Administrative Policies & Ethnic Disintegration
Engineering Conflict in India’s North East
Vijendra Singh Jafa*
do not evolve through purely peaceful processes. USA went through the
trauma of a civil war almost eighty years after its independence. All
post-colonial nations Pakistan, Burma, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, to
name a few have been passing through phases of internal stress.
The creation of Bangladesh, continuing strife in Tibet, and the inability
of Sri Lanka to accommodate the Tamils are the more glaring instances
of this process. There have been scores of obscure, and some not so
obscure, internal wars which have raged in Indias neighbourhood
China, Burma and Pakistan during the past fifty years.
Fifteen of the worlds twenty most violent conflicts in the past
180 years have been civil wars and rebellions. Ethnic violence has claimed
more than twelve million lives since World War II, and, since 1991,
there have been at least ten internal conflicts around the world every
year, each of which resulted in the death of more than 10,000 people.
By the mid-1990s, there were an estimated 27 million refugees in the
world who had fled their countries as a result of ideological, ethnic,
or religious persecution; this number represented an eleven-fold increase
since 1970.1 In addition, there were
another 30 million internally displaced persons, a large proportion
of whom are also victims of sectarian strife.
India is no exception to internal wars. The Pakistan-backed insurgency
in Kashmir started in 1948, and has not come to an end after fifty years.
The Naga insurgency also started with the dawn of Indias Independence,
entered a distinct military phase in 1954, and is still continuing.
The secessionist insurgencies in Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, Bodos and
ULFA insurgencies in Assam, and the Sikh insurgency in Punjab started
between 1966 and 1986. Only the Mizo (1966-86) and Sikh (1981-93) insurgencies
appear to have been successfully resolved. Punjab replaced Kashmir as
Indias foremost internal security problem in the Northwest in
1984. The focus from Kashmir could not, however, be totally shifted
because of the persistent political instability in the State and absence
of a lasting guarantee of non-interference by Pakistan. The Pakistan
factor has brought Kashmir into the limelight again since 1989. There
are other numerous smaller militant organisations in Assam, Andhra Pradesh,
Madhaya Pradesh and Bihar that have raised standards of revolt against
the state in some form or the other during the past thirty years. In
Assam alone as many as 12 separate armed ethnic groups, including an
ISI-backed Muslim group, have been active against the state and against
each other during the past ten years.
In terms of political instability that they have caused and the intensity
of military operations they have entailed, the insurgencies in Northeast
India have been as significant as those in Kashmir and Punjab, and some
of them have persisted much longer. In some years of intensive operations,
as many as six infantry divisions of the Indian army and almost similar
strength of para-military forces have been assigned counterinsurgency
roles in the states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, and Assam
directly, and the state of Meghalaya peripherally. China and Pakistan
have assisted Indian insurgents with arms, training and sanctuary. Though
Pakistan ceased to call the shots directly in the geopolitics of the
region after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, its indirect interference
in the Northeast through the ISI has continued till date.
support and Pakistans malicious interventions, however, cannot
explain political instability in Indias Northeast. These have,
at best, exploited conditions created by policies that preceded the
birth of Pakistan and the emergence of Indias troubled relationship
with China. Critically, these conditions have been exacerbated in independent
India by the uncritical, erratic, though invariably well-intentioned,
perpetuation of the administrative regime and policies inflicted on
the region by successive governments of the British Empire.
is these policies, and not the operation of some inevitable dynamic
of disintegration that has fed the widening arc of insurgency and violence
in the Northeast. Walker Connors thesis that increased social
mobilisation increases ethnic tensions and is conducive to separatist
demands2 , and Karl Deutschs3
belief that social mobilisation may destroy a society which is already
divided by language and culture, have been substantially contradicted
by the post-independence experience of the rest of India. Deutsch writes:
"...the stage of rapid social mobilisation may be expected, therefore,
to promote the consolidation of states whose people already share the
same language, culture, and major social institutions; while the same
process may tend to strain or destroy the unity of states whose population
is already divided into several groups with different languages or cultures
or basic ways of life...."4 But
this is far from the experience of the majority of states with
their immense linguistic, cultural, racial and religious diversity
that were forged into the Indian Union after the Empire was expelled
from Indian soil. If the increasing turmoil of Indias Northeast
is to be checked, it is these policies that must be understood and dismantled,
and their consequences progressively reversed.
speaking, the provisions for the governance of the North-eastern tribal
areas drawn up by the East Bengal Frontier Regulation, 1873, the Assam
Frontier Tracts Regulation, 1880, the Chin Hills Regulation of 1896,
the Government of India Acts of 1919 and 1935, and the Constitution
of India have successively thwarted endeavours that India and the ethnic
entities of the North-east have made to work out their terms of peaceful
political association. These laws brought about (1) "Indirect Rule"
by the British in some areas which was aimed at reconstructing the ethnic
identities, (2) "exclusion" of certain areas from the mainstream
Indian polity and the jurisdiction of provincial legislatures. Prompted
and persuaded by western anthropologists, the adoption of anti-assimilation
policies by the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution of India
further aggravated the psychological "exclusion" that the
British measures had brought about in these areas. Further, instead
of bridging the hard divisions along ethnic lines already created, the
preferential policies for the Scheduled Tribes prescribed by the Constitution
of India intensified ethnic mobilisation and increased the probability
of militancy among the groups mobilised by ethnic cohesion. This paper
analyses the recorded processes of these political developments.
Rule & The Reconstruction of Ethnic Identity
has been said that eighteenth-century India was a geographical, and
not a political, expression. Rupert Emerson thought that the fact of
the British utilizing Indians to conquer India gave some validity to
this view.5 Karl Marx has also noted that India was held in English
thralldom by an Indian army made up largely of Indians and maintained
at Indias cost, and that the political unity of India was imposed
by the British sword and perpetuated by the electric telegraph.6
Yet, when the British left in 1947 at the end of two hundred years of
colonial rule, India had more than a semblance of organic unity, which
cannot be attributed only to the use of force and communication technology.
It is entirely possible, as some devoutly wistful speakers in the British
Parliament asserted on the eve of the Indian independence, that the
British saw an united, viable, and independent India as the true goal
of the imperial connection. But by the middle of August, 1947, they
had destroyed some of the cohesion which they themselves had brought
about in India. In fact, one can see why it was reasonable, even necessary,
for them to create a deep socio-cultural and political cleavage among
the people while building the administrative unity of the sub-continent.
Every single action and political or administrative move made after
1857 was in clear recognition of the fact that their existence would
be precarious without an active socio-political segmentation of India.
Effective preemption of a recurrence of 1857 was an obsession clearly
visible in all policies pursued for the next ninety years.
British assault on the national unity of India was made in different
ways7. Saxena projects a Machiavellian calculation
onto a British colonial administration which he thinks was bent on a
programme of divide and rule.8 Some
historians have even blamed the British for using educational institutions
for fostering political separatism amongst the Muslims of India.9
The British analysis of the 1857 mutiny had revealed that the Bengal
army, which had been organized around caste and religious divisions,
was at the center of the mutiny, while the Madras and Bombay armies,
which followed a mixed pattern of recruitment, had remained loyal during
the mutiny. The Peel Commission of 1859 had, therefore, recommended
that "the Native Army should be composed of different nationalities
and castes, and, as a general rule, mixed promiscuously through each
regiment." However, what was actually done was in total contravention
of this recommendation. By the end of the 19th century, the British
Indian army regiments were largely organized along caste and religious
lines and consisted mainly of what the British thought were the martial
races of north India.10 The direct
result of this policy was what a British officer noted with some satisfaction
in the beginning of the present century: "Sikhs in the Indian army
have been studiously nationalized or encouraged to regard
themselves as a totally distinct and separate nation. Their national
pride has been fostered by every available means."11
had absolutely no part to play in the administration of the northeastern
hill tribal areas. A few Bengali clerks, junior engineers, and doctors
whom the British found necessary in the beginning were gradually phased
out and replaced by the newly educated tribals. No Indian member of
the Indian Civil Service was ever posted to any hill tribal district.12
While the Lushai Hills, the Naga Hills and the Frontier Tracts on the
Tibet border (now Arunachal Pradesh), were excluded from
the rest of the country by a succession of administrative orders and
enactments, Khasi and Jaintia Hills, Garo Hills, Mikir Hills and North
Cachar Hills fell in the category of "partially excluded"
areas. First, the people living in the settled districts of Bengal and
Assam were prohibited from entering these hills by the introduction
of Inner Line System under the East Bengal Frontier Regulation, 1873.13
This was followed by removal of all outsiders not required by the British
in the hills or considered undesirable under the Chin Hills Regulation
of 1896. Then the operation of most of the general laws of the country
was made inapplicable in these hills by an order under the Assam Frontier
Tracts Regulation, 1880. The Government of India Acts of 1915 and 1919
termed these areas as "backward" and excluded them politically
from the purview of the new provincial legislature and the High Court.
Finally, the Government of India Act of 1935 created a totally new political
status for these areas by excluding them fully from the federal and
provincial legislatures as well as the jurisdiction of the High Court.
the Northeastern hill tribes had been effectively excluded from the
administration of India from 1873 onwards, their socio-cultural exclusion
did not become a vital political necessity for the British until the
first decade of this century. The order issued under the 1919 Act, declaring
these areas "backward tracts", requiring special administrative
measures and direct rule by the Governor, gave the missionaries a synergistic
and unhindered opportunity to proselytize, and the administrators to
reconstruct, the tribal traditions to create a separate ethno-national
identity. The 1935 Act reinforced the status in a more artful manner.
British reluctance to allow Indian elected representatives and civil
servants to play a role in the governance of the north-east extremities
of India raises a host of unanswered questions. It was an uncharacteristically
candid Rev. Michael Scott who wrote: "We cannot evade our share
of responsibility in Britain for all that has led to the present tragedy....It
was Britains imperial policy which kept Nagaland isolated from
India and from contact with the people and political movements of India
so that there was very little exchange of ideas or mutual understanding
of the people and their society when India became independent."14
British gave the following reasons for formulating the policy of segregating
the hill tribes from the plains of Assam and Bengal : (1) to protect
the plains from raids and plunder by the hill tribals (1873-1900); (2)
to protect the hill tribes from exploitation by the plainsmen (1900-1928);
and (3) to foster an enlightened public policy aimed at cultural survival
of the hill tribes (1928-47). These areas were exempted from the operation
of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Codes and the jurisdiction of the
High Court in Calcutta. The Chief Commissioner became the highest court
of Appeal. The Inner Line kept the plainsmen out of a territory where
such conspicuous departures from the procedures of justice were being
number of questions arise because the successive reasons, so flagrantly
contradicting the earlier ones, changed every 25 years or so, and betrayed
a total absence of consistency. Were these assertions true, or were
they a mere facade for carrying out political, anthropological and ecclesiastical
experimentation on a scale hitherto unknown in the annals of colonial
rule? Were the British promoting ethno-nationalism or an ethnic identity
which was clearly out of place in a multi-ethnic society like India?
Were they aiming at a future political status for the hill tribes that
would be separate from the Indian political identity? Was there a definite
tendency to fragmentation latent in these insular territorial units
which the British created and left behind?
there was a dichotomy inherent in the policies: while it was necessary
for them to unify India through a federal structure and communication
network, it was also necessary to reconstruct ethnic differences to
promote differentiation as a basis for dividing the opposition to their
rule. For this purpose, the British made a distinction between the areas
with a predominantly homogenous population capable of military mobilisation
under traditional leaders and areas of heterogeneous populations, which
did not possess such capabilities. For the former, they devised the
system of Indirect Rule15
through native kings, princes, nawabs, chiefs and headmen, and
administered these areas politically through residents, political officers
and superintendents. These areas were generally not included in the
British provinces and, if included, they were excluded from the jurisdiction
of the provincial legislatures. Areas which were brought under the British
rule through treaties with local kings were also ruled indirectly. The
major parts of Northwest Frontier, Kashmir, Sind, Himachal, East Punjab,
Rajasthan, Gujarat, Mysore, Kerala, Hyderabad, Orissa, Manipur, Tripura
and northeastern hills came in this category.
policy was highly pragmatic and one which pleased the tax-weary British
citizens.16 According to Gifford,
utilizing the traditional authorities to carry out the orders of an
alien administration established by conquest was the result of an attempt
to acquire great tracts of territory quickly and to rule them "on
the cheap" with badly strained resources and a handful of men.17
The British spent very little or often nothing at all on the administration
of indirectly ruled areas, and salaries of the British officers who
were loaned to the native princes were borne by the native states. More
importantly, the armies maintained by the native states were impressed
for services under the British flag as and when required. These native
armies were used against the Northwest Frontier tribes, the Sikhs, Nepal,
Burma, in the Boer War, the Boxer Rebellion and the two World Wars.
The indirectly ruled areas also provided the British with the best recruitment
grounds for their own army. After the people who had opposed the British
advance had been successfully subdued, they were, by a strange logic
of biological determinism18, "made
to look braver under the British upkeep, as the Imperial masters tried
to turn them into guardians of the Raj". This was done mainly
to "recruit a cheap but dependable and, above all, obedient soldiery
for the Raj".19 They
were called the "martial races", and this construction ministered
to the egos of these "new domesticates of colonialism".20
parts of India which did not have homogenous populations constituted
the directly ruled areas of the United Provinces, Central Provinces,
and the provinces of Bihar, Bengal, Bombay, Assam (plains) and Madras.
The devolution of power and establishment of democratic institutions
which followed in the wake of the reforms introduced during the years
1909-1935 benefited these British provinces only, and resulted in the
development of national political parties and the freedom movement during
the last fifty years of the British rule.21
number of areas which the British ruled indirectly through native princes
or tribal chiefs upto 1947 have shown a tendency to resist integration
or have challenged the existing terms of association or have been in
the forefront of dissent or open armed defiance of the central authority.
The Nagas and the Mizos were ruled through the tribal chieftains and
headmen, Manipur and Tripura through their respective Maharajas. Jammu
and Kashmir was ruled indirectly through the Maharaja. The Jat-Sikh
heartland of Punjab, which has spawned ethno-nationalism and separatism
among the Sikhs, is co-terminus with the cis-Sutlej area whose Sikhs
helped the British defeat the trans-Sutlej Sikhs and which later constituted
the princely states of Patiala, Nabha, Faridkot, Jind, Malerkotla, Kalsia
and Kapurthala. Others living in the erstwhile indirectly ruled areas
have also challenged the central authority in one way or the other.22
British promoted a separate identity, either religious and social or
both, in most of the indirectly ruled areas which ran counter to the
growth of nationalism in the directly ruled areas of the country.23
Encouragement to the development of vernacular literature and discarding
of the more advanced Indian languages and scripts, which was a salient
ingredient of Indirect Rule, prevented Indianization of the hill tribes
of the northeast.24 According to
Gifford, this policy "fostered the tribe over nation and tribal
over national leadership."25 The controlled
environment of the British helped in the reconstruction of the Northeastern
hill tribal ethnic identity, and its internalisation helped aggravate
notions of ethno-identity different not only from the plainsmen of Assam
and Bengal but also other homogenous groups in adjacent parts of the
country with similar racial, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. The
British thus instilled into the minds of the hill tribes notions of
suspicion and hostility against the plainsmen of India as well as other
ethnic groups surrounding them, and aggravated the ethnic differences
that existed between the hill tribes and the people of other parts of
India. This helped in the "growth of that sentiment of belonging
together and differentiation from others" which Hagopian calls
"nationalism" and holds responsible in some manifestation
for all modern revolutions.26 The
policy of "exclusion" was an exogenous condition causing value
change, and thus became an "accelerator of dysfunction".27
It was a deliberate assault on the future political identity of this
area as well as the future political integration of this area with India.
