The Khasis of Barak Valley, Assam

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  • Topic: Assam, Meghalaya, Areca nut
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  • Published : April 2, 2012
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THE KHASIS OF BARAK VALLEY, ASSAM

Anthropologists have taken the word ‘tribe’ from its ordinary usage, which had different meanings. Generally, it meant people who were primitive, living in a backward area and did not know how to write. Sometimes it was synonymous with the term ‘race’. In fact there was no precise meaning given to the term ‘tribe’.[1]

Theoretically, a tribe is an ideal State, a self contained unit. It is a society in itself, i.e. a collection of individuals sharing a common culture. The tribe also has a cultural boundary which is less well-defined. Though it is a society based upon kinship, social stratification is absent.[2]

In India today hardly any of the tribes exist as a separate society. They have been absorbed in varying degrees into the wider society of India. The process of absorption has been going on for centuries. In fact, no tribe in India today has a completely separate political boundary.[3] There were two congruent processes at work in the country, both at the larger and local levels. Currents of ideology swept across the country right from the ancient period onwards, and, there were also the formations, ways of life and aspects of material culture, which were local in their dimensions. So, when we refer to the mainstream of Indian society and culture, we are recognizing ideologically, the dual aspect of our society. The recognition is of the twin processes of uniformity and unity on the one hand, and, a larger canvas of diversity and plurality on the other, embedded in our existence as a people, as a country. Hence, in this broad historical and civilizational context, tribes are relatively isolated and backward communities of our country.[4]

Tribals in India are closely associated with forests. There are some, who, even today spend the greater part of their lives in the proximity of trees. It is for this reason that the aboriginals were often referred to as ‘jangali’. This term today stands for ‘uncouth’ or ‘uncivilized’. Literally, it meant ‘forest dweller’. Tribal communities living in settlements surrounded by forests considered the woods as their own. In Northeast India there are tribes who claim forest tracts as clan or village property, having clearly defined boundaries. Here, only the members of the clan or village in question are allowed to hunt or cut firewood.[5]

The green revolution brought with it tremendous changes. A certain type of modernization in outlook appeared in all aspects of tribal life. Whereas at one time tribals could be easily distinguished by their food habits, dressing patterns and house constructions, now these distinctions are no more observable. They are also found nowadays in restaurants, cinema houses, beauty parlours and not just that, even their dressing style has changed! Thus, the tribals have established their links with the region, state and nation.[6]

Consumerism and mass culture have brought about significant changes in the lifestyle of tribals. In the past, they had limited or no consumerism. Most of their needs were fulfilled through their own production. The weekly market met their basic needs. No artificial needs were created! But globalization created a large number of needs through the new communication technologies, particularly the visual media. Consumerism is thus pushed forward through the new techniques of media.[7]

The economy of the northeastern region is rural-area based and dominated by tea, oil and timber and have large inaccessible areas with sparse population and inadequate infrastructure. Industries do not have a significant impact on the economic growth of the region. Though there has been sufficient financial allocation, the pace of development has been far from satisfactory. To make matters worse, the pressure of population has nullified economic development. The major causes of economic imbalances are due to increasing demand for forest resources to meet the basic...
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