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Administrative Policies & Ethnic Disintegration
Engineering Conflict in India’s North East
Vijendra Singh Jafa*

Nation-states 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 India’s neighbourhood – China, Burma and Pakistan – during the past fifty years. Fifteen of the world’s 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 India’s 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 India’s 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.

Chinese support and Pakistan’s malicious interventions, however, cannot explain political instability in India’s Northeast. These have, at best, exploited conditions created by policies that preceded the birth of Pakistan and the emergence of India’s 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.

It 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 Connor’s thesis that increased social mobilisation increases ethnic tensions and is conducive to separatist demands2 , and Karl Deutsch’s3  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 India’s Northeast is to be checked, it is these policies that must be understood and dismantled, and their consequences progressively reversed.

Historically 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.

Indirect Rule & The Reconstruction of Ethnic Identity

It 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 India’s 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.

The 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 

Indians 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.

Although 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.

The 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 Britain’s 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 

The 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 carried out.

A 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?

Indeed, 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 Rule’15  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.

The 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 

The 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 

A 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 

The 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.

The 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 ?

The 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.

The 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.

How 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

It 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.

The 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 

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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

In 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 

This 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

Administration 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.

Government of India Act, 1935

The 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.

The 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.

In 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.

Briefly, 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.

Hutton’s 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."

Hutton 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.

Indian 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 Viceroy’s Council. Consultations with the Indian members of the Viceroy’s 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 Committee’s 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 Viceroy’s 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, Hutton’s examination, and the subseqeunt debate in the British House of Commons would sound like the unscripted version of a modern television situation comedy.

Sir 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 Hutton’s 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 Court’s 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 British Parliament.

Hari 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 ?"

Hutton 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."

At this juncture, Sir Hari Singh fell prey to ethnocentricism, a tendency to evaluate other cultures in terms of one’s 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 of abduction."

Hutton had trapped his opponent and ended his statement with a brief: "On paper."55 

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 ?"

Hutton: "No; it is not recognised by the High Court."

Ambedkar: "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.

Hari 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 all."

Hutton: "They are usually regarded as depressed classes when they become Hindus."

Hari Singh: "Not the Gonds ?’

Hutton: "In Bihar and Orissa, certainly."

Hari Singh: "That may be so, but in the Central Provinces the Gonds and the Bhils are not regarded as depressed classes."

Hutton: "Are they not ?"57 The discussion ended there.

It 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.

Earlier 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 

The 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.

Lord 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 Majesty’s Government have been able to give the House sufficient guidance for a decision upon this most important matter."

This 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

Colonel 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

Samuel 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 Member."61

The 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.

Later 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

That 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.

Earl 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

The 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.

William 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.

The 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

Towards a New Constitution

On May 16, 1946 Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced to the House of Commons his Government’s 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

This 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.

This 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  73  74  75 

Northeastern Hills and the Constituent Assembly

The 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 India’s 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.

These 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 latter’s love for Assam and India.78 

No 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.

The 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-Committee’s 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.

In 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

Obviously, there were a great many influences at work and the use of the last British Deputy Commissioner’s 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, inevitable.83

The 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!

The 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.

The 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."

There 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’."

By 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 India.

Meanwhile, 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 won’t 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

The 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.

Mizo 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

In 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.

In 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.

Before 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.

The 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.

The Mizo Union Party’s 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

In 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 with Burma.

Nevertheless, 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 India’s 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

The 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 India’s 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, 1949.103

The 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

While 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

It 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

It 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 India’s borders with Tibet or China were not defined, his assertion was hardly in India’s 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

Rohini 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

Gopinath Bordoloi defended his Sub-Committee’s 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

The 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.

Even 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.

The greatest faux pas was, however, yet to come. Winding up the debate, Dr. Ambedkar gave the raison d’etre 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 

It 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.

If 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 !

Further, 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.

In 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.

In 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 Mizoram’s independence in March 1966 leading to the induction of Indian army in a counterinsurgency role.

