Zokhopi: Churachandpur, A Land – Mosaic of Tribes

The Statehood in 1972 saw Manipur divided into five districts, simply called CENTRAL, WEST, EAST, NORTH and SOUTH Districts. The Central District comprised of the whole of the Imphal Valley and Jiribam Sub-Division, which in the 1980s was further divided into the three valley districts of Imphal , Bishenupur and Thoubal.

The East, West, North and South Districts later became the hill districts of Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Senapati and Churachandpur, respectively. A fifth hill district, Chandel, was carved out from the erstwhile East and South Districts. These five are home to twenty-nine (29) recognised Scheduled Tribes of Manipur.

Among the hill districts, the fastest growing district headquarters and hill-town is that of Churachandpur. It is truly an island of peace, tranquility, prosperity and progress. Here all the communities of Manipur, nay the whole of India, live happily in small but noticeable sizes amongst the more populous tribal folk belonging to Chin, Kuki, Mizo, Naga and Zomi ethnic groups – a mosaic of tribes, well laid out and glowing with life.

Enthralling it is to see Assamis, Bengalis, Biharis, Keralites, Malayalis, Marwaris, Nepalis, Punjabis and Tamilians rubbing shoulders, inter-marrying and bargaining in the markets in one of the local tribal dialects ! Churachandpur, which the locals call “Lamka” – meaning ‘roads meeting at a mouth’ – possesses an air of fledging cosmopolitanism and can appropriately be dubbed ‘The Cosmopolitan Hill Town of Manipur.’

Churachandpur / Lamka was and is a mini-India: living, thriving yet trying to find its feet. It is colorful, dynamic and vibrant; a well laid out mosaic, bright and attractive; a beautifully woven and patterned fabric of a God-fearing society.

What then sets Churachandpur apart from others?

Not the distinction of having as its inhabitants the largest conglomeration of tribes from the five tribe-groups of the region.

Not the proud privilege of it supplying to the nation, just about the highest number of Central Government Service Personnel, ratio-wise, amongst all districts of the country!

Not the infamous reputation of being the ‘AIDS Capital of India’!

This, notwithstanding the fact that, in Churachandpur, there are about 15 of the 29 different tribes and about ten other communities from the rest of India, each with their different dialects and languages. Go to a town committee meeting, observe a students’ union meeting, participate in a condolence meeting, and so on, and the amazing thing is that every individual will speak in one’s turn in one’s own dialect! The lingua franca is each one’s own dialect! With no one complaining, we all get by. This is the beauty of the place. Where else can we have such harmony? Where else can we have equal importance, and respect, given to others not of your own community?

District Profile of Churachandpur District

Geographic Profile:

Churachandpur District, in the southwestern corner of Manipur, has an area of 4570 sq.km. Its location is 23055′ to 24030′ North and 92059′ to 93050′ East. It is a hilly district with a very small percentage of the area being plain. As per the 1994-95 satellite imagery, the total built up area is 6,726 Ha. (Urban – 585 Ha. and Rural – 6,141 Ha.) and the cropland area is 9,928 Ha. A large portion of the area is either under current jhum or abandoned jhum: 29,323 Ha and 190,447 Ha. Respectively. There is no primary forest in the district and the secondary forest including mixed bamboo forest, covers an area of 118,092 Ha. The area under wasteland is 98,424 Ha. And the total area of the water bodies is 2,144 Ha. (2,072 Ha. of river/streams and 72 lakes/tanks/ponds).

The road network covers an area of 3581 Ha located in and around the district headquarter. The maximum temperature is 370C while the minimum is 10C. The highest rainfall is 3080 mm (Tinsong) and the lowest is 597 mm (Geljang). The maximum humidity is 100% and the minimum 61%. The beauty of the landscape is supplemented by the climate which is temperate and salubrious. The winter extending from November to February is cold, particularly in the hills but days are bright and sunny. The monsoon months stretch from May-June to September with heavy showers almost throughout the period. The spring and summer months are mildly pleasant despite high humidity. However, the low temperatures (ranging from 300-350C) prevents sultriness that is so common in eastern India. The climate imparts the people with considerable stamina and hardiness through the lack of rains during non- monsoon months and the consequent decline in water flow in the major rivers during that period make the state a mono-crop economy

Demographic Profile:

According to the provisional data of 2001 census, the total population of the district is 2, 23,866. The literacy rate in the district is quite high, the percentage being 64.38 (72.6% in male and 56.4% in female). Unlike most parts of the state and the country, the sex ratio is in favour of the female gender: 1034 per 1000 male. With the improvement of the reach of medical facilities, the birth rate, death rate and the infant mortality rate have gone down.

