Revisiting the historicity of Karbi Anglong District formation -I

By Elwin Teron

Arguments are flying thick and fast following the unfortunate and highly condemnable Mukroh firing incident as to whether a section of the erstwhile Khasi and Jaintia Hills District should have formed part of the Mikir Hills District, now renamed Karbi Anglong. Assertions have been made by various quarters since many years, mostly during election seasons, that the district was created by truncating part of the areas of Sibsagar District, Nowgong District and Jaintia Hills Sub-division of United Khasi and Jaintia Hills District and inaugurated on the 17th November, 1951, and as such, certain areas in the Bokajan sub-division should be restored to the plain district. Likewise, since Block-I and Block-II areas in West Karbi Anglong were carved out of the erstwhile United Khasi and Jaintia Hills district, the areas must now be ‘retransferred’ to Meghalaya. How sincerely have the apologists delved into the history of the areas before making such strident assertions on the matter is unknown, but under the present rambunctious atmosphere, as much to do with the storm created by the highly publicized ‘give-and-take’ boundary dispute resolution formula, as also the unfortunate firing incident (though not related with boundary dispute issue), a sane re-visitation of the history of the areas in question certainly will not be out ofplace.
Karbis were subdued
and their land occupied:
Whether it is the ignorance of the history of the region or the intent at questioning the right of the Karbi people to live together as one people, the fact remains that the homogenously Karbi inhabited hill area was truncated into various parts in the past and tagged with various administrative districts due to either forced occupation of neighboring power or indiscriminate division ‘for administrative purpose’ which forced them to remain separated politically. Amri, Chinthong and Rongkhang regions came under the dominion of the Jaintia Kingdom not by choice but by occupation of the Jaintia Raja whose territory at one time, according to Hunter (Hunter,WW, 1879/1998, A Statistical Account of Assam, Vol-2, Trubner & Co., London, pp 203) extended up to the Kopili River in the East. It means that the entire West Karbi Anglong was under the occupation of the Jaintia Raja, but there is no evidence to prove that the inhabitants of the area were principally the Jaintias. There are also evidences to suggest that the Ahoms sent several military expeditions against the Karbis to secure their loyalty. The Ahom Buranji recorded a classic example that the Ahom King sent Nyaisodha Phukan and Dayangia Rajkhowa to Chapanala against the Mikirs ‘who were not paying tributes’ (Baruah, Golap Chandra, (1930) Ahom Buranji, Spectrum Publication, para 267). Having subdued the Karbis by dint of military force, the King established them in their old villages. Pakyntein also (Pakyntein, EH (1965) Census of India, 1961, Assam; District Census Handbook, United Mikir and North Cachar Hills; Tribune Press, Gauhati; Pp.11) noted that the Karbis were under the occupation of several neighboring powers, including the Kacharis and the Nagas, till the advent of the British power liberated them.
There are therefore evidences to show that for centuries many parts of the Karbi dominated territories came under the forced occupation of others and were subject to various cultural and linguistic influences. It was for the first time in many centuries that the Karbis could come under a single administration when the Mikir Hill district was inaugurated on 17th November, 1951. So, the unification of the Karbi inhabited areas by creation of a separate administrative district should be viewed as an act of restoration of the Karbi homeland rather than truncation of other districts.
The Karbis were found settled in many places of the Northeast when the British officers did the ethnography of tribes. There is mention of their habitations throughout the central mountainous region stretching from the Garo Hills to the Patkai Hills in the lower hills ranges and the adjacent lowlands but were forced by “hostile tribes” to migrate to their present domain of Mikir hills (Hunter, W. W.,1886, The Imperial Gazetteer of India (Vol. IX). United Kingdom: Trübner & Company. Pp.436).Besides the Mikir Hills of Sibsagar and Nowgong, their presence was found in the Khasi and Jaintia hills and also in the northern bank of the Brahmaputra in the Darrang District where they were believed to have migrated in 1868 and were engaged in husbandry and boat building (Hunter, WW (1879/1998). The Statistical Account of Assam, Vol. 1. Trubner& Co., London. Pp.116) This migration reached further up to the Himalayan foothills resulting in the presence of Mikir (Karbi) population in Arunachal Pradesh today. Spatial dynamics due to migration are common to all tribes of the North-East which testifies that tribes did not, and still do not, live exclusively in water-tight compartments and ethnic admixture of habitation in peripheral areas is more of a rule than an exception.
