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[Editor's Note: Following is the report of Neicicds team which went to the remotest areas of Tipaimukh(Ruonglevaisuo) sub-division of Manipur in January, 2009. Photo: Neicicds]

Team Members:
1. Immanuel Zarzosang Varte, Director, NEICICDS
2. Lienthanglur Khawzawl, Executive Secretary, NEICICDS

During the survey, it found that in spite of the various approaches and efforts towards tribal development the Hmars in this area are in fact a poorer and discounted lot ever than before. This condition is surprising as the most logical and appropriate thing to be seen should have been a better, happier, richer and enjoyed a more independent livelihood after so much efforts.

So, we cannot help ask the question- “Is something wrong and if yes, when, where and why does something that have been apparently well-planned and implemented coupled with enough funds and manpower possibly go wrong; and what exactly is the level of dependency and impoverishment?” If tribal development programmes do not benefit and develop the Indian tribals anymore or if being the largest democracy in the world cannot teach us the way for a truly democratic tribal development, there is no validity in being a democratic state.

Due to the policy of isolation of the British, the tribal people were rendered isolated with the mainstream and continue to be so, at least to an extent, after independence till today resulting in the ever increasing tribal segregation and gap in development between them and others. As a result of this isolation and exclusion of the tribals from the mainstream:

It can further be observed that the disintegration of tribal system of democracy and administration for the sake of ‘better governance’ in the line of ‘advanced’ democratic nation-state government led to the gradual marginalization and in the process, the destruction of other socio-cultural aspects of the tribal communities like the Hmars in India. Therefore, one cannot help but question the validity of democracy and development as the poor and the marginalized or, what the constitution of India call ‘weaker sections’, do not seem to be beneficiaries of development and democracy.

Cultural loss as a result of a sudden cultural evolution due to culture-contact leads to a culture-shock with an often devastating effects. This is exactly what happens with the Hmars. If this is development, what do the Hmars gain in terms of life, and culture, even going along with a rootless economy of the dispossessed marginalized poor?

Self-reliance, the key word for modernity and development is lost among the Hmars and many others as a result of development and the careless pumping of development funds alongwith the spoon-feeding trend adopted by many as the only way to care for the ‘hapless’ Hmars thus leading to the increase in the dependency syndrome which has become common the Hmars and in many tribal societies, if not all. This is a direct result of the disintegration and elimination of the close relationship of the tribals with their environment and tradition by shallow and short-sighted development programmes that are devoid of any cultural consideration. The article of self-reliance and confidence of the indigenous abilities got subsequently weakened resulting in the appearance of an incarcerated economy. The self-reliance of the Hmars in Tipaimukh has never been as low as it is now. In olden days, the Hmars hardly depended on others to do something which they themselves can do. They were able to meet almost every of their daily needs from the smallest to the biggest. They have their own technology, versatility and creativity that spring from their own vast source of indigenous knowledge system that enables them to create, produce and innovate. Their oneness with nature has been gradually destroyed by the invasion of many external elements. For instance, they were told that Jhuming have a negative impact on their environment and they should seek alternative means for their livelihood but without providing or educating the people on how these alternatives are to be obtained; they were told that they should go for modern accessories and modern education if they are to catch up with the rest of the outside world; telling them to let go of their traditional and customary laws and administration and instead follow the ‘modern’ and ‘democratic’ systems without however teaching the people on the pros and cons of these so-called transition from the ‘primitive’ to the ‘modern’.

One very ironic and somewhat hilarious example of improper and blind development initiative is the pumping in of funds for setting up of a fishery in Parbung village where getting water for just cooking and washing is a nightmare for many. There is no water supply system and the only water source is a small mountain spring where, in winter time, people need to get up at around 2:00 or 3:00 AM and await their turns for hours to fill their pots and sometimes need to come back empty-handed as the water in the spring has dried up. A fishery in such a place is therefore simply unbelievable.

Surely, there will definitely be other things the people need more than fisheries while they themselves have barely enough to drink, wash and cook! Hence, in actuality, the Hmars were, in a sense, much better off in life and economy before they became corrupted and invaded with new ideas and technology such as the above and that too sans the proper knowledge, preparation and infrastructural facilities needed to attain them. They are now in a dilemma- not sure which way to go and are therefore the general public, excluding the few who feed on the ignorance of others, generally distrustful of new ideas. Consequently, instead of progressing and catching up with the mainstream, they are filled with dread and lack of confidence amounting to hyper inferiority complex coupled with a general feeling of incapability when it comes to facing things outside their villages or areas. In short, their fear of the unknown has been magnified due to lack of confidence nurtured by the gradual disintegration of their socio-cultural life by so-called ‘modern’ ways of living.