Socio-economic Profile:

The district is inhabited by several tribes, mainly belonging to the Kuki-Chin-Mizo group. Each tribe has a distinct social order as well as community laws .The system of hereditary chief ship as well as community ownership of village land is prevalent in the district. In case of hereditary chief ship the chief is all-powerful as he controls not only the economy of the village through his ownership of the land but exercises social control over the households in the village. An overwhelming majority of the tribal population has converted to Christianity. Christianity has not materially changed the social order but was the critical faith in bringing to an end the head-hunting wars and savagery that characterized early tribal societies. Education rapidly spread through English medium schools. In the last hundred years the society has undergone radical change from the past.

All tribal societies are patriarchal, but the women are not discriminated against. They play a significant role in agriculture and animal husbandry, besides being actively involved in weaving.

Administrative Profile:

The district is divided into 5 Revenue Sub-divisions, namely Churachandpur, Singngat, Thanlon, Parbung (Tipaimukh) and Henglep. There are 6 Tribal Development Blocks. The Revenue sub-Divisions are contiguous with the Tribal Development Blocks except for Churachandpur Sub-Division where there are two Blocks namely Churachandpur and Samulamlan. The Sub-Divisional Officer also functions as the Block Development Officer.

The Block Development Officers are the main implementing agencies for the schemes undertaken under the DRDA such as EAS, JGSY, IAY SGSY etc.

Sub-Divisions 5 Nos.
Tribal Development Blocks 6 Nos.
Village Authority 612 Nos
Sub-Deputy Collector Centre 9 Nos.
Vidhan Sabha Seats 6 Nos.
District Council Seats 20 Nos

District Headquarters

Its district headquarters is Churachandpur town itself, which otherwise is known to the local inhabitants as Zokhopi: Lamka. Lamka (literally meaning “converging roads” is the second largest town of Manipur – next only to the state capital, Imphal. So, Lamka is called the “second town” of Manipur. True to its name, Lamka is the convergence point of the Tedim road and Tipaimukh road (forming part of the National Highway 150). Established by Phungkhothang Guite in 1930, it was also called Hiengtam Lamka [1] as the British used the Tedim road to suppress rebelling villages (during World War I or “Zou Gaal” in local parlance) around Hiengtam village near the Indo-Burma border. Tedim road was expanded as a part of British war effort to connect Imphal with the Burmese town of Tedim during World War II. Tipaimukh road (NH 150) connects Manipur with neighbouring Mizoram (The road is still under construction despite security problems). Before WW II, Lamka was a small, mosquito-infested village on the west bank of the Tuitha (Khuga) river. This tiny hamlet expanded rapidly towards the west bank of the river, and it engulfed the old village of Suangpi (also known as Old Churachand or Mission Compound).

Suangpi or Old Churachand

This western village of Suangpi was originally a separate village; it was 15 Kms west of Lamka village. Suangpi (Old Churachand) and Lamka had different historical origins till they were merged recently. For a long time, Suangpi village was regarded as more important than Lamka village. When Manipur hill areas were reorganized in 1919, Suangpi was made the sub-divisional headquarters for one of those four sub-divisions. The following year B. C. Gesper was posted at Suangpi as the first SDO of the new administrative area. (Chinkhopau 1995; Neihsial 1996). In 1921, a lambu (colonial interpreter) renamed Suangpi village as Churachandpur in honour of a visiting Meitei prince from the Imphal valley. Maharaja Churachand visited Suangpi village during a feast thrown for returning natives who had served in the Labour Corps in France. Later, Christian missionaries (NEIG Mission) also set up their headquarters at Suangpi village in 1930 (Nengzachin 1974:11). So, Suangpi became Mission Compound or Old Churachand. The new name of Suangpi village was later officially applied to the commercial town of Lamka, which sprung up around two market centres, called Old Bazaar and New Bazaar. Historically, Lamka began as a “bazaar” at the confluence of roads; but the western Suangpi was a Christian Mission Compound. The converging interests of tribal traders and entrepreneurs (at Lamka) along with local missionaries (at Suangpi) gave birth to the present vibrant Churachandpur town.