Inner Line was first defined in 1873 to stop hill tribal raids into
the plains. However, within a few years of the British occupation of
these hills, restrictions ceased on the movement of hill tribes, and
they were allowed to fish, hunt and attend markets freely on both sides
of the Line.28 But the plainsmen
were never allowed to enter the hills without a pass. The hill tribals,
whose activities had prompted the creation of the Inner Line Regulation,
were thus exempted from the application of its provisions. And, ironically,
the restrictions applied from now on only to the people of the neighboring
plains districts of Bengal and Assam for whose protection the Line was
initially defined. In the long run, therefore, the Inner Line was neither
designed nor enforced to serve its original purpose. Then what purpose
did it serve? If the Lushai and Naga raids had ceased by 1897, why was
the Inner Line continued as long as the British rule lasted in India?
The greatest benefit from the Regulation of 1873, however, came in a
way in which it was least expected. The Inner Line helped create a controlled
environment in which programs of a more lasting significance could be
undertaken. The hill tribes had been successfully tamed by the end of
the 19th century.29 A question, therefore,
arose about the utility of these economically unviable areas after they
had ceased to be a problem for the British interests in the plains.
The consolidation of power and administration in such areas had to be
cost-effective. Could the Christian missionaries be gainfully utilized
for "civilizing the savages", creating an impregnable Christian
fortress safe from the prying eyes of the neighbouring Hindus and Muslims
and, in the process, promote certain prospects which were nascent but
nonetheless quite manifest in the British policy ?
British were aware that these areas had been politically outside the
pale of India or at least had no active association with the mainland
rulers or their regional potentates. Moreover, most hill tribes inhabiting
this region were only marginally familiar with the cultural phenomena
called India, Assam and Bengal. The British were also aware that the
spiritual and cultural identity of India had found virtually no expression
in its political unity30. The sweep of
the larger Indian empires of the last three millennia - Mauryas, Guptas
and Mughals - did not extend to these parts. Moreover, these frontier
hill tribes had arrived too late, and certainly not before the 16th
Century, from western China and Burma to be able to imbibe the new culture.
It was also recognized that the Indian culture was nonetheless infectious
and might soon permeate the hills if the hill tribes were not appropriately
insulated against its influence and provided with a preponderant alternative.
The Inner Line Regulation kept the Indian culture and religion effectively
on the other side of the fence while the Christian missionaries were
inducted for proselytization.
British declaration in 1917 to bring about democratic reforms in India,
which culminated in the Government of India Acts of 1919 and 1935, paved
the way for a little more openness and accountability in the administration
of India. In anticipation of the interest the reforms would generate
among the Indian politicians and intellectuals, the British began a
search for a rational basis for many of their policies. This was in
any case necessary as both the Montague-Chelmsford and Simon Commissions
were open inquiries, and subject to question, discussion and analysis
in the British Parliament and in the media in India and Britain. If
they were unwilling to give up the Inner Line policy, they would have
to find a justification strong enough to withstand the test of whatever
limited democracy was in the offing in India. It had helped them in
the consolidation of rule in this volatile region through exercise,
whenever necessary, of extra-legal punitive powers; it had provided
the insularity necessary for the exercise of such powers in an age of
growing liberalism; and it had allowed total freedom to the Christian
missions to operate in an area of religious void, without competition
from, and antagonism of, other faiths.
could the status quo be maintained? There was nothing to prove
that hills and plains had been in a state of permanent hostility and
their continued separation would, therefore, be necessary in the interest
of peace. The hill tribals themselves were too unsophisticated to understand
the logic of ethnic and cultural identity and demand a right to its
protection from neighboring influences. A myth was, therefore, necessary;
a convincing argument had to be built around the theory that, in the
scale of civilization, the hill tribes were behind the plainsmen by
many centuries, and that their separation from each other was necessary
to prevent the exploitation of the tribals, and the destruction of their
culture, by the plainsmen.31
was obviously not known to many Indians that tribals were being put
in fear of their own symbols in order to make them conform, and that
Christianity was a "measure of relief approved by the Government."32
However, the British were aware that a policy which either worked so
blatantly against the cultural integration of the country or inveigled
the simple tribals into a new faith by the means of such wiles and deception
would not escape the attention of the Indian nationalists and the new
class of Indian intellectuals bred on the liberal English education
system.33 Moreover, the measure would
have little success in the British Parliament if it did not have a profound
philosophical and humanitarian orientation. It was, therefore, inevitable
that the British administrators would seek to cloak the policy in a
set of principles attributed to the organicists34
who believed that social entities were delicate, and not easily understood,
and more likely to survive and flourish if not too much meddled with.
men who conquered and ruled India were diehard imperialists. But there
was a difference between the military officers who led expeditions,
pacified enemies and established the empire and the members of the Indian
Civil Service who evolved the system of governance and ran the Raj.
The latter had an edge over others when it came to devising subtle definitions
to invest imperial compulsions. They were brilliant products of the
British universities, and could put their education to good use. Some
of them wrote and published impressive ethnographic monographs and studies
on tribes that have become classics in their field.35
From the last quarter of the 19th century, some of these outstanding
intellectuals were entrusted with the job of defining the laws for governing
the tribal area. They worked out a subtle middle path between the idealists
advocacy of self-determination for the tribes and the realists
who demanded their preservation.36
Henceforth, the hill tribes would be preserved to prepare
them for self-determination at a future date. A grand alliance
of anthropologists, missionaries and administrators was formed to lay
down the norms for ruling the hill tribal areas in the 20th century.
An enthusiastic officer wrote that it was "the only instance in
history of a body of foreigners who govern an Empire, not for their
own benefit, but for the benefit of the races committed by Providence
to their charge."37
fierce defiance of these tribes to the British advance, and the cost
of expeditions in terms of British lives lost38,
made it inevitable that military conquest be followed by a show of friendship
and goodwill, and this led to the establishment of "friendly relations
of permanent character with them."39
The execution of this policy was so successful that a Superintendent
of Lushai Hills gleefully reported that the people of his district would
never "wish to be rid of our presence."40
The milk of human kindness and the balm to heal the bruises was ready:
the missionaries had arrived.
Inner Line was instrumental in making the Church-State relationship
more or less symbiotic in the hills. David Scott, who conquered/ annexed
the Brahmputra valley and the surrounding hills and managed these territories
as the Political Agent to the Governor General of India, wrote to W.B.
Bayley, Secretary to the Government of India in 1825, that "nothing
permanently good would be obtained" if the British did not interfere
on behalf of the tribes and prevent them from becoming Hindus. He criticized
the missionaries for paying more attention to the polished natives than
to the "rude tribes who are still in that state of national childhood
which enables the stranger priest to enact the school master and to
teach them what he likes."41
By the end of the 19th century, the missionaries were already on their
way to become "the ecclesiastical wing of the Indian Civil Service."42
They became an integral part of the administration and were often entrusted
with the keys of the government treasury, and sometimes even the armoury,
when the British officers were on tours. In 1924, a Welsh missionary
was nominated to represent the hill tribes in the newly constituted
Legislative Assembly of Assam.
fact was that the "superimposed influences running directly counter
to custom"43 were not Hindus or Muslims
of neighboring Bengal and Assam as might have been implied. This function
was being exclusively performed by the Christian missionaries who were
offering "some measure of relief approved by Government" in
the shape of "a message or direction of God."44
The missionaries ordered "their approach to their task as to ensure"
that the "tribes may benefit from a gradual equipment to meet changing
conditions."45 Implicit in the
policy was the hope that the missionaries would soon be able to persuade
the tribals to seek change and that the parameters of the change would
largely be determined by the missionaries themselves. The guiding principle
of the policy was that the transplantation of western European culture
into the Southeast Asian tribal milieu would be far more wholesome and
appropriate than the more organic cultural cross-currents from nearer
home in Assam or Bengal46.
mutually supportive relationship between the Church and the State had
some significant strategic aspects too. As long as the missionaries
were allowed a free spiritual run of these hills, they would not question
the means employed by the administration to suppress dissent or punish
disobedience. Even the wide-spread practice of slavery among the Lushais
and some Naga tribes was conveniently overlooked by both the missionaries
and administrators for a long time.47 Extermination
of entire tribal villages and massacre of the chiefs and their families
was frequently resorted to during the course of the military expeditions
against the Chins, Lushais and the Nagas, and this was no different
from the way North American Indians were dealt with by the whites about
the same time.48 Lesser forms of brutalities
were still practiced after the first Christian Missions started functioning
in the Naga Hills in 1840 and in the Lushai Hills District in 1894.
One of the many summary punitive measures frequently adopted by the
British was burning of the villages and of stored grain belonging to
disobedient chiefs and their subjects. This mode of punishment was carried
out until well into the 20th century.49
the areas of the present States of Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura in India
and Chin Hills in Burma where Duhlian (language of the Lushai-Kuki-Chin
group of people) is spoken, about 30 villages bear the name of Vaihal,
meaning vai = foreigner and hal = fire. The isolation
imposed on the district was so perfect that news did not travel and
no newspapers in India reported these incidents. To quote an official
report, which did not see the light of day until fifty years later,
"the result was far from decisive. Beyond the burning of a few
villages and destruction of large stores of grain, nothing was done....
Their power, though scattered and temporarily broken, has not been crushed."50
particular reprisal was launched when some eastern chiefs had refused
to provide free labour for carrying British stores. The missionaries
apparently saw nothing unusual and reprehensible in either forced labour
or the acts of arson by the administration. On the other hand, the missionaries
persuaded the administrators to exempt those who had become Christians
from forced labour on Sundays. "Officers must use a little tact
so as to strike a happy mean between letting the Christians shirk their
proper share of work," the instructions mentioned.51
of justice in the hill tribal areas was largely the responsibility of
the tribal chiefs, with only offences against the government, murder
and disputes between chiefs going to the court of the British Superintendent.
The area had been excluded from operation of most of the laws prevailing
elsewhere in India, and the Inner Line Regulation effectively barred
entry of outsiders, including lawyers. Under the Administration of Justice
Rules no lawyers could defend the tribals without the permission of
the Superintendent. The Superintendent could award penalties of death
and imprisonment for life in summary trials lasting a few hours, and
there was no provision for appeal once the sentence had been confirmed
by the Chief Commissioner. This was a new kind of society, different
from the one in which the hill tribals had existed for centuries, almost
a civilization started from scratch.
of India Act, 1935
Joint Committee of the British Parliament, which was asked to report
on the White Paper based on the recommendations of the Simon Commission,
Indian Franchise Committee, and the third session of the Indian Round
Table Conference,52 met on October
16, 1933 to examine J. H. Hutton (the then Deputy Commissioner of Naga
Hills, Kohima) and his memorandum, and to take the evidence of Sir Samuel
Hoare, Secretary of State for India, during the next two days.
proposals made in the White Paper, in so far as northeast India was
concerned, were: Naga Hills, Lushai Hills and the Frontier Tracts of
Balipara, Sadiya and Lakhimpur would be totally excluded areas; North
Cachar Hills, Garo Hills, Mikir Hills, and Khasi and Jaintia Hills would
be partially excluded; the excluded areas will have no representation
in the federal and provincial legislature, and the partially excluded
areas would be represented in the provincial legislature only. The totally
excluded areas would be administered by the Governor of Assam, and the
provincial ministers will have no constitutional right to advise him
on matters of administration of these areas. Only the Governor will
have the power to extend application of laws made by federal or provincial
legislatures to the totally excluded tracts; the budget for these tracts
would not require approval of any legislature, and no questions would
be asked, or subject relating to these areas discussed, in the provincial
legislature without the sanction of the Governor. More importantly,
the jurisdiction of the High Court in Calcutta would be withdrawn from
these areas. The same in every respect applied to the proposed partially
excluded areas, with the exception that the provincial legislature was
to have the power to vote the budget, discuss the administration of
these areas, and enact laws. The jurisdiction of the High Court was
to extend to the partially excluded areas, but the laws were to come
into effect only with the assent of the Governor.
a slight disagreement with the Government of India, the Government of
Assam wanted all these areas to be totally excluded, and Hutton was
deputed to London to appear before the Joint Parliamentary Committee
to present the case of Assam. The arguments advanced by Hutton in his
memorandum were radically different from those advanced in the White
Paper. He made a very strong plea for a total exclusion of all the hill
tracts of Assam, Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bengal, some tribal areas
of Bihar, Madras, Bombay and the Central Province, Lahaul and Spiti
in the Punjab Himalayas (now in Himachal Pradesh), Andaman and Nicobar
Islands, and the north-western hill tracts of Burma53.
the reasons given by Hutton in his evidence for advocating total exclusion
were (1) the tribes in these areas were much fewer numerically, and
representation in an elected body will carry no effective weight; (2)
their interests were alien if not actually antagonistic to the interests
of their more civilized neighbours, and will, therefore,
always be liable to be sacrificed to those of the majority; and (3)
the aboriginals (this is Hutton s word) themselves, although inarticulate,
were in several areas conscious of the dangers of inclusion in the autonomous
provinces and definitely desired self-determination and the preservation
of their traditional culture and manner of life.
memorandum stated: "Wherever aboriginal areas come within the scope
of the activities of the High Courts, actions which are perfectly correct
according to aboriginal standards are liable to be punished as contrary
to law. Thus, quite recently, a Bhil was convicted and sentenced for
effecting a marriage by capture, which is a recognized form of Bhil
marriage and which would undoubtedly have been acquiesced in by the
society in which he lived, had there been no possibility of moving Courts."
was obviously talking cultural relativism54,
a philosophy which assumes that every culture generates its own value
system, and that all beliefs and codes of behaviour derive from the
particular social environment, and that each culture should be understood
and appreciated on its own terms. He was justifying his opposition to
the application of Indian laws (which ironically were made by the British
without similar considerations for social/cultural environment of other
parts of India) to the tribal areas on the ground that any facet of
behaviour, belief or custom may be judged only in terms of the value
system in which it is found, there being no absolute scale of values
applicable to all societies. What is moral in one culture might be immoral
or ethically neutral in another.
members of the Joint Committee were Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Sir Hari Singh
Gaur, Dr. Shafaat Ahmed Khan, M. R. Jayaker, N. M. Joshi, Sir Pheroze
Sethna, Zafrulla Khan and Sir Abdul Rahim an array of legal and
other luminaries of contemporary India and members of the Viceroys
Council. Consultations with the Indian members of the Viceroys
Council before enacting the Government of India Act of 1935, which was
virtually a Constitution of British India, was necessary in the absence
of any other representative Indian opinion. It was also politically
necessary, since the process of reforms which this Act signified had
been boycotted by the Indian National Congress. But, unfortunately,
the Committees examination of the Secretary of State for India
and Hutton was nothing more than a procedural formality. It was a perfunctory
democratic gesture, and almost a farce. Evidently, the Indian members
of the Committee were acting under severe limitations. As members of
the Viceroys Council, they could at best raise objections in the
circumscribed manner of dissenting members of the Treasury Bench of
the British Parliament unless, of course, they were willing to resign
their memberships on moral grounds. But what induced such eminent people
as Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Sir Hari Singh Gaur and M. R. Jayakar to capitulate
in the presence of Hutton and end up demonstrating their ignorance of
the subject matter before the Committee is not very clear. Nevertheless,
to those untutored in modern Indian history, Huttons examination,
and the subseqeunt debate in the British House of Commons would sound
like the unscripted version of a modern television situation comedy.
