Dissertation Abstracts

Land and Identity: A Sociological study of the Thadou Kukis of Manipur (India)

Author: Sitlhou, Hoineilhing , hoilhing@gmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
Supervisor: Professor Susan Visvanathan
Year of completion: 2011
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Identity , Land rights , customary laws , Thadou Kuki
Areas of Research: Economy and Society , Social Movements, Collective Action and Social Change , Community Research


Land and Identity: A Sociological Study of the Thadou-Kuki Tribes of Manipur
The present study, Land and Identity: A Sociological Study of the Thadou-Kuki Tribes of Manipur explores the ‘land question’ amongst the Hill Tribes of Manipur, with special references to the Thadou-Kuki society. It begins with the assumption that, as human social system, culture, religious values and economic pattern grew around land; land and identity in tribal societies are interdependent of one another. The changes causes by any external agencies on land will have a corresponding effect in the cultural milieu and subsequently in the identity of the people. In simple terms, it means that changes in land relation cause re-definition of identity of the people living in it. Accordingly, the focus of the study revolved around colonialism imprint and post colonial debates on land and identity.
The Universe of Study is the Thadou-Kuki dominated areas of Manipur where the influence of British Colonialism was more prominent. The Thadou dialect-speaking group of the Kuki community are the most numerous branch of the Kuki group and constituted the second most populated tribe in the state of Manipur. The three areas selected for fieldwork are Tujang Vaichong, Motbung and Kangpokpi. They fall within the Sadar Hills Sub-division of the Senapati District of Manipur. Senapati District is one of the nine districts of Manipur and lies in the North West of the state. The first two villages, is a typical traditional Thadou-Kuki villages which is under chieftainship. Kangpokpi is not under chieftainship system but exist under the autonomy of a town committee called the Kangpokpi Urban Town Committee. The research used the ethnographic method, which would include observation and both structured and unstructured interviews. It is also inductive and exploratory in nature and made use of both primary and secondary sources. It is essentially both a synchronic and diachronic study in which both the present and the past is taken into consideration in attempting to understand the problem thus given.
The study comprises of five main chapters besides an introductory and a conclusion chapter. The introduction presents the theoretical and methodological arguments of the study and a descriptive outline of the people and locale in which the study has been conducted. The first chapter is a continuation of the introduction, which is a description of the social profile and land system of the Thadou-Kukis. Chapter two examines the social ecology of the Thadou-Kukis of Manipur. It reflects the important place of land in the worldview and cosmology of the society. Their attitude and reverence for land is reflected in the sacred space and institution it occupies in the society and the various rituals attributed to it. It brings out how the ecological relations influence the institutions in the society and how the social structure in turn influence the conceptualization of the ecological relations.
Chapter three studies the varied ramifications of colonialism in the Hills of Manipur. It studies both the administrators and missionaries as colonial agencies and tries to trace the varied instruments of colonialism that changed the traditional land structure and impede the principality that governs the Thadou-Kuki society. Chapter four examines the various land rights discourses in the hills of Manipur. The various discourses are categories under two groups—legitimising and oppositional rights discourses against the colonial and Indian State’s economic and social policies. It will study the various Acts that is enacted and the impact of the various acts on the people’s relationship to land. It would attempt to highlight the complexities in land relations as well as in the social life of the people due to the dual existence of both customary laws and the government laws besides the imposition of an administration that does not understand the tribal ethos.
Chapter five tries to understand the issues of women’s land rights in the Thadou-Kuki society; what hindered their access to land, what are the institutions that directly or indirectly support the patriarchal hegemony over land and what is the role of religion in the relationship between land and woman in the society? The debate centres on ancestral land in which there is still restriction for women’s ownership by the customary laws. The study discussed the possibilities of ownership of land by women, roles of women in agricultural production, roles played by women’s organisation in the society and church, the level of influence the women’s organisation has on the overall administration and inheritance issues in contemporary Thadou-Kuki society. Chapter six is about the agrarian transition in the hills from a stage in which agricultural technology was dominated by customs and traditions. It studies land as a livelihood system and as a productive resources for the people and how this has changed over the years, due to the degree of capitalism that has seeped in, due to the influence of globalisation and development projects of the Indian Nation-state. It will highlight how the political- legal-economic measures have affected the micro-level social institutions, the units of the social system primarily the nature of agrarian transition in the hills.
In discussing the relationship between ‘Land’ and ‘Identity’ in the society, the scope of the study encompasses both ‘Geographical Territory’ and ‘Cultural Territory’. We see the external factors to the society in the form of colonialism and the post-colonial state resulting in restructuring of the society, both in terms of geographical relocation as also in the ideological and cultural reconstitution. The two are interdependent as geographical restructuring is always followed by ideological revolution. Changes in land relation cause redefinition of identity not only because of the physical change in the landscape or land structure, but because of ideological changes that accompanies the factors of changes. Therefore, identity as Malkki (1992) had said, “...is always mobile and processual, partly self-construction, partly categorization by others, partly a condition, a status, a label, a weapon, a shield, a fund of memories, et cetera”.