Why 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 and Meghalaya.

Left 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 India’s 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.

The 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 Huntington’s 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 

It 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.

The Preferential Policy

The 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 in one.

The 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.

These 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.

The main objectives of the tribal policy formulated under Jawaharlal Nehru’s 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.

Nehru 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 be modern."125

This 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 India’s 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…."

Indeed, 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

Although 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".

The 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

Weiner 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.

Notes & References

1. Human Development Report, 1996, p. 26

2. CONNON, Walker, "Nation-Building or Nation-destroying", World Politics, 24, No. 3, April 1972, p. 332.

3. 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.

4. DEUTSCH, Karl, "Social Mobilization and Political Development", American Political Science Review, September 1961, No. LV, p. 501.

5. EMERSON, Rupert, From Empire to Nation, The Rise to Self-assertion of Asian and African Peoples (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966) p. 122

6. MARX, Karl, "The Future Results of British Rule in India", published in The New York Daily Tribune of August 8, 1853.

In the decisive battle of Plassey (1757), Robert Clive’s 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).

7. 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.

 8. CEZANNE, C.M.L., The Military System of India (New Delhi: Sterling, 1974), pp. 86-88.

 9. 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 Syed’s 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.

10. FOX, Richard G., Lions of the Punjab (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 146.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. New Statesman, London, September 3, 1960. Rev. Michael Scott, a British pastor, was a notorious critic of India‘s 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.

15. Although 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 "indirect rule".

16. 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).

17. 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.

18. "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.

19. FOX, op.cit.,. p. 140.

20. Ibid. 140.

21. "...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.

22. India’s 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 India’s national integration, came in 1957 in the state of Kerala which was largely under the kingdom of Travancore and Cochin during the British rule.

23. 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.

24. "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.

25. GIFFORD, Prosser and LOUIS, W.R., Britain and Germany in Africa, ibid. p. 391.

26. HAGOPIAN, Mark K., The Phenomenon of Revolution (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1974), p. 147.

27. JOHNSON, Chalmers, Revolutionary Change (Boston: Little Brown, 1966).

28. Foreign 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.

29. With the exception of a few tribes in the Balipara and Lakhimpur Frontier Tracts who were militarily subdued by 1911.

30. Rupert Emerson, From Empire to Nation, op. cit., p.122

31. Instructions 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’."

32. 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.

33. 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.

34. Organicism 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.

35. Some 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, 1932).

36. 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.

37. 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. 283.

38. There 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 time:

A scrimmage in a Border Station –

A canter down some dark defile –

Two thousand pounds of education

Drops to a ten-rupee jezail

The Crammer’s boast, the Squadron’s pride,

Shot like a rabbit in a ride !

39. The Governor-General-in-Council Resolution No. 5 dated 11 July, 1871.

40. John 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.

41. MACKENZIE, 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.

42. WOODRUFF, Philip, Men Who Ruled India, (London, 1954).

43. McCALL, A.G., Superintendent, Lushai Hills, in his preface to the District Cover, Aizawl Records.

44. Ibid.

45. Ibid.

46. By 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.

47. 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."

48. The 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 God’s 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.

49. Major General Bower led one such expedition against the Abor tribe of the Lakhimpur Frontier Tract in 1911.

50. Report of October 1892 from the Chief Secretary of Bengal to the Secretary to the Government of India.

This 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).

51. Instructions as regards Assessment of House-tax and Touring. Notification No. 977 P, April 1, 1898. Aizawl district records.

52. Indian 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.

53. It 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 India’s 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.

54. Cultural relativism mirrored intellectual disenchantment with Darwin’s 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 Boas’s 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).

55. Minutes of the Evidence taken before the Parliamentary Sub-Committee, October 16, 1933, Paragraphs D145 to D148.

56. Ibid. Paragraph D29.

57. Paragraphs 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 argument.

58. NEHRU, Jawaharlal, Unity of India, London, 1948, p. 188.

59. Ironically, 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 Superintendent’s 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 Northcote’s 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.