Hari Singh betrayed his ignorance of current anthropological thinking
which Hutton had used in the argument to support his case for exclusion.
He sought to rebut Huttons contention in the manner of a lawyer
contradicting his opponent as a matter of habit rather than compulsions
of reflection and thought. Hutton had criticised the High Courts
inability to decide matters bearing on cultural diversities by application
of ordinary law. Hari Singh implied that Hutton had the audacity to
make a contemptuous suggestion about the High Court, a normal reaction
of an Indian lawyer not yet quite accustomed to the privileges of the
Singh said: "The High Courts say that it is against common morality
and the freedom of man that a man should run away with a girl and seize
her by force and that society should tolerate that as a marriage, and
you say that the High Courts were wrong in punishing the man because
he used force in obtaining a wife ?"
went on to reinforce his argument by citing a specific case: "The
trouble comes in when you stereotype the law and do not allow a case
like that to be settled by custom. I quote a definite case later on
from Assam. Everybody knows what happened there. The man ran away with
a girl because he could not pay the price demanded by her parents, and
the parents brought a case in Court pro forma simply in order
to save their faces. Everybody was horror-struck when the man was sentenced
to penal servitude for life."
this juncture, Sir Hari Singh fell prey to ethnocentricism, a tendency
to evaluate other cultures in terms of ones own, the very evil
that cultural relativism was fighting against. He said: "I am horror-struck
if a man runs away with a girl without her consent, whether the father
was reconciled to it or not. I would still regard the man as guilty
had trapped his opponent and ended his statement with a brief: "On
the same issue of tribal customary law, Hutton disposed of Dr. B.R.
Ambedkar in a similar manner. Ambedkar asked: "Cannot they plead
tribal law as their customary law ?"
"No; it is not recognised by the High Court."
"The High Court would recognise any custom. It is not necessary
to establish that it is a Hindu or a Mohammedan custom. If there is
no law laid down in that sense, the custom would govern. Ordinarily,
that would be the thing. I am not speaking with first hand knowledge."56
It must have been a matter of some satisfaction to Hutton to know that
one of the most eminent jurists of India did not know have "first
hand knowledge" about his own country and its laws.
Singh: "At the present moment, every member of the aboriginal tribe
when he leaves the village and comes to the town becomes a member of
the Hindu community... they take part in the daily life of the Hindus
and mix with them, and they are not regarded as depressed classes at
"They are usually regarded as depressed classes when they become
Singh: "Not the Gonds ?
"In Bihar and Orissa, certainly."
Singh: "That may be so, but in the Central Provinces the Gonds
and the Bhils are not regarded as depressed classes."
"Are they not ?"57 The discussion
appears that, somewhere along the line, perceptions of the government,
missionaries and anthropologists had become totally integrated. This
aspect of colonial culture in one shape or the other was in evidence
contemporaneously around the world. The Indian Reorganization Act of
1934 of USA and the exclusion clauses of the Government
of India Act, 1935 had great similarities; not the least of them was
the influence of two personalities, John Collier and John Hutton, on
their respective legislation. But, in their conceptualisation, the two
laws were poles apart. Collier was driven by moral compulsions to provide
urgent reparations to the American Indians for centuries of brutalities
against them; Hutton was providing anthropological and moral bases for
an immoral political deed.
in the year, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru had issued a strong indictment of
the White Paper in the Indian press. "A great part of the document
," Sir Tej said while emphasising that the White Paper had the
most hostile reception in India, "seems to be drawn up more with
a view to placate that section of the British Conservatives who are
frankly opposed to any advance of the Centre, and cannot think of India
otherwise than in terms of perpetual tutelage." Leading industrialists
of India like Sir P. Thakurdas, G. D. Birla, Walchand Hirachand and
Lala Sriram condemned the White Paper in a joint statement which said
that they were "disappointed to find it is not capable of satisfying
even the most moderate section of Indian public opinion." The distress
of the Indian National Congress, which had boycotted the Simon Commission,
was articulated all over the country. Nehru recorded a few years later
that "the Excluded Areas are outside the ken of our provincial
ministries, and, strange to say, they are even more cut off from us
now than they were before the advent of provincial autonomy."58
Government of India Act was passed by the British Parliament in 1935,
and became law the next year. The House of Commons debates on Clause
91 of the Bill dealing with the excluded and partially excluded areas
are an extremely readable commentary on the variety of imperial, preservationist,
liberal, often swashbuckling and sometimes fatuous and irresponsible
opinions that constituted the highlights of the British legislative
process during 1930s.
Eustace Percy struck the first honest note when he said: "at the
present moment neither the Statutory Commission nor the Joint Select
Committee nor His Majestys Government have been able to give the
House sufficient guidance for a decision upon this most important matter."
was preceded by a speech by Mr. Cadogan who, as a member of the Simon
Commission, had visited Naga Hills. While laying the amended Sixth Schedule
which specified the areas to be excluded in the House of Commons, he
said that the hill tribals had "a very shrewd suspicion that something
is being done to take away from them their immemorial rights and customs.
This is the way they put it to me. They said, We hear that a black
king is going to come to rule over India. If that is so, for goodness
sake, do not let it be a Bengali, because we loathe the Bengali.
They ended by saying that they much preferred Queen Victoria."59
Wedgewood set the tone for paternalists and pseudo-preservationists
by declaring that "the backward tribes of India should remain under
the British control, and should not be controlled by the Governors of
the various Provinces....They must be developed from themselves and
not by being converted from good Nagas or whatever they are into bad
Hindus....The best hope of the backward tribes everywhere are the missionaries."
He informed that he had had an infinity of letters from India urging
that Indians should be allowed to look after these people and stating
that they would look after them as well as any Englishman could. He
said: "It is impossible to say that any other race on earth can
look after them as well as we can....There is no reason why we should
hand them over to civilisation."60
Butler, Under Secretary of State for India, advanced different reasons
for excluding these tribes from the rest of India: "some honourable
Members who have had the opportunity perhaps of meeting them in a shooting
expedition know that they would do their best to provide any honourable
Member with game, either large or small, and by their general sportsmanship
and their attractive character they would endear themselves to any honourable
sarcasm was obvious and it focused on those aspects of administration
which had escaped the official record but not the contemporary literature.
Books on the Raj had already described the "pleasure dome"
syndrome of British district administrators in India, some of them spending
an inordinately large part of their time hunting and fishing, and wishing
that the game would go on for ever.
in the debate, when confronted with a discordant array of opinions,
Butler was more honest and thought it would be disastrous to take any
step which would alienate the public opinion of the advanced communities
in India. What he said proved to be prophetic: "Let us look to
the future. If at this moment we decide a ring-fence policy and segregate
as many areas as we can, we put off to a later date the chance of assimilating
the backwards areas in the general polity of India."62
the exclusion of these areas was necessary for, among other reasons,
preservation of a grand zoological park or a playground was recurrent
in the debate. Sir W. Smiles said, "the courage of these people
is extraordinary. They will go out with elephants to catch wild elephants,
and when they have caught a wild elephant they will jump down and slip
a noose over his front leg and get the animal between two others. In
their understanding of elephants some of these tribes lead the whole
world. For that and many other reasons, it is essential that we should
protect these people."63 But
Winston Churchill, though opposed to the idea of electoral reforms in
India, thought "that the whole process in which you are engaged
means a great retrogression and decadence in the standard of administration
in India to which you have consented." According to him, it was
inconceivable that Indians who were considered capable of looking after
the law and order of the country could not be entrusted with the welfare
of the tribes.64 For once, at least, Churchill
was on the side of the Indians.
Winterton believed far more in assimilation than in isolation: "I
do not think you want to turn areas into modern Whipsnades65
where you have picturesque survivals and where Englishmen are able to
go out and say, This is a most interesting ethnological race of
people divided by 500 or 1000 years from the rest of India."66
House of Commons, however, could not come to a decision on the Sixth
Schedule which contained a list of areas classified as excluded and
partially excluded, and the Government of India was authorised to determine
these areas by an order of the Viceroy-in-Council. On January 31, 1936
a draft Order-in-Council was laid before the British Parliament for
ratification, and on March 3, 1936 an order was finally issued declaring
Naga Hills, Lushai Hills, North Cachar Hills, and the three Frontier
Tracts of Sadiya, Balipara, and Lakhimpur as Excluded Areas, and Mikir
Hills, Garo Hills, and Khasi and Jaintia Hills as Partially Excluded
Areas. The order came into force in April 1937. The Excluded Areas were
deprived of representation in the Federal and Provincial legislatures.
The Inner Line Regulations, now re-validated by an order under the new
Act, was to continue to apply to these hills. While these areas remained
in the province of Assam, the provincial ministers had no constitutional
right to advise the Governor on matters of administration; the budget
for these areas was not required to be approved by the legislature;
no subject relating to these areas was to be discussed in the legislature
without the sanction of the Governor; no law passed by the Federal or
the provincial legislature was to apply to these areas without the permission
of the Governor; and jurisdiction of the High Court stood withdrawn
from these areas. The Partially Excluded Areas differed from the excluded
areas in three main respects: first, they were allowed representation
in the provincial legislature; secondly, the Inner Line Regulation did
not apply to these areas; and thirdly, the provincial legislature could
discuss the administration of the partially excluded areas and approve
expenditure on their administration. These areas were placed under the
jurisdiction of the High Court, but the operation of the provincial
and central laws here required the assent of the Governor.
Gallacher67 told the House of Commons
when the draft Order was discussed: "I listened carefully to the
very clear and very soothing explanations of the Under Secretary respecting
his attitude to the aborigines, and the protection that is offered to
them. The honourable Member for Brigdeton (Mr. Maxton) and myself once
occupied adjoining cells in a prison in Scotland, and there was a governor
there, with all kinds of officials, to protect us from going wrong in
any way. We were excluded. We were aborigines. If there were any real
understanding of this question, instead of keeping the aborigines in
excluded areas and appointing all kinds of officials to protect them,
all our power and wealth ought to be directed towards bringing the aborigines
into line with the general development that is going on in India."68
This reflected the sentiments of the contemporary Scottish and Irish
members of the British Parliament, who had a measure of identification
with the Indian predicament.
Indian National Congress condemned the order in its 1936 Faizpur session
and called it yet another attempt to divide the people of India into
different groups and to obstruct the growth of uniform democratic institutions
in the country.69 There was widespread
resentment in Assam, partly because it implied that the people of Assam
were not competent to be entrusted with the responsibility of looking
after the welfare and administration of the hill tribes.70
a New Constitution
May 16, 1946 Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced to the House of
Commons his Governments recommendations regarding the basic form
the new Constitution of India should take. He recommended that, among
other things, the Indian Constituent Assembly should appoint an Advisory
Committee to report "upon the list of fundamental rights, clauses
for protecting of minorities, and a scheme for the administration of
tribal and excluded areas."71
Advisory Committee, set up in January 1947, appointed a sub-committee
which was designated as the North-East Frontier (Assam) Tribal and Excluded
Areas Sub-Committee with Gopinath Bordoloi, the Prime Minister of Assam,
as its chairman, and Rev. J. J. M. Nichols-Roy (Khasi tribe), Rupnath
Brahma (Bodo, a plains tribe), Mayangnokcha (Naga tribe), B. N. Rao,
and A. V. Thakkar as its members.
sub-committee visited Naga Hills and Lushai Hills more than six months
after these hill tribes had declared their willingness to join India.
Meanwhile, about a million people had died and many millions had become
refugees in the wake of the partition of India and Pakistan. The tales
of horror and bloodshed which reached these hills revived old apprehensions
and fears, infused largely by the British, about the Indian ability
to govern a multi-racial and multi-religious society. By the time the
hillmen or their leaders were plunged into the maelstrom of Constitution-making
in 1947-49, their hopes, aspirations and contentions were severely divided72
Hills and the Constituent Assembly
British Cabinet Mission Plan had grouped Assam with Bengal for the purpose
of deciding upon the provincial constitution in the Constituent Assembly.
The Assamese saw this as a sinister move as it involved infringement
of the basic principle of provincial autonomy76
and quite justifiably provoked sharp reaction in the Brahmaputra valley.
Implicit in this grouping was also the fear of Assam falling automatically
into the partition plan. It was in the interest of the Nagas and other
hill tribes to join Assam on this issue. On the eve of independence,
Sylhet district had a predominantly Muslim population, and the districts
of Kamrup, Goalpara and Nowgong had sizeable Muslim population made
up mostly of immigrant Muslims from East Bengal. This had created a
precarious balance which could be tilted in Indias favour only
by an unambiguous stand by the hill tribes. But after the Naga and Mizo
weight had been pulled initially to the mutual advantage of Assam and
the hill tribes, and the subsequent Sylhet referendum resulted in a
more or less linguistically homogenous province of Assam77,
these hill tribes began to be taken for granted.
initial integrationist overtures of the hitherto excluded
tribes of Naga Hills and Lushai Hills were certainly a shot, though
of inadequate potency, in the arm of young India. But the immediate
result of the Naga National Council and Mizo Union resolutions of 1946
desiring union with a free India was to make the Congressmen in Delhi
and Assam complacent. It is true that more urgent questions concerning
the partition and its bloody aftermath deserved immediate national attention.
