How did the Muslims start their journey of settlement in the Jiribam region of Manipur? This is a flash-point in both electronic and print media nowadays. Some news channels like Impact TV (Manung Hutna), on the basis of this issue, have discussed many things related to the case of the newly elected MLA of Jiribam, Ashab Uddin. Not only media persons but also student organizations like Democratic Students Alliance of Manipur (DESAM) made a strong claim that Ashab Uddin, the present MLA of newly created district Jiribam, is not a Manipuri (yelhoumi). They declared that he is an illegal migrant.
How far is it arguably justifiable to say that Ashab Uddin is an ‘illegal’ migrant? On what grounds do media persons and student organizations like DESAM say that he is an illegal migrant? Who are the Jiribam Muslims? Where did they come from, and why did they come to Jiribam and start settling in Manipur from the legal or illegal point of view? Why do media persons and other student organizations not consider the Jiribam Muslims as Manipuri Muslims? Is it possible to determine what criteria should be included to declare the status of the Jiribam Muslims as non-Manipuris? Does this community speak the Manipuri Language or Bangla Language or both languages? Are there any controversies like Hindi-Urdu or Bangla-Urdu controversy between the Jiribam Muslims and Hindus? Which languages have they been speaking since their settlement in the Jiribam region of Manipur? Language should be one of the parameters as far as the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS) is concerned. Keeping all these issues in mind, let us discuss these issues thematically and analytically, from the historical point of view.
Before tracing the historical settlement of Muslims in the Jiribam region, the terms Jiri and Jiribam need to be taken into account. These two terms have been coined by the Muslims staying in the region. Jiribam Meiheirol unquestionably manifested these two terms minutely; in the different tributaries which join the Barak of Jirimukh, there is a continuous noise made by Ji-Ji, which is the name of an insect in Bengali. It is pronounced in the Bengali language as Jiri-Jiri. Muslims who are engaged in working with wood, bamboo, and cane gave the term Ji-Ji Pakagi from the word Jiri-Jiri and subsequently designated its name as the Jiri River. Since this place is located on the left bank of the Jiri River, ‘left’ being known as Bam in Bengali, it is known as the Jiribam. This is also firmly and orally true, which gets confirmed after taking interview from Khaidem Bipin Bihari Singh, (around 85 years old), the Retired Supervisor Qanungo (S.K.), Revenue Department, Jiribam, Manipur.
There is no testimony about the habitation of Manipuris in the Jiribam Region until 1757 AD. Some Manipuris began their inhabitation in some regions of Barak Valley such as Jiribam, Cachar, Banskandi, Pailapool, Sonai, Lakhipur, Kabuganj, Hailakandi and Karimganj. There were several successive attacks by the Burmese, particularly in the Seven Years Devastation War popularly known as Chahi Taret Khuntakpa (1819-1826 AD). Some historians and anthropologists consider this incident as the deadliest attack and invasion by the Burmese towards Manipur, which possibly brought about a change in the demographic profile of Manipur. Therefore, Manipuris began residing in these places for their livelihood and protection from the Burmese.
The Muslims who began inhabiting the Jiribam region were traders and boatmen from Cachar and other adjoining areas. They acted as hiranba (boatmen) in the initial period of their settlements. This is clearly reflected in the Administrative Reports of Manipur, 1907-08, 1911-12 and 1923-24 and other sources including Chronicles of Manipur like Jiribam Meiheirol, Cheitarol Kumbaba, The History of Assam from Yandabo to Partition (1826-1947), Maharaj Buddha Chandrana Manipurgi Ningtamba Manghankhibani, The Muslims of Assam, etc. Likewise will they consider the Hindus staying in the Jiribam region as ‘illegal’ migrants or non-local Manipuris as compared to Muslims?
Though there is a sizeable controversy in matter of exact year of Muslims settlements in Jiribam region, it is soundly affirmed that after getting approval by the Government of Manipur, Muslims started settling in Jiribam since 1908, earlier in the Imphal East District of Manipur but now in Jiribam District. The first Mauzadar1of Jiribam was also Muslim, namely Abdus Zabbar, originally, a Cachari, whose tenure lasted for two years i.e. 1912-14. He created a Panchayat Board with the approval of Manipur Government in 1912; the Board had the duties to collect taxes, to build peaceful co-existence among different communities, to construct further settlement in Jiribam. Its members consisted of Hindus, Muslims and Tribes.