Churachandpur District in a Nutshell

Area: 4570 sq. km Rank 1/9
Literacy Rate (2001) 74.67% Rank 3/9
Literacy by Gender Male 84.98% Female 64.40%

Population (2001 Census) 228,707 Rank 5/9
Population % to state population 9.57% (2001 Census)
Sex Ratio 993 (2001 Census) 1004 (1961 Census)
Temperature 41oC Maximum 0oC Minimum
Humidity 89% Maximum 20% Minimum
Longitude 93.15oE 94.0oE
Latitude 24.0oN 24.3oN
Altitude 914.4 metres (District Hqrs.)
Population Density 50 (2001 Census) Rank 6/9
Telephone Code + 3874
Postal Code Churachandpur 795128 Chiengkonpang 795158

High Literacy in a Cosmopolitan Hill Town

Due to the commercial orgins of Lamka, the town is the most multi-ethnic and comopolitan hill town of Manipur. Lamka used to exert a magnetic pull for many moneyed investors looking for good profit. The Mizo entrepreneurs started business, the Meitei imas came to sell delicacies from Imphal valley, Marwaris and Punjabis opened new shops, some local small entrepreneurs set up paan-dukans, Nepali milk people pitched their tents, Biharis barbers too arrived, armies and bureaucrats from all parts of India add new colour to the human tapestry. The biggest challenge to the futute of Lamka town was posed by the Zomi-Kuki ethnic clash (1997-98). The ethnic conflict disturbed that delicate human ecology. For a while, Lamka became a jungle of security gates and bunkers. However, the instinct for survival is re-asserting itself recently. . Of late, the town has recovered from the bitter agonies of Kuki-Zomi ethnic clash (1997-98). It was a humbling, but sobering experience in the still young history of the town. On the contrary, Churachandpur district (and Lamka town in particular) boasts of a high literacy rate of 74.67 (2001 Census). That was above that state literacy average of 68.87% and the Indian average of 64%. To a large extend, this reflects the contributions of faith-based initatives ( especially the Church and NGOs) and private edu-preneurs rather than the presence of several non-funtional Govt. schools with “fake” teachers in the district. Despite the apathy of the state Licence Raj, the enterprising people of Churachandpur possess a strong drive for success and adopting “best practice”.

Artificial Lake (Khuga Dam)

The resumption of Khuga Dam project kick-started a new economic process. The Khuga Dam has already created a beautiful artificial lake at the southern tip of Lamka town near Mata village. This multi-purpose project irrigates 15,000 hectares of land within 20 Kms of the dam site. It will also supply 5 million gallons of drinking water and 1.75 MW of electricity for the town. The Dam project began in 1983 with an estimated cost of Rs. 15 crores. It was set to be completed within four years. However, the project came to a standstill due to alleged financial irregularities. The ethnic conflict of 1997-98 too hampered any further progress. When the project was resumed in 2002, the estimated cost has gone up over Rs. 280 crores. The structure of the earthen dam has been completed, but some components of this Multi-purpose Project remains incomplete. December 2006 is the revised dateline for the completion of the project. The project got negative media attention due to inefficient handling of compensation to the displaced people around the Dam site.

Demographics

Lamka town is an expanding town with a population of about 50,000 souls. Official figures are misleading as they include only a small inner part of Lamka as the “town area”. As of 2001 Census the total population of the district is 228,707. The literacy rate in the district is quite high, the percentage being 74.67. In 2001 Census, the sex ratio of Churachandpur district – at 993 females per 1000 males – is slightly better than than the state average of 978. However, the sex ratio of the district had been declining for decades since 1951 when it was as high as 1048. Thereafter it fell down to 1004 in 1961; 976 in 1971; and 931 in 1991. However, there was a marginal improvement in the 2001 Census.

The district is inhabited by several tribes, mainly belonging to the Kuki-Zomi-Mizo group with the Paite tribe being the largest community followed by the Hmar, Thado and Zou tribes. Apart from these, there are the Vaiphei, Gangte, Simte, Mizo, Tedim Chin, and some Manipuri Meiteis. There are also other ethnic groups like Nepalis, Naga, Biharis, Malwaris and Punjabis. While the Nepalis excel in the milk industry, the Malwaris are well-known for their business acumen. Despite the commercial origin of Lamka town, the indigenous people have few entrepreneurs since they traditionally ran after government jobs only. In fact, the town has been over-represented in civil services.