But the politicians in Delhi did not realise that in 1945-46 both the
wooing of the hill tribes by the Assamese Congressmen and the hasty
move of the hill tribes to remain in India was prompted more by a strong
desire of both to keep themselves out of Pakistan than the Assamese
concern for the hill tribes or the latters love for Assam and
serious attempt was subsequently made by the Assamese or the national
leaders to involve the hill tribal leaders in the process of Constitution-making,
particularly in the deliberations about the future administration of
the tribal areas which they, as the affected party, thought was their
right79. It was, therefore, natural that
the Nagas and Mizos, irked by the perceived Indian apathy, saw themselves
under no compulsion to close their options after the possibility of
inclusion in Pakistan had been warded off. In fact, none of the north-east
Indian tribes have closed these options to this day, and have frequently
questioned the Indian desire to take them for granted. In 1986, even
the Hindus of Assam joined the band of these discontented ethnic entities.
process of Constitution-making in Delhi was, according to these tribesmen,
a situation reminiscent of the British times when civilised men drew
up plans for safeguarding the interests of the "primitive"
tribes, even if these plans were divorced from what the tribes may have
wanted for themselves. Mayangnokcha, a Naga, was nominated as a member
of the Bordoloi Sub-Committee80, and two
Nagas and two Mizos were co-opted as members during the Sub-Committees
tour of these districts. Most Naga and Mizo politicians understood the
difference between the status of a member of the Constituent Assembly
of India and one of its many sub-committees. What piqued them more was
that another hill tribe, the Khasis, had Rev. J. J. M. Nichols-Roy81 as
their representative in the Constituent Assembly. Moreover, the fear
that the Constituent Assembly would impose a pattern of administration
on the hill tribes without giving them an opportunity to determine its
structure helped to bring about a radical change in the thinking in
the hills. When the Sub-Committee visited the Lushai Hills in April,
1947 and Naga Hills in May, 1947 they found the political situation
quite different from what it had been a year ago.
February, 1947 the Naga National Council changed their earlier stand
and, in a memorandum addressed to the British and Indian Governments,
demanded an interim government of their own for ten years at the end
of which they would be free to choose a desired form of government.
By a subsequent memorandum, they clarified that the ten-year interim
government would be a government by the Nagas having all legislative,
judicial and executive powers supported by a guardian power providing
financial and defence arrangements. The first memorandum also stated
that they would not accept the new Constitution of India as it was drawn
up by people who had no knowledge of the Nagas.82
there were a great many influences at work and the use of the last British
Deputy Commissioners official residence for the meetings of the
Naga National Council during 1947 was not altogether innocuous. The
visit of Sir Andrew Clow, the last British Governor of Assam, to Naga
Hills during the same month when this memorandum was submitted, was
also viewed with some suspicion. During its visit to Kohima in May,
1947, the Bordoloi Sub-Committee found that the Naga National Council
was predominantly a body of Naga government officers, with two of them,
Kevichusa and Lungalong, acting as their representatives. The Naga National
Council reiterated their demand for independence on the expiry of ten
years spent under a "guardianship" government. This was not
accepted by the Sub-Committee, and their report was more or less one-sided
as the one Naga member, Mayangnokcha, gave a dissenting note, a co-opted
member, Kezehol, vetoed the report, and Aliba Imti Ao, the Secretary
of the Naga National Council, refused to sign the final report after
having agreed to sign the draft. The integrity of India was beyond the
terms of reference of the Sub-Committee and the deadlock was, therefore,
report found that the hill people had acquired some political consciousness
and "perhaps not without instigation by certain elements, this
consciousness has even instilled ideas of an independent status...".84
Both the Chairman and the Secretary of the Sub-Committee later disclosed
their perceptions about who these instigators were. Bordoloi said: "We
are really pained to learn that the former Governors of Assam and their
supporters have been advocating in England and in other places for a
Crown Colony to be formed with the entire hill regions of Assam and
the northern hill regions of upper Burma. After going through the administrative
files, I have fully come to understand that the then rulers in Delhi
made a plan to form such a Crown Colony because they foresaw the possibility
of such a colony. The separatist tendency was firmly rooted in the minds
of the hill people."85 The report
recommended that because "the atmosphere, particularly in these
Excluded areas, is one which is not to be found elsewhere", they
must be treated separately from the rest.86
Strangely and ironically enough, and for reasons which were not quite
clear, the views of the British Parliament, which enacted the Government
of India Act of 1935, and the Indian Constitution-makers in 1946-49
had converged on the "exclusion" idea!
atmosphere in May 1947 was one of defiance in Naga Hills, and the political
deadlock created by the visit of the Bordoloi Sub-Committee gave credence
to reports that a section of Nagas were planning to declare their own
independence on August 15, 1947. Nehru despatched Sir Akbar Hydari,
the first Indian Governor of Assam, to Naga Hills in June, 1947 to resolve
the impasse and help avoid a confrontation with the Nagas on the eve
of Indian independence. After three days of negotiations, Sir Akbar
thrashed out an agreement with the Naga National Council. Charles Pawsay,
the last British Deputy Commissioner, who had avoided meeting the Bordoloi
Sub-Committee the previous month, suddenly emerged now to assist the
Governor in negotiating and drafting this agreement. His inclinations
regarding the political future of the Nagas were well known, and he
succeeded in helping an inexperienced and credulous, though a venerable
old, Governor create more problems than he could solve. This agreement
was doomed from the beginning.
ninth and the last clause of the agreement said: "The Governor
of Assam as the Agent of the Government of the Indian Union will have
a special responsibility for a period of ten years to ensure the due
observance of this agreement; at the end of this period the Naga National
Council will be asked whether they require the above agreement to be
extended for a further period or a new agreement regarding the future
of the Naga people arrived at."
was already a view prevalent in Assam and Delhi that the ninth clause
of the agreement with the Governor was not a promise of self-determination
after ten years. But the Nagas lost no time in removing any ambiguity
that might still have been there in its wording. On August 14, 1947,
a day before the independence of India, a section of Nagas celebrated
their own independence. The same day the Naga National Council informed
the Government of India by a telegram that "Naga Hills cannot be
considered part of the Indian Union until heads of proposed agreement
between the Governor of Assam and the Naga National Council are accepted
to the letter for execution, with the clause 9 modified as at
the end of this period the Nagas will be free to decide their own future."
June, 1948, the Nagas also had an apprehension that the provisions of
the agreement had been superseded by the draft Constitution of India.
These fears were sought to be allayed by the Governor, Sir Akbar Hydari,
personally when a Naga delegation visited him in Shillong for clarification.87 But
Bordoloi informed the Naga National Council on November 9, 1949 that
the agreement had not been accepted by the Government of India. Sir
Akbar Hydari was beyond embarrassment or recrimination as he had already
died in December, 1948. But the greatest casualty in this episode was
a spirit of trust so necessary for the political integrity of an infant
a more significant development took place in Naga Hills. Angami Zapu
Phizo, who had collaborated with the Japanese in Burma during World
War II, and had been subsequently imprisoned by the British when they
re-occupied Burma, returned home. He later joined T. Sakhrie in a delegation
to Delhi in July 1947. They met Mahatma Gandhi to apprise him of their
desire to be independent and, in his characteristic manner, the Mahatma
assured them that the "Nagas have every right to be independent....
Personally, I believe you all belong to me, to India. But if you say
you wont no one can force you." In reply to a question if
Government of India would use force against the Nagas to join India,
Gandhi said, "No, not if I am alive. I will go to Naga Hills and
say that you will shoot me before you shoot a single Naga."88
situation in Lushai Hills was not very different. But unlike the Nagas,
who are known for tenacious adherence to a decision taken by their leaders,
the Mizos are romantics, often given to endless disputation and controversy.
Naga nationalism was an act of deliberate choice, successfully welding
together over twenty disparate and warring tribes speaking different
languages, which were often incomprehensible to each other. The tribes
inhabiting Lushai hills, on the contrary, were a more homogenous lot,
speaking one main language or its one or two regional dialects, and
had attained the highest level of literacy among all the hill tribes
by 1947.89 That there were sharp political
divisions among the Mizos on the eve of Indian independence was symptomatic
of the quest for a micro-identity that marked the various Lushai and
non-Lushai clans constituting the broader Mizo identity. Politics was
taken so seriously that it often permeated the business of the Church
Assembly.90 The growth of Christianity
and education, coupled with an ambience of relative peace and serenity91
and denial of political activity or expression, had turned the Mizos
inwards. The last two decades of the British rule saw the growth of
Mizo cultural life. People wrote diaries, letters, poetry, composed
songs, collected and published their folk-tales, translated English
poetry, novel and drama into their language, refined their tribal dance
forms and handicrafts, indulged in Christian revivalism, and worked
out a synthesis between modern Christianity and their old tribal beliefs.
opinions were largely divided between those of the Hmars supported by
other non-Lushai groups who were against, and those of Lushais who were
in favour, of the continuance of the institution of tribal chieftains,
and their desire to live in India or outside of it was partly influenced
by this predilection. The Lushais desire to retain the institution
of chieftainship was influenced by their self-interest : the majority
of the Chiefs were from the Lushai clans. The Hmars, a related Indo-Tibetan
tribe but not one of the Lushai clans, had been more or less outcasts
during the heyday of the Lushai chiefs. But the higher level of education
amongst the Hmar leaders rendered their political skills more sharpened
and focussed than those of the Lushai leaders. The opposition to the
authority of the chiefs92, and later their
total abolition, was one of the main political planks of the Mizo Union
Party when it came into being in 194693.
It is often said that the emergence of this party also brought an inherent
dichotomy in the Mizo temper to the fore: appeal to ethnic identity
and tradition contrasted with a desire to throw out the chiefs who expressed
that tradition.94 But, in fact, these
two streams of thought were an expression of division of the Mizo society
between Hmars and Lushais.95
January, 1946, MacDonald, the Superintendent of Lushai Hills, thought
it was still possible to keep the Mizos out of India when he organised
a District Conference to draw up a Constitution.96
This appealed to the Lushais because MacDonald talked of a land which
would include some parts of Burma and have access to the sea in the
Bay of Bengal.97 The Conference consisted
of 40 members, 20 representing an electoral college of 350 chiefs and
20 representing commoners. The Mizo Union Party joined the first meeting
but, as expected, boycotted the second meeting held in 1947.98
The Party believed that abolition of chieftainship was possible only
within a democratic India and not in a political unit dominated by the
protagonists of the chiefs.
its first general assembly held on 24 September, 1946, the Mizo Union
adopted a resolution to join India. But in early 1947, the Mizo Union
itself split after Pachhunga was ousted from its Presidentship, and
divided itself into two distinct groups, one advocating merger with
India and the other calling for independence. The majority of the Mizo
Union members, however, remained in the official party headed by Khawtinkhuma
which stood for merger with India.
their visit to the district, the Bordoloi Sub-Committee invited Khawtinkhuma
and Vanlawma99 as co-opted members,
but there was a last minute change and Saprawnga replaced Vanlawma.
The reasons behind the choice of Saprawnga, who was a founder member
of the Mizo Union and the most prominent member of the party from south
Lushai Hills, were obvious: he was the most outspoken champion of union
with India. No wonder Bordoloi trusted him more than he trusted Vanlawma.
Bordoloi Sub-Committee invited both wings of the Mizo Union, MacDonald
representing the District Conference, which was weighed heavily in favour
of the chiefs, and several others for evidence when they visited Aizawl
in April, 1947. Pachhunga and Vanlawma did not talk of independence
and supported the District Conference. MacDonald also showed a more
sober approach and suggested a constitutional body elected by the district
for the management of their affairs. Rev. Zairema, a mercurial churchman
and Thanhlira, editor of an influential paper, demanded autonomy for
the Mizos within India. Bawichhuka of the Mizo Union asked for an adequate
representation of the Mizos in the Assam Legislative Assembly as a precondition
for joining Assam.
Mizo Union Partys official memorandum demanded: (1) amalgamation
of all Mizo kindred groups living in contiguous areas in Cachar, Manipur,
Tripura, Chittagong Hill Tracts, and Burma;(2) internal legislative,
executive and judicial functions to be entrusted to a Mizo National
Council within the framework of Assam; (3) the new area should be called
Mizoram; (4) the Central Government should provide liberal grants for
the development of Mizoram until the Mizos become financially independent;
(5) these demands would be reviewed after an expiry of ten years and
the Mizos will have the option to secede from India if they so desired
at the end of this period.100
reply to a question from the Sub-Committee if he thought the Mizos could
exist as an independent nation, MacDonald said they might join Burma.
This, to the imaginative Mizo psyche that had been somewhat perturbed
at that moment by the flat and spiritless opinions expressed by the
Mizos before the Bordoloi Sub-Committee, struck as an exciting proposition.
Three months later, in July, 1947, Lalbiakthanga, the Vice-President
of the Mizo Union, formed a new party, the United Mizo Freedom Organization,
with the help of Lalmawia, who had recently retired from the Burmese
army. Most of the Mizo Union members of Pachhunga group, with the exception
of Pachhunga and Vanlawma, joined the new party, which stood for union
the accredited leaders of all political parties of Lushai Hills met
on August 14, 1947, the eve of Indian independence, under the Chairmanship
of L.L. Peters, the Superintendent, and endorsed the "ten year"
clause of the Mizo Union memorandum. On August 15, 1947, the day of
Indias independence, a procession planned by the Mizo Union to
celebrate the occasion did not take place as there was some apprehension
of violence by other groups. The Indian flag could not be hoisted after
the lowering of the Union Jack because the new Indian tricolour most
conveniently failed to arrive on time.101
North East Frontier (Assam) Tribal and Excluded Areas Sub-Committee
(Bordoloi Sub-committee) submitted its report to the Advisory Committee
on Fundamental Rights, Minorities, Tribal Areas etc. of the Constituent
Assembly on August 25, 1947, ten days after Indias independence.
The Committee, among other things, recommended the formation of autonomous
District Councils having legislative, judicial and executive powers
to administer local tribal customary laws, primary education, land,
village forests, village and town management, agriculture, etc. They
also recommended regional councils for tribes other than the main tribe
in the autonomous districts. The Sub-Committee also considered it necessary
that representation of the hill tribes in the Assam Legislative Assembly
should be guaranteed by statutory provision. But while agreeing that
only tribals would represent the hill districts, they rejected the demand
for weightage in the representation for hill tribes102.
The draft Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India, which reduced
the recommendations of the Sub-Committee into a constitutional framework,
was discussed by the Constituent Assembly of India on September 5-6,
discussion generated a lot of heat in the Constituent Assembly and a
passionate defence of the draft by its framers. At the very outset,
Brajeshwar Prasad introduced an amendment to make the hill tribal areas
Centrally administered territories instead of their inclusion in Assam,
and went on to question the ability of Assam to administer these areas:
"I am very serious when I suggest that it is necessary in the interest
of the country that these areas should form part of the Centre...I am
opposed to handing over the administration of the tribal areas into
the hands of the provincial government.... in Assam, the conflicts between
the Ahoms, and the Assamese, the Bengalis and the Muslims and the Mongoloid
races have assumed proportions of which probably we the members of the
House are not fully aware... Is it right, is it safe, is it strategically
desirable, is it militarily in the interests of the Government of India,
is it politically advisable, that the administration of such a vast
tract of land should be left in the hands of the provincial government,
especially in a province where there is no element of political stability?