After this, Hindus started occupying the post of Mauzadar since 1914. Further settlement of Muslims took place after being approved by the Government of Manipur in 1922. Until the 1980s, no person particularly from the Muslim community had held this post except in the initial period. There were many places in Jiribam, which were given names by Muslims. For example, the place lying near Jakuradahar is called Jakudar. Likewise, naming of other places also took place like Ahmadabad from Ahmad Ali; Kashimpur from Kashim Ali; Chhatigara from Gara where Muslims used to bring elephants; Lalpani village from Lalpani canal by the Muslims; Bhutangkhal because of the growing of thoubom (a plant whose flower is used in making mattresses); Shotobekra from Shotobekra by Bengali Muslims; Chaudhury village from Chaudhury canal by Muslims who worked in the Iyasin Ali Chaudhury Bankam; Deep water (Irel in Manipuri language) Tupidahar because of falling of Iyasin Ali Chaudhury’s tupi in it (the village name is also Tupidahar); Boroikhal village by the Muslims because it is an area for growing plums; Nunkhal village by the Muslims because of being salt water in water of Nunkhal, etc. These place names have been retained.
In 1948, Maharaj Priyobarta Singh changed the Court language from Bangla to Manipuri. There was one incident of riots between Muslims, Hindus and tribes staying in Jiribam in 1950. After that, there was peaceful co-existence among the communities. During the tenure of Md. Alimuddin, the first chief minister of Manipur when Manipur got recognition of statehood, he uplifted and transformed the Manipuri socio-economic, socio-cultural and political conditions with innovative measures. He removed the obstacles regarding Muslim ownership of lands and approved their pattas. The first Governor of Manipur was also from the Muslim community, namely Sayed Muzaffar Hussain Baney. Muslims have played a crucial role for the uplifting and improvement of Jiribam’s socio-political affairs.
The present MLA Ashab Uddin held the post of Pradhan twice. His paternal grandfather, Md. Gulam Rashid was also the Pradhan of Sonapur, Jiribam (1975-80). His father Md. Turpan Ali was the Head Master of Lalpani Aided J. B.
School from 1966 to 2004. It may be noted that Md. Turpan Ali became the first Manipuri Muslim in Jiribam region who passed the Class Tenth Exam in 1963 conducted by the University of Guwahati. When Ashab Uddin held the post of Pradhan for two tenures, nobody questioned his identity, genealogy and origin. Nobody targeted him for being a non-Manipuri or illegal migrant. Now after his election victory in the 11th Assembly Election against his arch-rival Congress candidate Thoudam Devendra Singh, seven times MLA from the Jiribam Constituency, people have started interrogating his identity, genealogy and origin. Why is this so? It is nothing but political hostility of student organizations backed by other political parties.
As far the as the Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015 is concerned, it is pointed out that the phrase “Manipur people” means persons of Manipur whose names are in the National Register of Citizens, 1951 Census Report 1951 and Village Directory of 1951, and whose descendants have contributed to the collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur. Further, regarding the draft of the proposed Manipur Regulation of Non-Local People Bill, 2016, it is seemingly revealed that the phrase “Local People” means People who are citizens of India and who have been ordinary residents of the State of Manipur immediately before the attainment of Statehood on January 21, 1972, and their descendants residing in Manipur. Ashab Uddin and his descendants are within the framework of these two Bills because of the fact that his grandfather has been residing in the Jiribam area since the pre-Independence period. He is a pattadhar holding some bighas of land which have been approved by the Government of Manipur. In this context, some right wing groups belonging to mainstream community have questioned the Government of Manipur during the Maharajship of Chura Chand Singh, with reference to the bringing and settling of Bengalis to Jiribam through bribes in 1948 and 1949. Originally, all the religious communities staying in the Jiribam region came from Cachar, Sylhet, and other adjoining areas. By looking at the overall perspective through historical lens pertaining to the issue of newly elected MLA of Jiribam Ashab Uddin, it is proved that he is not an illegal migrant or a non-local person, but a local and legal migrant. It is illogical that he is being targeted for being a foreigner or illegal migrant by media persons and student organization. The need of the hour is to remove such false propaganda and to build up a state consisting of multinationals and multiculturalists with the ethos of development through the wisdom of the Constitution of India.
Md Chingiz Khan is a Ph. D Research Scholar at Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi