The Meiteis had their own system of religion which had
its own myths and legends, gods and goddesses, priests and priestesses, rituals and
festivals, etc. though it was more or less akin to the animism of the tribals. The Meiteis
embraced Hinduism in the 18th century A.D. The tribes of the hills remained unconverted
and were relegated by the new Manipuri Hindus to the "degraded heathens". In the
later part of the history, when Manipur fell into the hands of British Administrators,
missionaries were brought in the hills. The first even conversion of Manipuri tribals to
Christianity took place at Ukhrul (in the eastern hills) in 1894. American Baptist mission
landed earlier at the North-East andÂ South -east hills of Manipur. Roman Catholic
mission became active in the 1950's.
The Manipuri Muslims or "Meitei Pangals" were settled with their religion in
Manipur Valley during the 17th century onwards. They are called "Pangans" as
derived from Bengal (Bangan then Pangan) the place where they migrated from. Meitei
language was adopted as their mother tongue and they became an integral socio-religious
component of Manipuri population.
The foregoing lines hint at a pluralistic society in
Manipur structured on a multi-lingual base of civilization and culture. Description of all
social taboos of different sections of the people will be beyond the scope of this work.
Neverthless, a brief overview of the general social norms of the people is essential.
Caste stratification was not featured in the pristine form of Manipuri society. the
existence of the seven salais (clans) was exogamous and not endogamous as in the Hindu
caste system. Womenfolk enjoyed an equal status with menfolk before the advent of
Hinduism. "Sati" and "Pardah" systems were unknown. At present,
families are patriarchal. Polygamy once common in earlier times has become less prevalent.
Child marriage is absent. Widow remarriage is socially permitted. Women are hardworking
and are seen in almost every field where men are. Wives are very much loyal to their
husbands. Dowry does not constitute an essential feature in marriages.
The seven salais of the Meiteis have further divisions
into Sangeis (surnames). The components of Meitei confederacy are:
(Mangang) (with 125 sageis)mstheme>|
(sarang-Leisangthem ) (35 sageis) andmstheme>|
There are 44 tribes in the state speaking different
dialects. Twenty nine such groups have now become the constitutional categories under the
label " Scheduled Tribes". The non Hindu, Meitei speaking population have been
placed under the "Scheduled Caste" category. The Meitei Hindus constitute the
largest ethnic group of the state.
In a total geographical area of 22,327 sq.km., a population of 18,37.149 (1991 census) are
distributed at an average density of 82 persons per sq.km. However, the distribution
pattern is very much skewed in the plains as the density in the valley works out to be 529
per sq.km. while it is an low as 32 per sq.km. in the hills against the all-India average
density of 267 people per sq.km. in 1991. The sex ratio is 598 females for every 1000
In the pluralistic ethno-religious complex, the scheduled tribes and scheduled castes
constitute 34.41 and 2.02 p.c. of the total population respectively. The Hindus out number
other religious groups having a share of 58% p.c. followed by the Christians )34.11 p.c.)
and the Muslims(7.26). The other religious community whose migration from other parts of
India a flux during the sixties. The Christian population in the state also showed a high
rate during the decade 1961-71. The population escalation during the last three decades
has been helped by the insiduous infiltration of illegal foreigners from Nepal,
Bangladesh, Burma etc.
Among the hill tribes, the Tangkhuls (Naga) of the eastern hills and the Thadous (Kuki) of
the North western and southern hills constitute the largest tribal groups. The Angamis,
Semas and Saltes from insignificant populations in the state. While the hills are the
natural demarcated habitats of various tribal groups, their phenomenon migration towards
the plains in the recent years have assumed demographic and socio-economic concern since
there is already a demographic imbalance featuring 67.5 of the people in the valley which
is 1/10 of the total area of the state while only 32.5% live in the Hills comprising as
vast an area as 9/10th of the total area. If this is the prognosis of the nature's
disharmony with the heritage bound hill-mode-of-life of the tribals, all concerned need by
geared up to ferret out the cause and remedy of it.Â Â Â Â Â