.... I know the problems in Assam are too complicated and are beyond
the economic resources of the province to tackle..."104
defending the relevant provisions of the draft, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was
at a loss to clarify as to why it was necessary to have some of the
hill tribal areas administered as part of the State of Assam and some
(the three frontier tracts of Balipara, Sadiya and Lakhimpur) administered
centrally by the Governor acting under the President of India: "It
is very difficult to leave part of the Province to be governed by the
Governor of the province and part of the province to be administered
as a centrally administered area....there are what are called certain
"frontier areas", bordering on the autonomous districts. It
has been provided in this Schedule that so far as the administration
of these frontier areas of Assam is concerned, the Governor would be
acting under the President."105
is not clear by what ingenious and yet unexplained logic similar border
areas in northeast India were placed under different constitutional
arrangements. In terms of political geography, a "frontier"
is a zone of contact and "boundary" a definite line of separation.106
The "frontier area" has been defined as the area between two
social systems or, in the colonial context, between two world-empires.107
The British used the word "frontier" to generally describe
an area beyond which they had no, or somewhat loose, political control.
Areas which were potentially part of the British scheme of expansion
were also known by this term.108
is possible that Dr. Ambedkar had a strictly legal process in mind whereby
zonal frontiers develop into linear boundaries to differentiate the
modern state from its predecessor. If so, the principle of "frontier"
applicable to the hills on the Tibet or Chinese border applied equally
to the hills on the Burma border. In that case, administration of all
such areas should have been devised along the same lines for the sake
of uniformity. But the dangers of this legal interpretation ought to
have been clear to him : it was tantamount to acceptance of the principle
of "frontier" rather than "boundary" by a sovereign
India. If, on the basis of this premise, Dr. Ambedkar was implying that
the constitutional arrangement with regard to what is now Arunachal
Pradesh had to be left somewhat inchoate and amorphous because Indias
borders with Tibet or China were not defined, his assertion was hardly
in Indias national self-interest.109
Kuladhar Chaliha of Assam objected to the creation of the autonomous
district councils, partly because he was against the hill tribes running
the administration and partly because, according to him, such autonomy
would encourage separatism: "The Nagas are a very primitive and
simple people and they have not forgotten their old ways of doing summary
justice when they have a grievance against anyone. If you allow them
to rule us and run the administration, it will be a negation of justice
or administration and it will be something like anarchy.... If you see
the background of this schedule you will find that the British mind
is still there. There is the old separatist tendency and you want to
keep them away from us. You will thus be creating a Tribalistan as you
have created a Pakistan."110
Kumar Chaudhuri attacked the idea of autonomous district councils on
the ground that the councils would hamper assimilation of tribals with
the rest of India and perpetuate their isolation: "We want to assimilate
the tribal people. We were not given that opportunity so far. The tribal
people, however much they liked, had not the opportunity of assimilation....
If this Constitution is adopted, those disabilities will continue....
Do you want an assimilation of the tribal and the non-tribal people,
or do you want to keep them separate? If you want to keep them separate,
they will combine with Tibet, they will combine with Burma, they will
never combine with the rest of India, you may take it from me.... This
autonomous district is a weapon whereby steps are taken to keep the
tribal people perpetually away from the non-tribals, and the bond of
friendship which we expect to come into being after the attainment of
independence would be torn asunder. During the British days, we were
not allowed to introduce our culture among those people. Even after
the British have gone, we find the same conditions in the new constitution
of Dr. Ambedkar....I most respectfully request the members of the House
who do not belong to Assam to take more interest in this province of
Assam. It is important that the honourable members do so and agree to
the formation of a Committee, an intelligent Committee, to let them
go round those areas and see things for themselves...You will find that
this hatred on the part of the tribals is a thing invented by interested
persons. Formerly, there were inter-marriages between the tribals and
non-tribals. This hatred is being continued by interested persons."111
Brajeshwar Prasad also thought that the district and regional councils
will lead to the establishment of another Pakistan.112
Bordoloi defended his Sub-Committees recommendations regarding
creation of autonomous district councils as the only way to check separatist
tendencies which had been encouraged by the British: "During the
war, the then rulers and officers developed in the minds of these tribal
people a sense of separation and isolation and gave them assurance that
at the end of the war they will be independent States managing their
affairs in their own way. They were led to believe that the entire hill
area would be constituted into a province.... You might possibly have
read in the papers that plans were hatched in England in which the ex-Governors
of Assam evidently took part to create a sort of kingdom over there."113 But
he also admitted the possibility of force having been considered as
a method of integrating these areas with India: "People of this
area were already suffused fully with these ideas of isolation and separation.
The most important fact that presented itself before this Committee
was whether for the purpose of integration the methods of force , the
methods of the use of the Assam Rifles and the military forces should
be used, or a method should be used in which the willing cooperation
of these people could be obtained for the purpose of governing these
areas....The point therefore that presented itself to us was whether
we should raise in them a spirit of enmity and hatred by application
of force or whether we should bring them up under the broad principle
of government by goodwill and love....If therefore Gandhian methods
are to be followed, there is no alternative but to adopt the course
which we have thought was the best method."114
virtual tour de force came from Rohini Kumar Chaudhuri who questioned
the knowledge and credentials of the members of the Constituent Assembly
to draft the Sixth Schedule: "In truth, Sir, I have no information
worth the name about the tribal areas and at the same time I shall say
that none of my honourable friends here, not even the Honourable Premier
of Assam (Bordoloi) has much of an information about the tribal areas
in India. The reason is not due to the negligence or indifference...the
Honourable Premier, when he was the Premier before independence came
to India, had not the right to visit the tribal areas; he did not have
free access to these areas and he could have gone there only with the
permission of the Governor.... I do most regretfully observe that what
Dr. Ambedkar is doing in regard to this Schedule VI is that he is closely,
absolutely closely, following...the British method. He is wanting to
perpetuate the British method...This action on his part is due more
to ignorance than to intention.....None of these persons, I assert with
all the emphasis that I can command, neither my honourable friend Mr.
Munshi, neither Dr. Ambedkar, nor my honourable friend the Premier of
Assam, have any intimate knowledge of the affairs going on in the tribal
areas."115 Chaudhuri was right
in so far as the knowledge and understanding of the more eminent of
the constitution-makers regarding the north-eastern tribes was concerned.
if the logic of Brajeshwar Prasad, Rohini Kumar Chaudhuri and Kuladhar
Chaliha was highly subjective and not focussed quite sharply on the
constitutional issues involved, the subsequent events in Naga and Lushai
Hills showed that the worst fears expressed by them about the District
Councils came true. It was far from responsible constitution making
on the part of Dr. Ambedkar to have brushed aside their apprehensions
so lightly. The insistence that restructuring of the system, which is
implied in all constitution-making, could only be done along certain
pre-conceived lines, and could ignore other informed opinions, made
the debate itself quite irrelevant116.
greatest faux pas was, however, yet to come. Winding up the
debate, Dr. Ambedkar gave the raison detre for the autonomous
district councils, and informed the Assembly that they were conceived
on the lines of reservations created by the United States for the purpose
of Red Indians: "....the position of the tribals of Assam, whatever
may be the reason for it, is somewhat analogous to the positions of
the Red Indians in the United States as against the white emigrants
there. Now, what did the United States do with regard to the Red Indians
? So far as I am aware, what they did was to create what are called
Reservations or Boundaries within which the Red Indians lived. They
are a republic by themselves. No doubt, by the laws of the United States
they are citizens of the United States. But that is only a nominal allegiance
to the Constitution of the United States. Factually they are a separate,
independent people. It was felt by the United States that their laws
and modes of living, their habits and manners of life were so distinct
that it would be dangerous to bring them at one shot, so to say, within
the range of the laws made by the white people for white people and
for the purpose of the white civilization."117
is not clear if the Indian Reservations Dr. Ambedkar was talking about
were the "reservations" brought about by the treaties between
the white settlers and the Indians during the 17th and the 18th centuries,
or the new "reservations" which were created in the west after
removing the Indians from the east by the 1830 Act, or the "reservations"
which were sought to be assimilated in the white areas by the 1870 Act
or, lastly, the "reservations" which John Collier tried to
protect through the passage of the 1934 Act.
Dr. Ambedkar was referring to the latest (1934) legislation, his analogy
of the American Indian condition in the context of the north-eastern
hill tribal situation was patently unfair to the people of India as
a whole, both tribals and non-tribals. The 1934 Act of USA was aimed
at reparation to the Red Indians for centuries of brutalities committed
by the white settlers, and more particularly the "greatest land
grab in history" which the 1830 and 1870 Acts had brought about.
Never in the history of north-east India had the hill tribes been subjected
to this kind of treatment by the plainsmen of India. No emigration with
colonial or military overtones had ever taken place from the plains
of India to the hill tribal areas to warrant a scare.118
Whichever way one looks at it, the analogy looks far-fetched, illogical,
even ludicrous. It is possible that people who do not understand a political
situation try to explain it by an analogy !
Dr. Ambedkar misrepresented facts when he informed the Constituent Assembly
that as the citizens of USA the Red Indians owed only a nominal allegiance
to the Constitution of USA and that they were a separate and independent
people. His clever ploy to punctuate his remarks by "so far as
I am aware" while making this statement does not absolve him of
the responsibility to an August body which, hopefully, meets only once
in the lifetime of a democratic nation.
The Constitution of India was adopted on January 26, 1950. The Sixth
Schedule provided for the creation of autonomous district councils in
Naga Hills, Lushai Hills, Khasi and Jaintia Hills, Garo Hills, Mikir
Hills, and North Cachar Hills and an administration which would protect
tribal customs, culture and way of life, and assure maximum autonomy
in the management of tribal affairs. All hill tribes except the Nagas
accepted these provisions of the Constitution. The Nagas considered
it an act of betrayal as it superseded the agreement the Naga National
Council had signed with the Governor of Assam three years earlier.
the first general election held in India in 1952, the Mizo Hills District
(as the Lushai Hills were designated by the Constitution) elected three
representatives in the Legislative Assembly of Assam. The people of
Naga Hills boycotted the general elections. Militancy started in Naga
Hills as early as 1947 which was first handled by the Assam Police and
Assam Rifles. The Indian army moved after the passage of the Armed Forces
Special Powers Act in 1956.
1952 and the following two years, all hill districts, with the exception
of Naga Hills, elected their district councils in accordance with the
enactment of the Assam Legislative Assembly brought out to give effect
to the provisions of the Constitution. In the Mizo Hills District Council,
the Mizo Union Party, which was predominantly led by Hmars, won 15 out
of the 18 seats and formed the first district government. However, Mizo
National Front, a political party of the erstwhile ruling class, declared
Mizorams independence in March 1966 leading to the induction of
Indian army in a counterinsurgency role.
did matters go awry in the Northeast leading to secessionist warfare
in six out of seven States? The answers are not simple, but one cannot
help pointing a finger at the Constituent Assembly which denied the
hill tribes what Huntington calls the political mobilization of groups
previously outside the circle of political participation.119
It is known that groups which were traditionally ignorant of politics
rapidly develop an awareness that political life is their affair and
that decisions made by the central political authority affect their
lives. They feel they can and should be able to somehow influence and
participate in these decisions. Political development is "the creation
of political institutions sufficiently adaptable, complex, autonomous,
and coherent to absorb and to order the participation of these new groups..."120
The notion of independence had created amongst the tribal elite a sense
of expectation which was partly romantic and partly political, and which
they could not articulate except through a projection of identity in
the vastness of India. The Constituent Assembly failed to meet these
expectations or to adequately involve the hill tribes in the process
of determination of the ways in which their territories were going to
be governed in a free India. Violence is contagious. It spread from
Naga Hills to Mizo Hills, and then moved on to Manipur, Tripura, Assam
in the hands of legal pundits whose theoretical insights into constitution
making often failed to compensate for their lack of experience in public
affairs121, and who were rummaging through
constitutional and legal analogies the world over to find a panacea
for Indias ethnic problems, what emerged was a patchwork policy,
quite unsuited to the situation in the Northeast. The condescension
with which the hill tribes were viewed, much as American Whites viewed
the American Indians well after the latter had been dispossessed of
their lands and their populations decimated, was iniquitous and unacceptable
in the kind of society that independent India aspired to. Obviously,
too much was left in the hands of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar whose perspective
on both the American Indians and the hill tribes of the Northeast was
based on uninformed or outdated scholarship. Many aspects of exclusion
of the area retained in the new Constitution were not different from
the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935, in the formulation
of which Dr. Ambedkar was himself involved in 1931.
similarities that the hill tribes in general perceived between the democratic
institutions introduced in the hills by the Indian Constitution and
the British colonial pattern of administration was significant. They
saw in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution an inadequate Indian response
to their expectation that the union with India would accommodate the
tribal instincts of independence and their romantic conception of the
future. The District Council merely replaced an hereditary elite by
an elected one. In as much as the new system derived its powers from
a distant central authority and became, in turn, the upholder and advocate
of that authority, its resemblance with the indirect British rule through
the chiefs was not inconsequential. In this context, it is important
to recall Huntingtons dictum that "if a society is to maintain
a high level of community, the expansion of political participation
must be accompanied by the development of stronger, more complex, and
more autonomous political institutions."122
is not our objective here to answer the question as to what constitutional
arrangement would have facilitated a more harmonious and ordered negotiation
of the mutual terms for political association between New Delhi and
the tribes of the Northeast. What remains incontrovertible, however,
is that the constitutional arrangements devised for the region have
certainly shown their inadequacy over the past fifty years.
British variously termed the tribes as aboriginals, adivasis123,
forest tribes, hill tribes, and primitive tribes. The administration
of the tribal areas was for the first time taken up seriously with the
enactment of the Scheduled Districts Act of 1874. A new nomenclature,
Depressed Classes, was introduced by the Indian Legislative
Council in 1916 to include (a) criminal and wandering tribes; (b) aboriginal
tribes and (c) untouchables. In 1917, Sir Henry Sharp, Educational Commissioner
of India, prepared a list of Depressed Classes which included
aboriginal or hill tribes, depressed classes and criminal tribes all
Indian Franchise Committee recommended separation of aboriginal
tribes from depressed classes in 1919. The word backward
was applied euphemistically to exclude the aboriginal tribes
from the purview of the normal administration of the country by the
passage of the Government of India Act 1919. Section 7 of this Act empowered
the Secretary of State to declare any part of India as backward.
Section 52-A (2) empowered the Governor General in Council to declare
any territory to be a backward tract.
areas were divided into (1) backward tracts which were excluded from
the jurisdiction of the provincial legislatures and (2) backward areas
where the scheme was applied with some modifications. As mentioned earlier,
the Government of India Act of 1935 re-classified the tribal areas into
"Totally Excluded" and "Partially Excluded" areas.