Moreover, due to the onslaught of all these modern elements, the Hmars in Tipaimukh has somehow got wise to the ways and vices which previously were found only mostly in big concrete jungles called cities and are now sullied with all the formulae of sophisticated corruption, cheatings and easy living resulting in the increase in overt and covert negative elements that threaten to altogether annihilate their society which hitherto was known for its honesty, contentedness, humility, altruism, sense of community feelings and trustworthiness. All these hay-wired results of so-called modernity and development are due to shortsighted and wanton disregard for the Hmars’ distinct socio-cultural, economico-politico and geo-physical setup and the sudden invasive ideas that pay or accord little value to traditional and cultural values- elements that forms the basis of world societies. If this trend continues, the tribals will someday come out in the street openly and demand a separate administration altogether.

Thus, inter alia, the key to a better life for the Hmars in particular and other indigenous peoples in general is nothing but recognition of their cultural and traditional values and their diverse applicability to contemporary systems, grass-root mobilization and involvement. In order to foster a meaningful and sustainable pattern of rural development among the Hmars and other tribals, certain existential realities are to be noted in its historical context. Without understanding the ethos of community practices and traditional skill and patterns of livelihood and occupation and other indigenous-based knowledge systems; continuation of the underestimation of the time and effort their tradition requires for proper evolution, any efforts in modernization- be it infrastructures like educational institutions, health centers, roads and communication, dams or any development initiatives imposed upon the Hmars or other tribal societies are bound to have half-hearted if not badly distorted results in the form of further marginalization and impoverisation.

Due to the introduction of development schemes like dams, mines, industries, etc, on tribal inhabited areas, vast segment of India’s tribal population have been displaced from their natural habitats apart from being subjected to numerous forms of exploitation and deprivations. More are likely to be displaced in the near future. Take for instance, the recently started Tipaimukh Dam project on the confluence of the Barak and the Tuivai River in Tipaimukh sub-division of Manipur. The catchment’s area and the submerged area will touch a vast hill area of three states viz., Manipur, Mizoram and Assam which is the native home of three major tribes- the Zeliangrong Nagas, Hmars, Kukis and Paites of which the Hmars will be the most affected. Several villages in Tipaimukh area will either be completely submerged or directly affected alongwith hundreds of hectares of Jhum lands, not mentioning the non- Jhum forest areas.

The impact on the environment needs not be mentioned as it is obvious enough with a little imagination. It will suffice to say that the area is home to many exotic plants, herbs and endangered wildlife. Needless to say, all in the name of development, this dam will result in large scale displacement and eventual alienation of thousands of tribals already in danger of losing their very identity. While land alienation and displacement have been an integral part of tribal history, rehabilitating them does not seem to be a part of the agenda. This is the same bleak scenario that the tribes of Manipur, especially those in Tipaimukh face in the near future. Even without the added problem of being likely to be displaced from their ancestral home, the tribes in Tipaimukh and other hill areas already face serious problems in matters of land alienation and decreasing forest, Jhum and village areas, deteriorating socio-cultural life, backsliding and stagnant economy, etc due to the inroad of development and other outside elements that invariably follows in its wake.

The continuing process of land alienation, eviction, marginalization and exploitation of the indigenous people is the so-called ‘development’. Furthermore, as direct or indirect results of these development initiatives, for the last five to six decades, there has been a stream of tribal uprisings and movements highlighting the demand of tribal self-rule with different dimensions and magnitude. On one extreme, there is the articulation of the demand for sovereign state and, on the other, for greater power to tribes over their lands, forest and other resources at the level of village or locality. In between, there has been a demand for greater powers in the form of separate state or autonomous regional/ district council within the existing sovereign state or. They all stem from the idea of self-rule, the genesis of which invariably lay in the structure of relationship of domination-subjugation. This has been so as many tribes have the feeling that they are situated in a state of domination either by non-tribal domination or by a state considered as alien and an intruder. The domination according to them has been economic, political, social and cultural.

Accordingly, these people feel that development is nothing but a development of control and not of progress. Hence the idea of self-rule in the form of demand for autonomy is very strong among them. Many tribal termed this domination as nothing but a covert form of Internal Colonialization which is no different from the much hated Colonialization of India by the British thus resulting in all-out mobilization movement and even armed conflicts just as the Indians did against the British before independence.

