Land and Law in Manipur circa 1891-1947

By Lalsanglen Haokip

This paper focuses on the problem of land possession and ownership in Manipur following the Palace Revolt of 1891 when the British introduced a Residency form of indirect rule. The paper will critically examine the changing rights on land from pre-British period to post 1947 period through the prism of land regulation. The prevalence of land pattas in the Manipur valley vested individual ryots with landed interests somewhat analogous to that of the ryotwari system. In contrast, the Raj recognised another type of land right for hill chiefs who collected house tax on behalf of the whole village; and as such, this practice reflects elements of the zamindari system. In the pre-colonial era, certain chiefs of Manipur hills were familiar with the idea of tauzi land tenure which indicated settlement of a village, partly mirrored in the later colonial collection of village house tax. The hill chiefs soon internalised the language of rights under the Raj; and even today they refer to dai (right) with reference to their chiefly domains. The coming of Anglo-Indian law of patta into the entire valley of Manipur and gradually in parts of the hill areas heralded the origins of private property in land. The British interpreted patta as ‘the right of occupancy to a land by a tenant, provided it pays revenue punctually’. Further, the paper will see demarcation of boundary not as a definition of territory, but rather as a way of generating revenue. Therefore, this paper will connect colonial boundary making, origins of landed property, and the dual system of land tenure in the valley and hills of Manipur.

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