60. House of Commons Debate, 22 March 1935, pp. 1548-50.

61. House of Commons Debate, Government of India Bill, 13 May 1935, p. 1394.

62. Ibid. p. 1401.

63. House of Commons Debate, Government of India Bill, 1935, p. 1354.

64. House of Commons Debate, Government of India Bill, 1935, p. 1411 and 1427.

65. Whipsnade 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.

66. Ibid. p. 1414.

67. William Gallacher was one of the founders of the Communist Party of Great Britain and represented West Fife in the British Parliament for 15 years.

68. House of Commons Debate, Government of India Act, 1935, 7 February, 1936, p. 530.

69. RAO, V. Venkata, A Century of Tribal Politics in North East India 1874-1974, (New Delhi: S. Chand and Company, 1976) p. 101.

70. RUSTOMJI, 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."

71. Proceedings of the House of Commons, Vol. 422, p. 2118.

72. The 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."

73. In 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.

74. 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.

75. 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.

76. 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.

77. In 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.

78. VANLAWMA, Kan Ram Leh Kei (My Country and I), Aizawl, Zoram Printing Press, 1972, p. 101.

79. Vanlawma, the founder General Secretary of Mizo Union Party, met Assam’s 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.

80. An 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 areas."

81. Rev. 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.

82. 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.

83. ALEMCHIBA, 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.

84. Constituent Assembly of India, November, 1948, p. 202.

85. Quoted in Parag Chaliha’s An Outlook on North Eastern Frontier Agency, (Calcutta, 1958), p. 57.

86. Constituent Assembly of India, November, 1948, p. 202.

87. N.K. 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 Governor’s assurance.

88. No 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 Gandhi’s 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.

89. Literacy 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.

90. Hminga, 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."

91. There 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.

92. A 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.

93. The top leaders of the Mizo Union Party were Hmars and not Lushais.

94. BANDYOPADHYAY, P.K., Leadership among the Mizos (Delhi: B.R. Publishing, 1985) p. 58.

95. These 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.

96. "I 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." MacDonald’s 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 conclusion.

97. PRASAD, 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.

98. Saprawnga, 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.

99. Though Vanlawma had clearly joined the anti-India faction of the party by now, he was still considered a moderate because he had supported Bordoloi’s earlier call to the hill tribal leaders to join India and had also helped in the adoption of the Mizo Union’s 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. 250.

100.This last demand was calculated to take the wind out of the party’s 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.

101.Some 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.

102.It 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.

103.It 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.

104.PRASAD, Brajeshwar, Proceedings of the Constituent Assembly of India, pp. 1003-1004.

105.Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Proceedings of the Constituent Assembly, p. 1005.

106.Peter J. Taylor, Political Geography (London: Longman, 1985), p. 105.


108.According 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.

109.The 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.

110.CHALIHA, Kuladhar, Proceedings of the Constituent Assembly, pp. 1007-1008.

111.CHAUDHURI, op.cit.., pp. 1015-1016.

112.Ibid. 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.

113.BORDOLOI, Gopinath, op.cit., p. 1011.

114.Proceedings 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.

115.CHAUDHURI, op. cit., pp. 1014-1015.

116.See Donald L. Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflicts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 601.

117.AMBEDKAR, Dr. B.R., Draft Constitution, Sixth Schedule, Constituent Assembly Debates, p. 1025.

118.Even 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.

119. See Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order and Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970).

120.Ibid. 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 and 41).

121.When 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 thing."

122.Samuel P. Huntington, op.cit., p. 85.

123.A Sanskrit term meaning ‘original inhabitants’.

124.Among Verrier Elwin’s well-known books are The Myths of North-East Frontier of India (Shillong: NEFA, 1958); India’s 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).

125.ELWIN, Verrier, Report of the Committee on Special Multipurpose Tribal Blocks Shillong: NEFA, 1960, p. 14.

126.NEHRU, Unity of India, op.cit., p. 188.

127. 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.

128. 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 resolution.





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