The exclusion of the tribal areas resulted in political, administrative
and socio-cultural isolation of the tribes from the rest of India.
main objectives of the tribal policy formulated under Jawaharlal Nehrus
direction were: (1) to preserve, strengthen, and develop all that is
best in tribal society, culture, art and language; (2) to protect tribal
economic rights and their rights over the land; (3) to unite and integrate
the tribes politically and emotionally within the Indian Republic; and
(4) to offer equal opportunities to the tribal peoples by instituting
a system of reservations in political representation, public employment,
education and welfare.
was influenced in his thinking on this subject largely by Dr. Verrier
Elwin124, a Cambridge University anthropologist,
who made India his home during the 1930s and became the high priest
of the Indian tribal policy in the early years of the post-independence
era. He had worked for many years among the tribes of Madhya Pradesh
and Orissa before coming to Shillong in 1953 in response to an invitation
from Nehru to become the Tribal Advisor to the North East Frontier Agency
(now Arunachal Pradesh). He advocated a tribal society free from outside
impositions: "Imposition has many implications. It is not confined
to giving orders and forcing people to do things. The imposition of
example can be equally injurious. The presence of a large number of
officials, in unfamiliar and comparatively expensive dress, staying
in houses of a type unsuited to the rural scene and climate and not
adaptable to the tribal family or way of life, may cause the tribes
to adopt a way of living that is too costly for them and which they
will discover later is unsuited to their economy. It may cause them
to despise their own arts, social and political institutions, and kind
of life in a pathetic belief that to imitate a junior official is to
was sheer obscurantism, in stark opposition to intellectual advancement
and political reform, and divorced from the political realities of a
new nation-state which should have had assimilation and not isolation
as its most significant programme. What Elwin forgot was that this prescription
was applicable to about 60 per cent of all Indians who were living below
the poverty line and to the 80 per cent of the population that lived
in Indias villages in the early 1950s. He also conveniently ignored
the fact that his own countrymen had ruled over and intervened in
both as officers and as missionaries these areas "in unfamiliar
and comparatively expensive dress, staying in houses of a type unsuited
to the rural scene
there were uncanny similarities between the Fifth and Sixth Schedules
of the Indian Constitution and the provisions for governance of the
tribal areas contained in the Government of India Act 1935. As mentioned
earlier, Samuel Butler, Under Secretary of State for India, intervening
in the debate on the subject in the House of Commons in May 1935, had
pointed out that a "ring-fence policy" would only "put
off to a later date the chance of assimilating the backward areas in
the general polity of India." Nehru had also recorded that "the
Excluded Areas are outside the ken of our provincial ministries, and,
strange to say, they are even more cut off from us now than they were
before the advent of provincial autonomy."126
investing their endeavours with the highest moral purpose while framing
the Fifth and Sixth Schedules for the preservation of fragile tribal
cultures and communities, the founding fathers forgot what Samuel Butler
and Nehru had said in 1935. In the long run, both the "exclusion"
of the hill tribes from the general polity of India by the passage of
the Government of India Act of 1935 and the Constitutional provisions
for the preservation of the tribes, their traditions, their culture,
and their habitat through a measure of political autonomy, combined
with the retention of the essentially colonial Inner Line system, and
without any declared intent or programme for their assimilation, have
had the same effect : they have "put off to a later date the chance
of assimilating the backward areas in the general polity of India".
next obvious stage in the Constitution was to prescribe preferential
policies for the tribes which had been "ring-fenced" by the
Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Myron Weiner thinks that ethnic
mobilisation and militancy should be "an acceptable cost"
to those who pursue the policy of preferential treatment. "Once
the principle of preferences along ethnic lines is a feature of public
policy, the Indian experience suggests that it further facilitates the
mobilisation of groups to demand preferences or their extension, as
well as creating political struggles over how the state should allocate
benefits to ethnic groups, generating a backlash on the part of those
ethnic groups excluded from benefits, intensifying the militancy of
the beneficiaries and reinforcing the importance of ascription as the
principle of choice for allocating social benefits and facilitating
mobility. A major consequence of preferential policies, therefore, is
that they create a political process, influencing the ways in which
groups organise, the demands they make, the issues over which policies
are debated and the coalitions formed."127
also suggests that ethnic divisions must be bridged if a democratic
political system is to survive.127
This may not be easy to achieve unless conditions are created for the
growth and development of a broad-based national political culture by
the fusion and synthesis of diverse ethnic identities. What has in fact
emerged during the past over 50 years in India is the extension and
generalisation of the cultural model of the Hindu majority rather than
a true synthesis of ethnic diversities. This has not only taken India
away from the social ideal; it has created new conditions for the mobilisation
of ethnic minorities with a view to forestall an inundation by the majority.
Sikh militancy was symptomatic of this trend. The Nagas, Mizos, Manipuris,
Bodos, Assamese, Khasis, Garos, and Karbis have each sought to articulate
similar fears through resort to armed insurrections. The processes of
disintegration are clearly accelerating, consuming wider and hitherto
peaceful areas. If these processeses are to be halted and reversed,
the policies and attitudes that have prevented the evolution of a truly
assimilative polity will first have to be abandoned, and the very idea
of India recast.
Human Development Report, 1996, p. 26
CONNON, Walker, "Nation-Building or Nation-destroying",
World Politics, 24, No. 3, April 1972, p. 332.
It may, however, be pointed out that Karl Deutsch
was quite inconsistent in his views. Initially he held the view that
ethnic identity will wither away as modernization takes place (1953).
See his Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry Into the
Foundations of Nationality (Cambridge, Massachusetts). Later (1961)
he believed that social mobilization of ethnic entities will destroy
the state under certain conditions. In his later writings, he returned
to his earlier view.
Karl, "Social Mobilization and Political Development", American
Political Science Review, September 1961, No. LV, p. 501.
EMERSON, Rupert, From Empire to Nation, The
Rise to Self-assertion of Asian and African Peoples (Boston: Beacon
Press, 1966) p. 122
MARX, Karl, "The Future Results of British
Rule in India", published in The New York Daily Tribune
of August 8, 1853.
the decisive battle of Plassey (1757), Robert Clives army had
2200 Indian and 800 British soldiers. By the middle of the next century,
Cornwallis had an army of 60,000 Indian and 10,000 British soldiers
to rule India. In 1857, the British had an army of 235,000 Indian
and 37,000 British soldiers. About 1.1 million Indian soldiers fought
for the British in World War I, 140,000 in France alone. 2.5 million
Indian soldiers fought for the British in World War II. For more information
see Sir Penderel Moon, The British Conquest and Dominion of India
(London: Duckworth, 1988).
A word of caution for the sake of objectivity.
Social analysts in newly de-colonized nations have been tempted to
put the worst construction on many colonial initiatives which tended
to bring about far-reaching social changes. It is also true that many
new nations often blame their erstwhile colonial rulers for the inherent
problems of integration which they have either themselves created,
mismanaged or helped to intensify.
CEZANNE, C.M.L., The Military System of India (New Delhi:
Sterling, 1974), pp. 86-88.
Contrary to the popular belief, the two-nation theory, which ultimately
resulted in the creation of Pakistan, was spawned in Aligarh Muslim
University after Sir Syeds death. And, surprisingly, three Englishmen,
Theodore Beck, his brother-in-law, Walter Raleigh, and Harold Cox,
who served the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College for many years, are
credited with instilling into their Muslim students the ideas of a
separate Muslim nationhood. Beck wrote: "Anglo-Mohammedan friendship
was possible but friendship between Muslims and the followers of the
Hindu and Sikh religions was impossible." Sir Syed Ahmed Khan
(1817-1898), who founded the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College (which
became the Aligarh Muslim University in 1920) at Aligarh in 1877 was,
in his political opinions, a secular Indian nationalist. Sir Syed
wrote: "O Hindus and Musalmans, do you inhabit any other country
than India? Do you not both live here and are you not buried in this
land or cremated on the ghats of this land ? Remember that Hindu and
Musalman are words of religious significance, otherwise Hindus and
Musalmans and Christians who live in this country all constitute one
nation." He also wrote: "Centuries have passed since God
desired that Hindus and Musalmans may share the climate and the produce
of their land and live and die on it together. So it appears to be
the will of God that these two communities may live together in this
country as friends, and even like two brothers. They form the two
eyes of the pretty face of India." See Rajmohan Gandhi, Eight
Lives: A Study of the Hindu-Muslim Encounter (Albany: State University
of New York, 1986), pp. 19-45.
FOX, Richard G., Lions of the Punjab (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1985), p. 146.
PETRIE, David, an Officer of the British Criminal Investigation
Department, in his Report entitled "Recent Developments in Sikh
Politics, 1900-1911 (Amritsar: Chief Khalsa Dewan, 1911), as quoted
by Richard G. Fox, Lions of the Punjab, ibid. p. 142.
Twenty eight Indians joined the Assam cadre of the Indian Civil
Service and the Imperial Police, but none of them was posted as a
district officer in Naga Hills and Mizo Hills or in any capacity or
department of the Secretariat in Shillong from where they could either
monitor the developments in those hills districts or have any say
in the administration of these excluded areas.
The British conquest of the hill tribal tracts of north-east India,
bordering on Burma and Tibet in the north and north-west, was a long
drawn affair, involving some ninety years of warfare between 1820
and 1911, the punitive expedition being against the Abors in what
is now Arunachal Pradesh. The territories of these hill tribes were
successively amalgamated into the area then administered by the Chief
Commissioner of Assam, with the exception of the Chittagong Hill Tracts,
which remained with Bengal. After the British occupied these hills,
one of their first formal administrative measures was to prohibit
entry of all outsiders into these hills. "Regulation for the
Peace and Good Government of Certain Districts on the Eastern Frontier",
commonly known as the Inner Line Regulation, 1873, prescribed a line
to be called the Inner Line and prohibited any subject outside the
area from going beyond such line (Rule 2). It also made unlawful any
acquisition of interest in the land or any product of land beyond
this Line by a person who was not a native of these hills (Rule 7).
This was followed by laws empowering the district officers to order,
among other things, an "undesirable outsider" to leave the
area. The Regulation of 1873 clearly divided the hills and plains
by drawing a line on the map where the jurisdiction of the plains
districts ended, along the foothills of the northern, eastern and
south-eastern borders of the Brahmputra, Surma and Karnaphuli valleys,
and prohibited everybody from going beyond that line without a pass.
New Statesman, London, September 3, 1960. Rev. Michael
Scott, a British pastor, was a notorious critic of Indias policy
towards the northeastern hill tribals, particularly the Nagas. Nehru
made him a member of the Naga Peace Mission in 1958 which included
Jai Prakash Narain and Bimla Prasad Chaliha.
the policy of colonial rule through chiefs by preserving and adapting
the native political institutions had been practised by the British
in India from the beginning of the 19th century, and more particularly
after India was transferred from the East India Company to the Crown
in 1858, the concept of "Indirect Rule" was for the first
time defined by Lord Frederick Lugard, the Governor of Nigeria during
the 1920s, in his book The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa
(London, 1922). But it was Sir Donald Cameron, the Governor of Nigeria
during 1925, who provided the driving force needed to make this policy
"the religion" of British colonial administrators everywhere.
He justified the Indirect Administration on the grounds that it would
"develop the native politically on lines suitable to the state
of society in which he lives." Cameron also advised officers
that "the headmen of the tribe or unit that we so appoint would
be merely mouthpieces of the Government through whom the orders of
the government would be conveyed to the people." Cited by J.
Gus Liebenow Colonial Rule and Political Development in Tanzania
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971) p. 96. Report of
a Committee on the System of Appointment in the Colonial Office and
the Colonial Services, popularly known as the Warren Fisher Committee
Report (London, 1930), was considered a handbook on the subject as
it summarised the British approach to colonial government through
LIEBENOW, Colonial Rule and Political Development
in Tanzania (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971), p.
94. Liebenow has cited Sir Donald Cameron, the Governor of Tanganyika
in 1925, in this regard: "It must be remembered that it is quite
impossible for us to administer the country directly through British
officers, even if we quadrupled the number we now employ and that
the ultimate end of direct rule is complete political repression,
or concession to political agitators." Principles of native
Administration and Their Application, Native Administration Memorandum
no. 1, rev. (Dar es Salaam: Government Printer, 1930), pp.4-5. Also
see Sir Donald Cameron, My Tanganyika Experience (London: Allen
& Unwin, 1939).
GIFFORD, Prosser, "Indirect Rule: Touchstone
or Tombstone for Colonial Policy?, in Prosser Gifford and W.R. Louis,
Britain and Germany in Africa (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1967), p 352.
"It is one of the essential differences
between the East and the West, that in the East, with certain exceptions,
only certain clans and classes can bear arms; the others have not
the physical courage of the warrior." Major George MacMunn, The
Armies of India , cited by Richard G. Fox, Lions of the Punjab
op. cit, p. 143.
FOX, op.cit.,. p. 140.
"...the Mandates Commission members were generally enthusiastic
about reports on Indirect Rule, raising questions only in regard to
the protection of subjects from chiefs, but never about the limitations
this policy placed upon more forms of political development....It
is a mark of the common authoritarianism of both British and French
mandate regimes that neither viewed sympathetically the development
of territorial politics on a western (or Indian) model...the Indirect
Rule system was designed precisely to provide an alternative to such
a model..." writes Prosser Gifford, "Varieties in Trusteeship:
African Territories under British and French Mandate 1919-39",
in Prosser Gifford and W.R. Louis edited France and Britain in
Africa: Imperial Rivalry and Colonial Rule (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1971), p. 525-39.
Indias initial problems of integration in 1947-48 arose
in the native princely states of Kashmir, Hyderabad, and Junagarh.
Again, it was the Andhra areas of the erstwhile princely state of
Hyderabad which forced Nehru to capitulate and agree to a linguistic
state against his better judgment and against at least four Indian
National Congress resolutions which eventually let loose disintegrative
forces of language-fostered sub-nationalisms. The first Communist
challenge to the Indian National Congress, which was a symbol of Indias
national integration, came in 1957 in the state of Kerala which was
largely under the kingdom of Travancore and Cochin during the British
Richard G. Fox writes about the Sikhs: "After annexing the
Punjab, British administration developed two separate methods of bringing
their former opponents, the Singhs, to heel. One method aimed at securing
the loyalty of the Sikh temple functionaries to British rule; the
other hoped to recruit a cheap but dependable and, above all, obedient
soldiery for the Raj by promoting Sikhism as a separate religion
and Singh as a separate social identity based on that religion...Not
only was induction into Indian army and into Singh identity often
one and the same but also military commanders required a strict observance
of Singh customs and ceremonies...Regiments and companies were sure
to have readers of scriptures (granthis), and British officers saluted
or stood at attention before the sacred book, the Granth Saheb....The
British were evidently quite aware of their instrumental use.... David
Petrie, an official with the Criminal Intelligence Department, wrote..."Sikhs
in the Indian army have been studiously "nationalized" or
encouraged to regard themselves as a totally distinct and separate
nation. Their national pride has been fostered by all available means"."
op.cit., pp 140 onwards.