The MNF, Bru and Hmar movements in Mizoram, Naga movement, Kuki movement, the Bodo movement in Assam, the Khasi and Garo movements in Meghalaya, etc are all standing examples to this end. Thus the question- “has development actually brought development to those in need of development?” invariably comes to mind. Moreover, one cannot help but ask the questions: What is development? Development for whom, by whom and at what price? The irony lies in the fact that development is commonly presented as the panacea for all the ills of the people but the last four to five decades of development era and the last one decade of privatization, liberalization and globalization have further put emphasis on the fact that development serves the needs of only those who are already developed at the expense of the undeveloped; at the expense of those people for whom development programmes were initiated in the first place.
1. Serious case of rapid environmental degradation and rapid depletion of resources due to unscrupulous and lackadaisical exploitation arising from loss of traditional forms/ideals of conservation and preservation
2. Loss of traditional values, cultural identity resulting in confusion
3. Loss of traditional indigenous knowledge systems
4. Absence of post implementation follow-ups in any developmental initiatives
5. Blind implementation of developmental projects and initiatives without prior study of the feasibility of the said initiative in a particular region within a particular community or society particularly within an indigenous community
6. Lack of education and sustainability for grass-root development resulting in a poverty, ignorance stricken population leading to social evils like child labour, etc.
7. Lack of a will awareness and consciousness on the importance of development that is in tandem with traditional socio-cultural setups among grass-root populations
8. Increase in high materialistic tendency affecting the socio-economic, socio-cultural, socio-political and socio-environmental setting of the people
9. Sophistication is disaster in itself if it is devoid of elements of human societies and the values attached to them.
10. Increase in dependency due to loss of self reliance as a result of deteriorating socio-cultural environment
11. Increase in migration and refugee mindset among the people
12. Increase in generation gap between the young and the old
13. Growing class based segregation within the community on the basis of wealth and influence (economic & political power)
14. Growing power struggle among the community sometimes taking the form of inter clan based conflicts or church based conflicts or conflicts based on political allegiance
15. Increase in drugs and alcohol abuse
16. Increase in sexual promiscuity, un-safe sex leading to fear/high possibility of the existence of a hidden population inflicted with HIV&AIDS and other STDs (no proper investigation regarding this matter has been done either by Govt. or non-govt. agencies and therefore merit prompt and immediate action).

17. Increased frustrations, disillusionments, discontents, acute deprivations and weakening of the social structure based on community and altruism as a result of hay-wired development scenario that ultimately lead to various conflicts within and without.
18. Even after the advent of development and modernization, the gap between the numerous Indian tribals who have been living in isolation or partial isolation from time immemorial and the people living in the valley who are politically and economically more powerful and often linked to national or international market and the people living in the hills who have been in relative deprivation, have grown bigger due to lack of infrastructure and other basic amenities for development.
19. Many hill people still practice traditional modes of production and nomadic land use, for example, shifting cultivation, hunting and gathering with a village-based administration which does not extend beyond the community and have thus retained many social handicaps and economic hardships which set them apart from the mainstream or the more affluent society in the valley leading to further marginalization.

1. Grass-root awareness campaigns at a multi-dimensional level encompassing all aspects like education (basic and elementary), revitalization of traditional social structure and mechanisms, sex, drugs & alcohol etc.
2. Identification of crucial players/connectors among the grass-root population and increase direct interventions through minimization of middlemen by the implementing agency
3. Greater coordination of players (both state & non-state actors) at the local, regional, national and international level
4. Identification of the needs or issues that the population regards as most important to them
5. All the above suggestions and proposals to be carried out through:
a. Analysis, understanding and restructuring of techniques and methodologies of approaches to development intervention through greater and more in-depth researches and studies
b. Grass-root interventions in the form of training, workshop etc to bring about awareness and other necessary knowledge required for bringing consciousness on the need for judicious and sustainable ways of utilizing available resources;
c. Combining traditional knowledge and values with modern knowledge, values and techniques to strengthen and build up local capacities.

As the benefits of governmental policies and programmes are being questioned and there is rising awareness that the conventional model of development and growth have worked in favour of the rich and powerful. Therefore, the need is “problem based interventions” rather than “solution based” thinking. In order to overcome the weaknesses of the rural development programme, it is necessary to decentralize the developmental process. This will lead to greater participation of women and will also increase accountability on the part of the authorities. The conventional world of social development has been slow in recognizing the significance of indigenous knowledge. Experts have been very much disinclined in appreciating the vast storehouse of indigenous knowledge systems. Local knowledge repossession and local knowledge management has been a major omission in our conventional pursuits of development goals and activates. This has resulted in local communities appearing as a bundle of problems, rather than as plethora of opportunities.

Immediate proposal:
Identification of model village/s (as applicable) where all the above proposals can be initiated so as to see the viability of all the above proposals.

Note: Local capacity and confidence building through effective interventions on Community mobilization through massive campaigns is needed.


[You may contact the author at director@cicds.org]

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