them, (ii) tribal rights in land and forests should be respected, (iii) we should try to train and build up a team of their own people to do the work of administration and development, (iv) we should not over administer these areas to overwhelm them with a multicity of schemes, we should rather work through, and not in rivalry to their own social and cultural institutions, (v) we should judge results, not by statistics of the amount of money spent, but by the quality of human character that is evolved… It is obvious that these areas have to progress. But it is equally obvious that they have to progress in their own way… we have to make them progress, but progress does not mean just an attempt to duplicate what we have got in any part of India… Any element of imposition has to be absent as far as possible…” [‘Yojana’ 16-31 August, 1982, p.52].

But, to this day, what all could witness is that these words of Nehru have vanished into thin air and rather ‘imposition’ became the yoke of this once independent and contented indigenous hill peoples of Manipur.

Subscribing to P.S.Datta, there are, evidently, a number of articles and 2 special schedules in the Constitution of India concerning the welfare of the tribals. In addition to Articles 14, 15, 16, 17, 19 of Fundamental Rights, Articles 23, 24, and several Articles in the Directive Principles including Articles 38, 39, 39A, 41, 43, 46, 47, 48, 48A are very often referred to regarding the protection, welfare and development of the Indian Schedule Tribes [1992:22]. But, particularly in Manipur, the pious dreams of Nehru and of the alluring constitutional provisions turned out to be nightmares.


From what has been discussed by David Vumlallian Zou, all of the legislations and regulations in what was then called British-Assam were adopted from David Scott’s ‘Regulation X (1822)’[David Scott was the political agent to the Governor-General of Assam during the first quarter of 19th c. (1800s)]. And thus, evidently, the schedule district arrangement under the Constitution of Independent India has been adopted from the British colonial legislation for backward tracks called ‘Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (1873)’ and the doctrine of indirect rule for ‘tribals’ in India which came to be known as ‘Scheduled Districts’ in 1874.  Next, the problems and issues faced by the indigenous hill peoples of Manipur lie neither in the primordial period nor the British colonial legislations and regulations, but the conflict between the tribal customs ‘which survived through colonial indirect rule and its special laws’ and the present ‘state-created laws.’ Truly speaking, the indigenous hill peoples of Manipur are deprived from the extension of the natural and customary rights enjoyed or supposed to be enjoyed by Indian citizens anywhere in the country.

One of the solutions to the issues confronted by the indigenous hill peoples of Manipur is: empowerment of the existing ‘District Council/Autonomous District Council’ [1972] which has no autonomy but rather subjected to a mere bureaucrat, the ‘Deputy Commissioner’ who have no knowledge and experience of the age-old tribal philosophy, psychology, customs and cultures; and the ‘Hill Areas Committee’ [1972], which has no constitutional powers — subjected to the State government.

It’s time to realise for the indigenous hill peoples of Manipur that, we are desperately in need of a ‘self-rule’ or at least an ‘alternative/special constitutional arrangement’ where we could retrieve our natural, customary and constitutional rights over our ancestral land as was before the arrival of the dominant plains people, the British colonialists, and the Indo-Aryans who now perceptively colonised us under a nation variedly named India, Bharat, Hindustan, etc, — terms which are foreign and never-ever known or close to the dialects/languages of the indigenous hill peoples.

Now, the challenge we [hill/indigenous peoples of Manipur] confronted at this hour is ‘to march on and survive the inclement weather’.  Whether you persist to remain and march on politically or ethnically with the name Chin, Kuki, Mizo, Naga, Zomi, Zo, and et al plus, the Parliamentary, State Assembly, District Council, and Town Municipal polls are secondary to this childlike simple question — “Under whose custody our customary rights, natural rights and the constitutional rights over the Hill Areas of Manipur entrusted now?”

IV:Relevant miscellaneous points:

