The imbroglio of ethnic identity of Ranglong

Dr Antiarbum Ranglong
The Genesis of Ranglong: The term ‘Ranglong’ is also simultaneously used as ‘Langrong’ by different scholars and writers. For instance, GH Damant, in his book ‘Notes on the locality and Population of the Tribes Dwelling between the Brahmaputra and Ningthi Rivers’ published in 1880, by Stanford University, USA, in the ‘Journal of Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland’ and GA Grierson, in his research work, ‘The Linguistic Survey of India’ Vol. III, Part-III, published in 1904, by Kalpaz Publication, New Delhi, used the term Ranglong. Whereas, CA Soppitt, in his publication on ‘A short Account of the Kuki-Lushai Tribe on the North-East Frontier’ published in 1887, by Harvard University, USA, TC Hodson, in ‘The Naga Tribes of Manipur’ published in 1911, by University of London, and Colonel Shakespeare, in ‘The Lushei Kuki Clan’ published in 1912, by University of California, USA, used the term Langrong. At present, the speakers identify themselves with the term ‘Ranglong,’ although some of their correlated ethnic tribes like Mizo, Thado etc., still called them ‘Langrong.’ GH Damant grouped the Ranglong with ‘Old Kukis’ of the greater Tibeto-Burman Family (Damant, ibid, 1880: 237). Some of the ethnic tribes of Old Kukis are Bete, Khelma, Rangkhol, Aimol, Chiru, Ranglong etc. The term ‘Old and New Kuki’ is used to categorise and identify them in relation to their period of migration and contact with the plain population of the present northeast India. Thus, the ‘Old Kukis’ are the first and the ‘New Kukis’ the latter, among the Kuki-Chin groups who migrated in their present areas of settlement and make contact with the plain population. In trying to distinguish the two Kukis, GA Grierson further said, ‘Not only do their customs and institutions differs considerably, but their languages are separated by a large group of dialects in the Lushai and Chin Hills. The so-called New Kukis are, so far as we can see, a Chin tribe, most closely related to the inhabitants of the Northern Chin Hills, while the Old Kukis are related the tribes more to the south’ (GA Grierson, ibid, 1904: 2).  The Ranglong being an Old Kuki, its origin and phases of migration is the same as other Kuki-Chin groups. There is enough literature within the academic circle regarding the migratory route of the Kuki-Chin groups. They were believed to have migrated from some part of China provinces, to Myanmar and to present northeast India. Till now, the Ranglongs would chant in their folk song called ‘Nei omna Durnai phai,’ meaning ‘our place of settlement is Durnai valley.’ The term ‘Durnai valley’ here indicates the Kabaw Valley of Burma (present Myanmar). There is no tangible evidence why the Ranglongs migrated from the Kabaw valley of Burma. GH Damant said that the so called Kukis ‘are migratory race, living by jhum cultivation and preferring the densest forests’ (GH Damant, ibid, 1880: 237). After their migration from Kabaw valley, they entered Champhai district of present Mizoram, the then Lushai Hills, approximately around 1200 to 1300 A.D. They further move towards Churachanpur district of present Manipur, and settled in and around the confluence of river ‘Tiruong and Tivai,’ which is commonly known as ‘Tipai(mukh)’ in corrupted version of Bengali. The accent of the term ‘Tivai’ got changed to ‘Tipai’ in Bengali, and the confluence of ‘Tiruong and Tivai,’ got the name ‘Tipaimukh’. The two rivers joined together and flow towards western direction and finally got the name ‘Barak’ in Barak valley of Assam. In memory of those old settlement the Ranglongs would chant, ‘Rili Champhai Zol’, meaning ‘Rili Champhai plains,’ and ‘Ruonglevaisuo kati’, which means ‘in the bank of the confluence of river Tiruong and Tivai’. ‘Rili’ is also termed as ‘Rihdil’ by various Kuki-Chin groups. ‘Li/Dil’ means a lake or pond in Kuki-Chin language. It (Rili) is a big lake in present Myanmar, adjoining Champhai revenue district of present Mizoram and occupies an important place in the history and culture of Mizos. The Mizos still have a sense of belonging to that lake because of its direct linkages with their social history. The settlement of Ranglong in the confluence of river Tiruong and Tivai (Tipaimukh) was approximately in between 1500 to 1600 A.D. From there, they follow the downstream of river Barak and thereafter dispersed in different direction.  