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The Immigrant Tribes Of Tripura

Tripura is home to many tribes, including those that have migrated from other parts of India, especially from the Central Indian belt. Adivasi Awaaz creator Anuprava, writes about these immigrant tribes who were initially forced into the tea gardens of the northeastern states as indentured labourers.

Immigrant tribes working in tea gardens; Image Source:Source

Tripura is the third smallest state in India yet is one of the most diverse states. The diversity is reflected by the presence of various tribal groups in the state. The state is inhabited by various tribes that have their own languages, cultures and traditions. Altogether there are 19 tribes in Tripura. Ethnically, most of these tribes are of Mongoloid origin and form the majority of the tribal population. However, there are few immigrant tribes in Tripura that are totally different from the other tribes of Tripura. These are the four tribes of Bhil, Munda, Santhal and Oraon. Traditionally they inhabit parts of central and eastern India. But they are also present in Tripura in significant numbers.

These immigrant tribes have roots in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and the remaining parts of the Chotanagpur region. According to some historians, in the late nineteenth Century the Gond, Kandha, Saora, Munda, Oraon, Santhals, semi-bounded labourers, non-occupancy tenants and small peasants were brought as indentured labourers into the tea, coffee and rubber plantations of Assam, North Bengal and the Nilgiris. The out-migration from Chotanagpur alone in 1891 was more than three lakhs, which increased to about nine and a half lakhs in 1921. The 1931 Census revealed that one-fourth of the Chotanagpur tribals worked in the tea gardens of Assam alone. With the onset of colonial rule and their harsh economic and land revenues, the traditional lives of the tribals in India were shattered. They were de-peasanised and were forced to become bonded tenants, by the British.

A young girl, belonging to the Oraon tribe; Image Source: Anuprava Debbarma

Presently, the Bhils, Mundas, Santhals and Oraons, not only work in tea plantations but also in other fields such as brick kiln factories. Those who work in tea plantations usually do not own land. The land is allotted by tea garden owners outside the garden to produce paddy and vegetables. The Bhils are concentrated mainly in Akinpur of Belonia and Bagan Bazar of the Khowai Sub-Division. They are also found in North Tripura working in tea gardens. The Mundas are concentrated in Kailashahar, Manu and other tea estates. The people of Santhal tribe inhabit the Simna and Mechliban tea garden areas of Sadar Sub-Division.

Living here for a long time, the immigrant tribes have assimilated into the local way of living. While the majority of the tribals working in tea plantations speak a mixture of the Bengali dialects of Sylhet, Noakhali, Comilla, Mymensingh and Dacca, the others who have settled alongside the local tribal population can also speak Kokborok. Unfortunately, due to the process of assimilation, they have lost their own native languages. Nonetheless, they have retained their vibrant culture through traditional dances, folk songs and folktales. The Oraon tribe's "Jhumur Dance" is extremely popular among everyone. In terms of dressing and ornaments, the younger generation is fond of 'modern' attires. However, some elderly women wear old ornaments like bangles, earrings, and anklets made of zinc or brass which they still have in their possession.

Immigrant tribes of Tripura enjoying traditional dance; Image Source: Anuprava Debbarma

It is evident that forced evictions of the tribals from their ancestral lands have resulted in a loss of their languages. Language serves as the foundation of every society and community. The loss of language implies the loss of history and disconnection from one's own history ultimately results in the loss of identity. Hence, assimilation often leads to the loss of identity. Although the immigrant tribes have retained aspects of their cultural and traditional practices, the loss of language can not be compensated for.

This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.

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