• {Col. John Shakespeare who once served as political superintendent in Mizoram, came to Manipur in 1905 as political agent and took up the task of demarcation of tribal lands[Lal Dena,2008:169].} In 1906, to consolidate their hold the British sent Col. John Shakespeare to visit and undertake land survey in the hills of Manipur. Accordingly, Patta system was introduced for the first time and hence demarcations of inter-village boundaries were made. As a result the tribal chiefs came under the command and influence of the British administration. With the support of the chiefs the British consolidated their hold and in return the chiefs became more powerful than ever with the patronage of the British colonial government. As its immediate outcome an unhealthy politics was brought in and the age-old cordial relationship between the people and the chiefs was progressively destroyed. And subsequent to this the British handover the administration of Manipur Hills to the Manipur State Durbar under the Presidency of the then Meitei Maharaja Churachand Singh. Among others, Sogaiyam Ibungo Chaoba was nominated as member in-charge of Manipur Hills. Since then the Chin Hills regulation Act of 1896 was extended in the Hill Areas of Manipur and henceforth Hill house tax of Rs.3/-per household was collected in the entire hill area [Chinkhopau,1995:35].
• Without public hearing or consulting the indigenous peoples of the realm, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the government of Manipur and the North Eastern Electric Power corporation, (NEEPCO) Ltd., Shillong for the construction of ‘Tipaimukh Hydro-Electric Multi-purpose Project’ on January 9, 2003 which, when completed is expected to generate 1500 megawatt power out of which Manipur is to get 12% free which means quite a lot. However, in the process of realising this project it is believed that the hills and plains of Manipur will be under the threat of ‘ecological and seismological disturbances’ worse than ever felt and imagined is expected. And also, vast fertile lands, flora and fauna will be destroyed; a number of people will be displaced, etc. In a phrase, we are under a ‘Justice denied’. Pooh, isn’t the Palaeolithic Age’s ‘Khuga Dam’ is quite enough an example?
• In the name of development, there have been consistent attempts at alienating tribal lands. For instance, the Manipur Land Reform and Land revenue Act, 1960(MLR), which has been amended from time to time, has been introduced in some plain areas of hill districts like Chandel and Churachandpur. Next, an attempt to introduce ‘Manipur(Village Authorities in Hill Areas) 2nd Amendment Act,2011’ & ‘Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council, 4th Amendment Act 2011’ on the pretext of decentralised governance. ‘The manner, in which the proposed Act was designed, is an attempt to systematically loot tribal ancestral land, posing direct threat to the existence of the age-old traditional Chieftainship Institution’ and, ‘It sullied the significance of traditional Chief-ship among the tribal’ [For more details ref.-Memorandum submitted by Committee on Protection of Tribal Areas (CopTAM) to the visiting central team to Manipur, dated 26th April 2011 and, ‘Press Statement’-ZHRF, dated 25th April 2011].
• To some of us, the much talked about ‘Sixth Schedule’ has been a progressive constitutional arrangement. But on closer scrutiny, it has numerous intrinsic complications. The practical ‘autonomy’ related to financial and jurisdictions over lands, especially all forest lands, are restrained by the state government. Moreover, the 73rd amendment of the Constitution of India in 1992 has further axed the discretionary functions and powers of the sixth schedule councils. Therefore, if we are aspired to upgrade our present Manipur District Council on the lines of the Sixth Schedule, several constitutional elements of the existing Sixth Schedule should first be remodelled and amended to suit the aspiration of the indigenous peoples. For instances, whereas the 11th schedule of the constitution empowered ‘control’ over higher secondary schools to Zilla Parishads, the hill district councils have controlling over Primary schools only.
• Quite irrational and oddest of all is that, while there are a number of provisions with privileges for ‘tribes’ under the Constitution of India, there is no single provision/privilege for ‘Hill Areas’ of Manipur!
• From what has been so far discussed, it comes to light that taking advantage of our ignorance about the modern political structure [of the independent India and its Constitution] with its future prospects; our clannishness and attachment to dialect based communal geo-socio-politics the term ‘Hill Areas’, in lieu of ‘Tribal Areas’ must have been deliberately inserted in Article 371-C, under the title ‘Special provision with respect to the State of Manipur’.
• The only Constitutional option/alternative is: Article 244-A of Part X of the ‘Constitution of India’ entitled ‘The Scheduled and Tribal Areas’, which states thus:
“Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, Parliament may, by law, form within the State of Assam an autonomous State comprising (whether wholly or in part) all or any of the tribal areas specified in [Part I] of table appended to paragraph 20 of the Sixth Schedule and create thereof- [a] a body, whether elected or partly nominated and partly elected, to function as a Legislature for the autonomous State, …”


From a retrospective standpoint — We, the indigenous hill peoples of the now Indo-Burma borderland probably will continue to confront myriads of challenges [seen and unforeseen] (i) in the process of our geo-political reunification — as long as the current communal [dialects and tribe based] geo-socio-politics prevail; (ii) until and unless we revivify and  give opportunity, once again, to our relevant cultural and customary practices e.g., ‘Khankhua’ (propriety), ‘Tawmngaihna’ (altruism), ‘Khua-hausa /Khua-pa’ (Chieftainship/Village-head), etc., and (iii) in the field of social, cultural, economic and geo-politics — until and unless we are given the opportunity to decide our own destiny and fate through a special form of constitutional ‘autonomy’!

It is no doubt that a painful task lies ahead. But none can ‘march on’ on the rugged road on our behalf. It is our load. So, to seize opportunity to realise our aspiration to make a better tomorrow, first, we need to give opportunity free of cost in our family [among ourselves particularly, ‘hill peoples of Manipur]. In today’s context, it will be to ‘forgive and forget’ without condition(s) our mindless factional dogmas and other petty internal flaws of yesterday and today!