Considerable numbers of the Ranglong populations had even migrated to the extent of Sylhet district of present Bangladesh. This is evident from GA Grierson’s comparison of population of Ranglong language speakers in Sylhet and North Cachar Hills (GA Grierson, ibid, 1904: 207). From Sylhet most of them came back following the river ‘Langkei’ which is ‘Longai’ in corrupted version of Bengali (the etymology of ‘Langkei’ is elaborated in the next section), river Juri in present North Tripura district, and river Dhalai in Dhalai district of Tripura. Present settlements of Ranglong: The present settlement of Ranglong is found in three states – Tripura, Assam and Mizoram, having a population of approximately 12000 (twelve thousand). It is ambiguous whether Ranglong speakers are still in existence in Sylhet district of Bangladesh, Manipur and Myanmar. As of now, there is limited information about their existence in these mentioned regions and hence, could not be generalised. In the state of Tripura, they are mainly concentrated in the hilly terrain of the North Tripura revenue district, under Dharmanagar and Panisagar revenue sub-division, bordering Assam, and in Dhalai district of Tripura. The locations of most of the Ranglong villages in Tripura are found in adjoining National Highway No. 08 (eight) with few exceptions having a distance of five to ten kilometer away from the said National Highway. Considerable numbers of ‘Langkei’ and ‘Dap’ clan of Ranglong community are also found in few interior villages of Kamalpur and Ambassa revenue sub-division of Dhalai revenue district of Tripura. In Assam, they are concentrated in Patherkandi revenue circle of Karimganj district, mostly in the bank of the river Longai bordering Tripura and Mizoram. Few villages are also under Katlicherra revenue circle of Hailakandi district, and Sonai revenue circle of Cachar district of Assam. In Mizoram, the Ranglongs settled in Zawlnuam sub-division of Mamit district. The Ranglongs have settled in their present areas of settlement for last 400 (four hundred) to 500 (five hundred) years. It is evident from the name of places in their locality that is being officially recognised till date by the government of Assam, Tripura and Mizoram. For instance, there is a river called ‘Longai’ used as inter-state boundary among the three mentioned Indian federated states. This river connects Patherkandi revenue circle of Karimganj district of Assam, Panisagar revenue sub-division in north Tripura and Mamit revenue district of Mizoram. The term Longai is a corrupted Bengali version of Ranglong terminology called ‘Langkei.’ The then incumbent officials of Assam changed the accent from Langkei to Longai. In fact, the word Langkei is nothing but is one of the names of Ranglong clan. Till now, Langkei is the major clan among the Ranglong Community. Within the native dwellers the river is still recognised as Langkei rather than the corrupted terminology. Since they are believed to be the first settler in the bank of river Langkei, the river ultimately got the name cognate with the native dwellers. Similarly, there is a name of locality officially called ‘Solgoi’ in present Patherkandi revenue circle of Karimganj revenue district of Assam. It is a wrong accent of Ranglong terminology called ‘Solngui’, which is nothing but a name of flower found naturally in that area and that particular area got the name after ‘Solngui’ flower. The Ranglongs once settled in Solgoi areas before moving the upstream of river Langkei (Longai) bordering Mizoram and Tripura. There is again a popular vehicular check gate of Tripura, connecting Patherkandi revenue circle of Assam, called ‘Churai(bari)’ under Dharmanagar revenue sub-division of North Tripura. It is a wrong accent of Ranglong terminology called ‘Chorai’, which is a major Ranglong clan. They used to settle in that area and that particular area got the name cognate with major Ranglong clan. Ranglong as a distinct Community: Past and PresentUnfortunately, the Ranglong community has become the minority of the minorities in their present respective Indian federated states. The Ranglong language has also been declared by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a critically endangered language among the 197 (one hundred ninety seven) languages in India (Press Information