"Indirect Rule provided the framework of thought and justification
for action. A few of its effects were positive, some very quixotic
and many were harmful. In the southern Sudan, a combination of missionary
self-interest and dedicated administrative indirection led to disastrous
results. Arabic was discarded as an educational medium in favour of
the local vernacular on the ground that it would open the door to
the spread of Islam, Arabicize the south, and introduce the northern
Sudanese outlook which differed from that of the southern people."
Prosser Gifford and Timothy C. Weikel, "African Education in
the Colonial Context: French and British styles", in Prosser
Gifford and W.R. Louis edited France and Britain in Africa,
op. cit. pp. 699.700.
GIFFORD, Prosser and LOUIS, W.R., Britain and Germany in Africa,
ibid. p. 391.
HAGOPIAN, Mark K., The Phenomenon of Revolution (New York:
Dodd, Mead and Company, 1974), p. 147.
JOHNSON, Chalmers, Revolutionary Change (Boston: Little
Proceedings (Assam), January 1904, No. 5. "I consider that there
is no reason to insist on passes being taken. I am communicating with
the Deputy Commissioner, Silchar, on the subject," wrote the
Superintendent of North Lushai Hills in 1897, after the raids had
stopped, and the Lushais were subsequently exempted from passes for
visiting the plains districts. Administration Report on North Lushai
Hills, 1896-97; p. 10.
With the exception of a few tribes in the Balipara and Lakhimpur
Frontier Tracts who were militarily subdued by 1911.
Emerson, From Empire to Nation, op. cit., p.122
to officers serving in Lushai Hills read: "Civil officers are
... commended to direct their energies to conveying by appropriate
means a sense of confidence and pride to the people, especially in
all that can be considered sound in indigenous culture, while keeping
a watching brief to ensure that the people are not being subjected
to superimposed influences running directly counter to custom which,
if persisted in, might have a disastrous effect on the masses throughout
the hills. It should always be born in mind that there is a great
difference in offering to a Hill people some measure of relief approved
by Government .... and offering to such a people a message or direction
of God, the refusal of which may be accompanied by a feeling in the
minds of the people that they are in some spiritual danger or confusion
consequent on their defiance of, or displeasure by, the Spirit."
The only Indians who had access to such documents were the Indian
members of the Indian Civil Service, a class which had to act notably
appreciative of the official policy and perhaps a little anti-national
in order to survive.
Ironically, the Indian National Congress, the party which led
India to independence, was started by an Englishman, A.O. Hume, in
1885 and the most influential Indian political leaders were products
of the British universities or the universities started by the British
in India. It has often been said that the British Empire created the
seeds of its own dissolution.
views certain composite entities, particularly social entities, as
organic or sufficiently like organic things to be understood by the
laws of organic life. The theory is usually put forward as a version
of holism, in order to argue that social entities, like organisms,
cannot be understood merely as aggregates of their parts, but only
by invoking principles of organisation that explain the functioning
of the parts in terms of their relation to the whole. Organicism enjoys
acceptance in both anthropology and natural history.
of the classics in the field of anthropology of northeast Indian tribes
written by the British members of the Indian Civil Service are: J.H.
Hutton, The Angami Nagas (London, 1921); The Sema Nagas
(London, 1921); Castes in India (Cambridge, 1946); J.P. Mills,
The Lotha Nagas (London, 1922); The Ao Nagas (London,
1929); The Rengma Nagas (London, 1937); Robert Reid, History
of the Frontier Areas bordering on Assam 1883-1941; A.G. McCall,
Lushai Chrysalis; N.E Parry, A Monograph on Lushai Customs
and Ceremonies (Shillong, 1928); The Lakhers, (London,
According to John H. Bodley (Department of Anthropology, University
of Washington, Seattle, in his paper entitled "Anthropology and
the Politics of Genocide" presented at the 87th Annual Meeting
of the American Anthropological Association, November 1988, Phoenix,
Arizona), "the colonial approach to the tribal societies"
was based on "a self-serving political opinion, not a well-founded
scientific judgement." Bodley believes that when the policy implications
of ingress into the tribal areas and its consequences were being debated
in the 19th century, there was a major philosophical split between
the realists, led by Darwin (1871) who believed that tribes
cannot survive as independent people, and the idealists,
followers of Catlin (1832) and Kaines (1872) who insisted that tribes
should be permitted to exist as independent people. The realists
assumed that the tribals would either die out or merge with the dominant
society. Bodley distinguishes two types of realists: (1)
the imperialist humanitarians who wanted justice
for the dispossessed tribals and hoped to minimise damage and whose
approach eventually led to an alliance between anthropologists, missionaries
and governments; (2) and the scientific imperialists or
applied Anthropologists who believed in colonial expansion
but felt that the damage could be minimised.
JOHNSTONE, Sir James, Manipur and Naga Hills,
first published in 1896 under the title My experiences in Manipur
and Naga Hills, reprinted (Delhi: Manas Publications, 1987) p.
was considerable distress in Britain during the late 19th century
on account of a very large number of young, often highly educated
and promising Britishers dying in the sieges of Kanpur and Lucknow,
wars with the Marathas and Sikhs, and particularly the frontier expeditions
against the Afghans in the west and the tribes in north-east India.
The following lines of Rudyard Kipling reflect the sentiment of the
scrimmage in a Border Station
canter down some dark defile
thousand pounds of education
to a ten-rupee jezail
Crammers boast, the Squadrons pride,
like a rabbit in a ride !
Governor-General-in-Council Resolution No. 5 dated 11 July, 1871.
Shakespeare, who master-minded the subjugation of Lushai Hills as
the Superintendent of the district in the late 19th century, quoted
in a letter of the Secretary to the Chief Commissioner of Assam, Foreign
Department (External) Part A. January 1900.
Alexander, History of the Relations of the Government with the
Hill Tribes of the North-East Frontier of Bengal, (Government
of India Press, Calcutta, 1884) pp. 253-54.
Philip, Men Who Ruled India, (London, 1954).
A.G., Superintendent, Lushai Hills, in his preface to the District
Cover, Aizawl Records.
opening the hills tribes to the influence of Christian missionaries,
the British neutralized the cultural and social synthesis that was
already developing between the hills and the plains of northeast India.
The upper Brahmputra valley was peopled largely by the same wave of
migration from western and southern China and Burma as the surrounding
hills. But while the Ahoms, Bodo-Kacharis, Koch, Rajbangshis, Miri
and other tribes of the Mangoloid stock in the valley had gravitated
towards Hinduism, the hill tribes remained animistic. The Nagas and
other hill tribes living near the Brahmputra valley spoke a simple
form of Assamese, commonly known as Nagamese, when the British arrived
in this area. Some Naga tribes paid annual tribute in the form of
elephants, tusks, spears and cloth to the Ahom kings of the Brahmputra
valley. In exchange, large tracts of agricultural lands and fisheries
were reserved by the Ahom kings for the exclusive use of the Nagas.
There are accounts of barter, trade and marriages between the Nagas
and the plainsmen of Assam. A large number of plainswomen kidnaped
by the Lushais were married by them, and a number of Gurkha soldiers
and boatmen from the plains who operated the ferries for the British
had taken Lushai wives. A healthy socio-cultural synthesis was already
in the making when the British decided to close the doors to the people
outside the Inner Line and get the missionaries over.
DIPPIE, Brian W., in his book The Vanishing American: White
Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy (Connecticut, Wesleyan University
Press, 1982, pp. 81-82) has described a similar situation in the USA.
Before the American Civil War, the missionaries working with the Indian
tribes in the South overlooked the custom of slavery amongst them
and maintained that "their evangelical duty to convert the heathen
took precedence over other considerations, and they averted their
eyes from what their northern brethren regarded as the moral abomination
of slavery." He also quotes Robert T. Lewit in this regard: "The
temporal good of alleviating slavery was ephemeral; the spiritual
good of saving souls was eternal."
killing of 200 men, women and children of the Oglala Sioux tribe at
Wounded Knee in 1890 is the last reported massacre in North America.
Colonel John Chivington declared before shooting dozens of Indians
at Sand Creek: "I have come to kill Indians and believe it right
and honorable to use any means under Gods heaven." (Dee
Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Picador, London, 1975,
p.70). The British have, however, not been as candid in keeping either
records of all massacres or the sentiments which inspired them, and
most of their accounts are couched in euphemisms and understatements
like "summarily dealt with", "wiped out the enemy",
"established total peace after punishing the guilty" etc.
General Bower led one such expedition against the Abor tribe of the
Lakhimpur Frontier Tract in 1911.
Report of October 1892 from the Chief Secretary of Bengal to the
Secretary to the Government of India.
disposition resembles that of George Washington when he, enraged by
the Iroquois intransigence, ordered General Sullivan that his "immediate
objectives are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements.
It will be essential to ruin their crops in the ground and prevent
their planting more." Quoted by Thomas R. Wessel, Agriculture
and Iroquois Hegemony in New York, 1610-1779 (The Maryland Historian,
1970, Vol. I, p. 100).
as regards Assessment of House-tax and Touring. Notification No. 977
P, April 1, 1898. Aizawl district records.
Franchise Committee (1930) and the third session of the Indian Round
Table Conference (1931) made no specific recommendations on the hill
tribal areas. Only some general issues pertaining to the area were
raised by them and they pale into insignificance under the weight
and substance of the Indian Statutory Commission.
is not clear how a district officer of the Government of Assam serving
as Deputy Commissioner of Naga Hills District could encompass the
whole of India in his recommendations, particularly when the Government
of Indias views on some items in the Simon Commission report
were different from those of Hutton and the provincial government
he was representing. One can only assume that the weight of the British
Empire was behind this provincial officer in his efforts to keep this
area administratively out of India. Or perhaps the hawks in administration
were using this anthropologist-administrator to provide an anthropological
and "humanitarian" basis for the colonial political strategy.
relativism mirrored intellectual disenchantment with Darwins
evolutionary theory which posited distinct gradations of culture on
a scale ranging from savagery to civilization, with value judgements
built into it. Franz Boas was one of the main expounders of this philosophy
in his "Ethnological Problems of Canada," Journal of
Royal Anthropological Institute, XL (1910), reprinted in Boass
Race, Language and Culture (New York, 1940) along with his
other essays like: "The Aims of Ethnology"(1888), "The
Methods of Ethnology" (1920), "Evolution or Diffusion"
(1924) and "The Aims of Anthropological Research" (1932).
of the Evidence taken before the Parliamentary Sub-Committee,
October 16, 1933, Paragraphs D145 to D148.
Ibid. Paragraph D29.
D132-134 of the Minutes of the Evidence taken before Sub-committee
D of the Joint Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform, October
16, 1933, p. 2383. Sixty five years after this exchange, the treatment
meted out to most tribals in central and western India and to the
lower castes by the upper caste Hindus all over the country is not
different from what Hutton was trying to describe. Since he hailed
from the Central Provinces, it is not clear whether Sir Hari Singh
was ignorant or over-self-righteous or just arguing for the sake of
Jawaharlal, Unity of India, London, 1948, p. 188.
this serves to highlight the British, rather than the Naga, prejudice.
It is strange that the Nagas evinced their aversion to Bengalis in
this meeting in 1929 when they could not have known more than a handful
of Bengali clerks in the Superintendents office. Their immediate
neighbours were the plainsmen of Assam who were not any darker than
the Nagas. The Ahoms in the neighbouring parts of Assam are as lighter-skinned
as the fairest of Nagas. This was another example of the British re-construction
of the ethnic differences, and typified the biological determinism
with which they viewed the peoples of India. The British prejudice
against Bengalis was, however, nothing new, and describing this tendency
in 1867, Briton Martin, Jr., writes in his book, New India 1885,
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969): "Lawrence did
not want to interpose any Indian officials, particularly Bengalis,
between the English district officer and the ryot. He replied
to Secretary of State Northcotes concern over the employment
of educated Indians with a Resolution relegating Indians to subordinate
judicial service in non-Regulation provinces, and with a vague proposal
whereby the Indian government could select intermittently a few Indians
not Bengalis for advanced study in England leading to
public or professional employment" (pp. 3-4). My conclusion is
that the arrangements and the histrionics in connection with the visit
of the Simon Commission to Naga Hills were a put up job.
of Commons Debate, 22 March 1935, pp. 1548-50.
of Commons Debate, Government of India Bill, 13 May 1935, p.
of Commons Debate, Government of India Bill, 1935, p. 1354.
of Commons Debate, Government of India Bill, 1935, p. 1411
Zoological Park, established in 1931 by the Zoological Society of
London at Dunstable, Bedfordshire, is a open range type of zoo spread
in about 500 acres of land and reputed for displaying and breeding
a large number of animal species.
Ibid. p. 1414.
Gallacher was one of the founders of the Communist Party of Great
Britain and represented West Fife in the British Parliament for 15
of Commons Debate, Government of India Act, 1935, 7 February,
1936, p. 530.
V. Venkata, A Century of Tribal Politics in North East India 1874-1974,
(New Delhi: S. Chand and Company, 1976) p. 101.
Nari, who was a member of the Indian Civil Service and worked in a
number of responsible positions in this region during the crucial
days of World War II and the transfer of power at the time of independence,
records in his book Imperilled Frontiers that the Assamese
"also considered it anomalous that European and American missionaries
should be permitted to reside in the Naga Hills and preach a foreign
faith, while they themselves were barred entry. The Assamese suspected
that this discrimination was part of a mischievous scheme to keep
the hill areas permanently separate from the plains as the exclusive
monopoly of the British. Why, they protested, should a foreign language
(English) and a foreign script (Roman) be encouraged amongst a people
whose lingua franca was a form of simple, pidgin Assamese?
This could be no less than a stratagem for diverting the Nagas from
their true and natural cultural roots, which had affinities with the
Assamese, to an alien and anti-national outlook."
Proceedings of the House of Commons, Vol. 422, p. 2118.
Constitution makers of India had an unenviable task ahead of them
in 1946. They were beset by claims and diversities on a scale not
known to any other men in history with similar responsibilities. To
resolve a geographical mass holding so many people speaking so many
languages, professing as many religions as there are in the world,
and claiming almost numberless ethnic heritages into a modern state
was an enormous business. More importantly, bridging the Hindu-Muslim
cleavage, and adjusting the large areas on the periphery hitherto
excluded from the administration of India and its provinces into a
nation demanded legal and constitutional ingenuity of the highest
order. Other impediments were none the less redoubtable. The Linguistic
Provinces Commission, appointed by the Constituent Assembly in 1948,
were mortified by what they saw and heard during the course of their
inquiry. The Commission saw the nation-building work of the Congress
"face to face with centuries old India of narrow loyalties, petty
jealousies and ignorant prejudices engaged in mortal conflict, and
we are simply horrified to see how thin was the ice upon which we
were skating. Some of the ablest men in the country came before us
and confidently and emphatically stated that language in this country
stood for and represented culture, race, history, individuality, and
finally a sub-nation."