Though Churachandpur (Lamka) is the second biggest town of Manipur, it has no urban status according to the latest official records. On 11 July 2006, A. K. Sinha, Deputy Commissioner-cum-Chairman of Autonomous District Council, CC Pur, declared some parts of the town as “census town”. The list of localities included in the town census are Tuibuong, Bijang, Sielmat, Zenhang Lamka, Rengkai, Luoia Veng, Nehru Marg, New Lamka, Salem Veng, Hill town, Upper Lamka, Chapel Lane, Headquarter Veng, Chiengkonpang, D Phailian, Bungmual, Pearsonmun, Thingkangphai, Ngathal, Kawnpui, Mualkot, Gangpimual, Mission Veng, Lhangmem, Gangte Veng, Zenlang Veng, Pangzawl and Lanva (28 in total). In the absence of any criterion for inclusion or exclusion, the whole exercise was arbitrary. There are certain localities at the very heart of the town which are excluded form the census town – eg., Zomi Colony, Hmar Veng, Simveng, Hiangzou, Zoveng, etc.

Educational Institutions

Churachandpur town has two government degree colleges – Churachandpur College and Lamka College. Mangminthang College of Arts & Commerce is a private college which started recently. Due to the absence of good colleges, many students are forced to leave Manipur to seek admission elsewhere. Delhi and Shillong are popular educational destinations of Churachandpur students.

The town has a number of non-functional govt. high schools (with the exception of Rengkai Govt. School). However, the town is well-served by competitive private schools with a reputation for “clean” examination practices at the High School Leaving stage. Some of the private schools which have made excellent contribution to the educational standards of Churachandpur districts are – Donbosco School, St. Mary’s School, St. Paul’s Institute, Blue Star Academy, Rayburn School, Sielmat Christian School, Young Learner’s School, etc.

Connectivity

Lamka town is connected to the state capital Imphal city by Tedim road (also known as National Highway 150). The town is just more than 1 hr drive from Imphal airport (about 65 kms).
Lamka town is well-served by telephone companies like Airtel and Aircel besides BSNL, which formerly monopolized the services.

Places of Tourist Interest

Khuga Dam near Mata village: It is one of the most beautiful artificial lakes of North-East India, comparable to Barapani (Umium) lake at Shillong. The Dam site is just 7 kms south of the Churachandpur town.

Indigenous Arts & Handicrafts: Bamboo or wooden art objects are available at several shops, including New Bazaar and Old Bazaar. A wide variety of tribal shawls are also available.
Tribal Museums: There are two small tribal museums at Tuibuong and Redcross Road.

References

1. Census of India 2001: Manipur Series 14 (Provisional Population Totals), Imphal: Directorate of Census Operations, Manipur.
2. Chinkhopau (1995) Churachandpur District, Churachandpur: Published by Author.
3. District Statistical Handbook – Churachandpur: District Statistical Officer.
4. Gangte, Thangzam (undated) Churachandpur Chanchin (An Account of Churachandpur)
5. Ginsum, H (undated) Lamka Vangkhua (Lamka Town).
6. Kamkhenthang, Dr. H (1995) “Lamka Town vis-a-vis Churachandpur”, Shan (daily), 21 December.
7. Manipur State Archives, Imphal: Manipur State Durbar 1907-1947 – Papers related to the Court of the President of Manipur State Durbar, Hill Misc. Case No. 28 of 1945-46, Phungkhothang Chief of Hiangtam Lamka; also Misc Case No. 504 of 1934 Phungkhothang Chief of Hiangtam Lamka.
8. Neihsial, Dr. Tualchin (1996) This is Lamka: A Historical Account of the Fastest Growing Town of Manipur Hills, Churachandpur, India: Zogam Book Centre & Library. 9. Nengzachin (1974) “North East India General Mission Tanchin” in Jubilee Thusuah 1974, Churachandpur: Evangelical Convention Church; pp. 1-18.

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About Zou Sangnaupang Pawlpi Delhi

Zou Students' Association Delhi Branch
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