But like other hill tribes of the North-east, there are homogenously Karbi populated areas and they were in the Mikir Hills of Nowgong and Sibsagar and in the Ryngkhang (Rongkhang), Jynthong (Chingthong) and Mynri( Amri) divisions of the Jaintia Hills(Gurdon, PRT (1914).The Khasis (2nd edition). Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London. Pp.62). These three blocks of bulk Karbi habitations are contiguous hills intervened by the courses of Kopili and Dhansiri. As river course was a major communication link in the pre-independence era, parts of the Mikir hill tract was tagged under convenient administrative authorities. The 1931 Census Superintendent of Assam, C.S.Mullan (Mullan, CS (1932) Census of India, 1931 Vol. 3, Assam, Part-I Report, Shillong. Pp.2) felt that the Karbis should have been under a single administrative authority in the Hill division. It may be mentioned that for the purpose of Census operation the Province of Assam was sub-divided into three divisions– The Brahmaputra Valley, the Central Hill range and the Surma Valley which has been excellently described in the 1901 Census Report. The logical fact of Mikir Hills being a part of the Central Hill range division along with the Naga hills, North Cachar Hills, Khasi Hills and Garo Hills, is expressed in remarkable lucidity in the Census Report of the Government of India for the year 1931which is worth quoting here – “There is, however, one fact which the previous census reports have not, I think, taken sufficiently into account. That is that in the middle of the Brahmaputra Valley there is a large isolated mountainous block, over 8000 Sq miles in area, known as the Mikir Hills. This block of hills is separated from the main Assam Range by the valleys of the Dhansiri and the Kopili rivers and is divided for administrative purposes between the districts of Nowgong and Sibsagar, the Nowgong portion being known as the Nowgong Mikir Hills and the Sibsagar portion as the Sibsagar Mikir Hills. This block of hills should logically form a separate sub-division and for census purpose should be included in the Hills natural division, but this has never been done at any previous census on account of various boundary difficulties.”
Mullan noted that the Mikir Hill tracts, both under the Sibsagar district and the Nowgong district were very thinly populated with hardly any outsider living in those areas. He estimated that the density of population was less than 35 persons per sq mile. He also produced a map showing that the Mikir Hill tracts of the said two administrative districts were contiguous to each other and was the least populated areas of the North-East.
A century before Mullan’s report, that is in 1836, Reverend Rae, traversing across the land of the Karbis from Murphuloni through the eastern Mikir Hills to Dobaka and onwards the lowlands of Barapani river and the hills around the Kopili found that they were bounded in the East by the Rengma Nagas and in the west by the Jaintias. In the western part of the lowlands they lived together with the Lalungs (Tiwas). ( Rae, Rev J (1836). Journal of a Tour through the Mikir Hills. See The Calcutta Christian Observer, Vol V, January to December, 1836. Pp. 164-174)
The tour journal of Rev Rae is an important piece of information as according to Captain Jenkins, he was the first ever European to have penetrated deep into the Mikir country. Rae had noted two important aspects, one was that the other tribe living alongside the Karbis were the Rengmas in the eastern front and the Tiwas on the western front and were yet uninfluenced by the Hindu Brahmans; the other was that the Karbis did not migrate further into the plains in the eastern front as they were harassed by the Hazarika of Kaziranga, the Hazarika of Bogighat and the Murung Gohain into bringing for them grass, bamboo and wood from the hills and forcing them to do many other things (Ibid). (To be continued)
The Karbis had suffered much ahead of the advent of the British Rule. Pakyntein had noted that before the arrival of the British, “the Mikirs led a precarious life-one section was under the Ahom Chief at Raha, another under Tularam Senapati at Moudanga being oppressed by the Naga frequently, and the third section under the Jaintia King. There was still the fourth group between Golaghat and Dimapur owing allegiance to none but strongly maintaining their position against the Nagas. With the arrival of the British, along with the subjugation of the various ruling tribes, the Mikirs were automatically freed and they came directly under the British rule”. Pakyntein, however, mentioned that the Karbis got a semblance of respect with the Jaintia rulers as one of their own – Thong Nokbe – was employed as the General of the Kingdom’s army and his family and descendants got to rule Rongkhang. In fact, it was during that occupation when the Karbis received the temporal position of Lyngdohship (Lindok), the remnants of which still exist in the Pinpo-Habe system of societal hierarchy.
Secured from the suppression and subjugation of neighboring tribes under the British rule, the Karbis were quiet and peace loving jhumias and did not bother the authorities. The British therefore went by administrative convenience of accessing the Mikir area whenever required through the river course of Kopili and the Dhansiri as road communication network was almost non-existent in those days and tagging the areas with the Deputy Commissionership of Nowgong, Sibsagar and Khasi and Jaintia Hills appeared more expedient. In fact, Hunter asserted as he opened his account about Khasi and Jaintia Hills that the Khasi and Jaintia Hills was “a Political District” created by the British whose boundary extended in the North up to Kamrup and Nowgong, on the East up to Northern Cachar, the Naga Hills District, and the Kopili River, on the South up to the Sylhet District, and on the West up to Garo Hills (Hunter, WW (1879/1998), (To be continued)

Get real time updates directly on your device, subscribe now.

Comments are closed.