1955, the States Reorganisation Commission also reported that regionalism
based on language and culture was more easily intelligible to Indians
than did nationalism, and the latter "must acquire deeper content
before it becomes ideologically adequate to withstand the gravitational
pull of the traditional narrower loyalties." Report of the
Linguistic Provinces Commission, 1948.
Many members of the British Parliament had already expressed their
doubts about heterogenous India ever becoming a nation. The debates
preceding passage of both the Government of India Act, 1935, and Indian
Independence Act, 1947, are replete with such observations.
Even Joseph Stalin had anticipated these problems many years earlier.
"In the event of a revolutionary upheaval in India many hitherto
unknown nationalities, each with its own language and its own culture,
will emerge on the scene." Joseph Stalin in his lecture to the
University of the Peoples of the East in 1925. Marxism and the
National and Colonial Question (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing
House, 1940) p. 184.
GUHA, Amalendu, Planter-Raj to Swaraj, Freedom Struggle and
Electoral Politics in Assam 1826-1947, (New Delhi: Indian Council
of Historical Research, 1977) pp. 310-11.
July, 1947 Sylhet, a Bengali-speaking district of Assam, voted to
join East Bengal, which was soon to join Pakistan and become East
Pakistan. Faced with the imminent partition of the country on communal
lines, the Hindus of Sylhet, who had agitated for many decades for
re-union of this district with Bengal, now voted for Assam, while
the Muslims who had been so far opposed to the re-union idea, reversed
their stand to be able to join Pakistan. Sylhet was the most populous
district, and, with its opting out, Assamese speaking people became
a majority in the province.
VANLAWMA, Kan Ram Leh Kei (My Country and I), Aizawl, Zoram
Printing Press, 1972, p. 101.
Vanlawma, the founder General Secretary of Mizo Union Party, met Assams
Prime Minister Bordoloi in Shillong in the middle of 1946 and discussed
the ways and means to keep themselves out of Pakistan. Vanlawma then
persuaded the first General Assembly of the Mizo Union in September,
1946 to adopt a resolution to join India. Vanlawma, Ka Ram Leh
Kei, p. 101. In 1947, however, his attitude changed radically.
He told his followers that "now that India is going to obtain
Independence, we feel that they will be ruling our country and not
considering our own interests.... They have failed to carry out their
promise to us that we would have full membership on the planning board
[Constituent Assembly], and have asked us to be a co-opted member
only, and might intend to give us still less than self-determination
in the future...Now is the time to fight for our independence."
Vanlawma, Ka Ram Leh Kei, p. 122. The translation is by Ramchuani
Sena Samuelson, Love Mizoram, Goodwill Press, Imphal, 1985.
Advisory Committee was set up by the Constituent Assembly of India
in January, 1947, under the Chairmanship of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
to report "upon the list of fundamental rights, clauses for protecting
of minorities, and a scheme for the administration of tribal and excluded
J. J. M. Nichols-Roy, member of the Constituent Assembly from Shillong,
Khasi Hills, was a minister in the Church of God, with an American
education and an American wife. In the Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya,
which the author headed twice as the Deputy Commissioner (1972-74
and 1979-81), the non-Christian Khasi Syiems (Raja) of Khyriem, Nongkhlaw,
Cherra, and Maharam were unequivocal in their opinion that they as
the traditional and democratically elected rulers, and not a Christian
priest like Reverend J. M. M. Nichols Roy, should have represented
the Khasi tribe in the Constituent Assembly of India.
The memorandum said: "Nagaland never formed part of Assam
or India at any time before the advent of the British....In the 1935
Constitution for India and Assam, the areas inhabited by the Nagas
were kept outside the jurisdiction of the Provincial and Central popular
governments, and were formed into Excluded Areas....In other words,
the Naga people have had no connection with the policies and politics
of the different groups of Indian politicians. Ought the British Government
or the Government of India throw this society into the heterogenous
mixture of other Indian races? A constitution drawn by the people
who have no knowledge of Nagaland and the Naga people will be quite
unsuitable and unacceptable to the Naga people. Thrown among forty
crores of Indians, the one million Nagas, with their unique system
of life, will be wiped out of existence." The Naga National Council
newspaper Naga Nation of February 1947 carried the entire memorandum
on pages 3-6. Asoso Yunuo, The Rising Naga , pp. 166-68.
M., A Brief Historical Account of Nagaland, (Kohima: Naga Institute
of Culture, 1970) pp.169-73. Also see Anand, V.K., Conflict in
Nagaland, (Delhi: Chanakya Publications, 1980) p. 64.
Assembly of India, November, 1948, p. 202.
Quoted in Parag Chalihas An Outlook on North Eastern Frontier
Agency, (Calcutta, 1958), p. 57.
Assembly of India, November, 1948, p. 202.
Rustomji, who had taken over as the Tribal Advisor to the Governor
of Assam from Sir J.P. Mills, wrote to T. Aliba Imti, Secretary of
the Naga National Council, on June 11, 1948: "I am desired by
His Excellency to state that the Agreement is certainly to be implemented
and that the machinery necessary to that end is already in motion.
There was never, nor shall be, any question of non-implementation
of the terms of the Agreement." This was to confirm the Governors
account of this meeting is available in official papers published
by the Government of India or in any of the many biographies of Mahatma
Gandhi. Perhaps the most reliable version of this encounter, including
a transcript of the interview, was made available by Gandhis
Secretary Pyarelal to Nirmal Nibedon. The latter has reproduced the
account in his book Nagaland, The Night of the Guerrillas (New
Delhi: Lancers Publishers, 1978) pp. 31-35. This also appeared in
Spectator, London, September 14, 1962, in an article entitled
The Naga Revolt by George Paterson.
recorded a phenomenal growth in Lushai Hills, from 0.93% in 1901 to
19.48% in 1941. Protestant Church (Baptist and Presbyterian) was the
one single factor responsible for imbuing the tribes of these hills
with a love for education. In 1947, there were 260 Primary Schools,
22 Middle Schools and two High Schools for a population of about 165,000.
This was more than twice the number of schools in Naga Hills in the
same year. By 1981 the population in Mizo Hills, which is how Lushai
Hills were officially designated in 1954, had trebled to 493,757 and
the number of Primary Schools to 1000, Middle Schools to 415, High
Schools to 143. More importantly, there were 10 undergraduate Colleges,
10 Vocational Schools, 2 Teachers Training Schools, one Teachers
Training College (graduate level) and 1 Polytechnic by 1981. One post-graduate
campus of the North-Eastern Hills University had also started functioning.
The school enrolment in 1981 was 161,340, a third of the population,
and literacy had risen to 59.88%. Today Mizos are amongst the most
literate Indians, vying for the first place with the people of Kerala,
Delhi and Chandigarh.
Rev. Dr. C.L., in his book The Life and Witness of the Churches
in Mizoram (Lunglei: Literature Committee, Baptist Church of Mizoram,
1987) p. 180, quotes a Welsh missionary, J.M. LLoyd: "In fact
in 1948, when political feeling ran very high, the presence of delegates
from both contending parties made it necessary for an appeal to be
made to refrain from political discussions."
were no inter-tribe or inter-clan wars among the Mizos from the beginning
of the 20th Century, and their last skirmish with the British ended
in their total subjugation in 1895. The next six decades were totally
peaceful. In contrast, inter-tribe warfare and head-hunting was reported
in Naga Hills as late as 1946. The British were sending punitive expeditions
in the Tuensang Naga areas as late as 1917-1919.
pamphlet demanding abolition of ramhual, or a gift to the chief
in exchange for land allotment, was circulated in the first general
assembly of the Mizo Union held on September 24, 1946. Vanlawma, Ka
Ram Leh Kei, p. 108.
top leaders of the Mizo Union Party were Hmars and not Lushais.
P.K., Leadership among the Mizos (Delhi: B.R. Publishing, 1985)
divisions persist to this day, and the Lushais of the State are still
trying to handle and contain a second insurgent movement in Mizoram,
led this time by the Hmars.
am afraid that Mizos are going to vanish unless they learn the democratic
system while the British are here....Some Mizo citizens are genuinely
concerned about their future. However, they are too timid. They dare
not say what they actually feel but merely do what their political
leaders want them to do." MacDonalds memorandum No. 10772-1873G
of November 13, 1946 translated by Ranchuani Sena Samuelson in her
book Love Mizoram (Imphal, Goodwill Book, 1985) pp. 35-36.
The so-called Mizo timidity had evidently been imposed by the British
themselves, and they were quite willing to speak out and express their
opinions in 1946-47 when the departure of the British was a foregone
R.N., Government and Politics in Mizoram 1947-1986, (New Delhi:
Northern Book Center, 1987) p. 76. Unification with other homogenous
tribes speaking the same language in Burma and in other States in
India and an opening into the sea have been some of the greatest dreams
of the land-locked Mizos.
an important Mizo Union office bearer from Lunglei, wrote in a letter
to MacDonald: "Unless you allow us (Commoners) to have twice
as many representatives as the chiefs, we feel inadequate to represent
all the Mizos; therefore, we will not attend the meeting." Samuelson,
Love Mizoram, op. cit., p. 35.
Vanlawma had clearly joined the anti-India faction of the party by
now, he was still considered a moderate because he had supported Bordolois
earlier call to the hill tribal leaders to join India and had also
helped in the adoption of the Mizo Unions resolution of September,
1946, desiring inclusion in India. Another point of view is that the
Assamese leaders were unaware of the new developments in Lushai Hills,
a failing which resulted in serious political turmoil twenty years
later. Later on, while giving his reasons why he favoured union with
India initially, Vanlawma said: " Most of us wanted to become
independent, but some chiefs refused to follow any decision taken
by the Mizo Union. So it was next to impossible to take steps for
independence, but we were not in a position to opt for India. But
decisions had to be made. If we refused to help India and failed to
fight for independence, India or Pakistan might impose a status which
we might not be able to object to. So, I was of the opinion that it
would be better to bargain for the best status that India could offer."
Quoted by Vumson, Zo History (Aizawl: N.T. Thawnga, 1986) p.
last demand was calculated to take the wind out of the partys
splinter group which stood for independence. This is how Saprawnga
interpreted this move when he spoke to the author a number of times
in Lunglei in 1968-69.
Mizos say that L.L. Peters, the last British Deputy Commissioner,
had been warned that he would be shot if he tried to hoist the Indian
National Flag. It is believed that he avoided precipitating trouble
by giving out the story that the flag had not arrived.
is a strong belief among most hill tribals today that secessionist
trends in Naga Hills and Lushai Hills would have been effectively
neutralised if adequate weightage had been allowed in their representation
in the Legislative Assembly of Assam.
is ironical that the Sixth Schedule to the 1935 Act defined the "excluded"
and "partially excluded" areas in British India and the
Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India defined the manner in
which these areas would be governed in a free India.
Brajeshwar, Proceedings of the Constituent Assembly of India,
B.R. Ambedkar, Proceedings of the Constituent Assembly, p.
J. Taylor, Political Geography (London: Longman, 1985), p.
to Henry MacMahon, who gave his name to the disputed India-China border,
"a frontier often has a wider and more general meaning than a
boundary, and a frontier sometimes refers to a wide tract of border
country, or to hinterland, or buffer states, undefined by any external
boundary line." "International Boundaries," in Journal
of the Royal Society of Arts, 1935, Vo. 84, p.4.
Chinese told the Indian Government in 1959 that they should negotiate
a new boundary as the existing boundaries were creation of an imperialist
power. India replied that the imperial British boundaries were integral
to her concept of nationhood. This led to the India-China war in 1962.
See Ainslie T. Embree, "Frontiers into Boundaries: From the Traditional
to the Modern State", in Richard G. Fox edited Realm and Region
in Traditional India (Duke University, 1977), pp. 255-80.
Kuladhar, Proceedings of the Constituent Assembly, pp. 1007-1008.
op.cit.., pp. 1015-1016.
p. 1009. It is interesting to note that the predictions of Kuladhar
Chaliha and Brajeshwar Prasad regarding separatism came true, though
the reasons were perhaps not the District Councils as they had feared.
Gopinath, op.cit., p. 1011.
of the Constituent Assembly, p. 1011. The Naga delegation had
alleged before Mahatma Gandhi in July, 1947 that Sir Akbar Hydari
had threatened them with force if they did not join India. Gandhi
is reported to have exclaimed, "Sir Akbar is wrong. I will ask
them to shoot me first before one Naga is shot." Nirmal Nibedon,
Nagaland (New Delhi: Lancers Publishers, 1978) p. 33.
op. cit., pp. 1014-1015.
Donald L. Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflicts (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1985), p. 601.
Dr. B.R., Draft Constitution, Sixth Schedule, Constituent Assembly
Debates, p. 1025.
the British could not be faulted on this account. They might have
dispossessed the hill tribes of their independence, but they exercised
a great degree of restraint while taking over the hill tribal lands
for administrative or military purposes. One exception was the so-called
the British areas of Khasi Hills, particularly the areas falling under
the municipality of Shillong, where migration of plainsmen was encouraged
by the British for their own convenience. Plainsmen provided the labor
force, clerical and ministerial staff, and trade network necessary
for the growth of Shillong as the provincial capital.
See Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order and Changing Societies
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970).
p. 266. Huntington also argues that "a decline in political order,
an undermining of the authority, effectiveness, and legitimacy of
government" in most of Asia, Africa and Latin America during
the 1950s-60s was "in large part the product of rapid social
change and the rapid mobilization of new groups into politics coupled
with the slow development of political institutions." (pp. 3-4
the French philosopher Diderot (1713-1784) put before Catherine of
Russia a cut and dried scheme for the better governance of her country,
she chided him: "You work on paper, which will put up with everything,
but I, poor Empress, have to deal with human nature, a vastly different
P. Huntington, op.cit., p. 85.
Sanskrit term meaning original inhabitants.
Verrier Elwins well-known books are The Myths of North-East
Frontier of India (Shillong: NEFA, 1958); Indias North-East
Frontier in the 19th Century (Calcutta: Oxford University Press,
1959); A Philosophy for NEFA (Shillong: NEFA, 1960); The
Nagas in the 19th Century (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1960).
Verrier, Report of the Committee on Special Multipurpose Tribal
Blocks Shillong: NEFA, 1960, p. 14.
Unity of India, op.cit., p. 188.
WEINER, Myron, "Pursuit of Ethnic Equality Through Preferential
Policies : A Comparative Public Policy Perspective", in Robert
B. Goldmann and A.J. Wilson edited From Independence to Statehood
: Managing Ethnic Conflict in Five African and Asian States (London:
Francis Pinter, 1984), p. 79.
Ibid. p. 81.
*V.S. Jafa serves in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and is a
former Chief Secretary of Assam; as a Visiting Fellow at the University
of Oxford (1986-87), he studied aspects of the Northern Ireland conflict;
as John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow and a Visiting Fellow at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1988-89), he researched the
revolutionary, ethnic and religious roots of violence, counter-insurgency
and counter-terrorism in the context of the theory and practice of conflict