Bureau, Government of India, MHRD, 6th Aug. 2014). Evidently, this ethnic community is also very much a victim of amalgamation and delimitation of Indian Territory after Independence. However, it has to be mention that the Ranglongs had been identified as a separate community having separate identity by various renowned scholars. GH Damant put the Ranglong Community under Old Kuki as against Bete, Khelma and Rangkhol Community (GH Damant, ibid, 1880: 237). CA Soppit also clearly mentioned about the community of Ranglong (CA Soppit, ibid, 1887: 3). GA Grierson had again identified the Ranglong as separate community and accordingly undertook detailed linguistic research on Ranglong language (GA Grierson, ibid, 1904: 207-213). TC Hodson also identified the Ranglong as separate community as against Halam, Rangkhol etc., and put it under Old Kuki group (TC Hodson, ibid, 1911: 19). Besides, Colonel Shakespeare highlights the Ranglong as distinct to other tribal languages (Colonel Shakespeare, ibid, 1912: 225). Kenneth VanBik, in his research works on, ‘Proto-Kuki-Chin: A Reconstructed Ancestor of the Kuki-Chin Language’ grouped the Ranglong with Old Kuki as against Halam, Rangkhol, Aimol etc., (Kenneth VanBik 2009: 20). MK Bhasin, in his research works, ‘Genetics of Castes and Tribes of India: Indian Population Milieu’ also clearly identify the Ranglong as separate community alongside Lushai/Mizo, Rangkhol, Halam etc., (MK Bhasin 2006: 268). However, the present status of the community is such that it has no official recognition in their respective federated states as Ranglong. The respective state administration has rather merged them with different communities. The Ranglongs in Tripura has been merged with Halam and Tripuri Community, whereas in Assam with the Kuki, Rangkhol/Hrangkhawl and Tripuri Community. In Mizoram they were merged with Rangkhol/Hrangkhawl and any other Mizo tribes (as per the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Orders ‘Amendment’ Act 1976). The repercussion is that maximum of the Ranglongs are using the new community, with whom they were merged, as their surname. The serious irony is that, those communities grouped under Old Kuki alongside Ranglong, like Bete, Khelma, Rangkhol, Aimol, Chiru etc., have been recognised as separate tribal community since Indian Independence. Unfortunately, the existence of Ranglong Community has deteriorated to the point of extinction. However, young and learned generations of the Ranglongs have been slowly and steadily recuperating its past identity in the recent years. Conclusion: Considering their merger with different communities in three federated states in India, the Ranglong community is passing through serious identity crisis. They are officially compelled to identify themselves to a community with which the state government had merged them. However, it is found that they have been very vocal on their distinct identity as ‘Ranglong’ and acknowledged their common identity in diverse socio-cultural activities. The Ranglong Youth Association (RYA), a registered association under Societies Registration Act, 1860, and the only umbrella organisation, have been playing a big role for the socio-cultural uplift of the Ranglong community since its inception in 1994.Indian Constitution contains provisions to accommodate diverse ethnic aspiration without compromising India’s sovereignty. But a big challenge is how to convince the respective state administration to address their demand of having a distinct identity. If the criterion to get separate community recognition lies exclusively within the domain of political bargaining power, as is generally experienced, it would be a case of victimising the victim for the Ranglong. So, there is anticipation among the Ranglongs that if the respective state administration does not take some proactive measures to establish and locate the fact, the Ranglong would continue to be victims of injustice. Therefore, it is not wrong to draw the attention of both union government and state governments particularly Tripura, Assam and Mizoram where Ranglong population is found, and divulge the authenticity of their distinctiveness. (The writer is Asst Prof, Department of Public Administration, Maharaja Bir Bikram University, Agartala, Tripura. He can be contacted at [email protected])


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