ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Tribes and Urbanisation in North East India

Issues and Challenges

An analysis of urban development in post-independence India shows that the country has inherited an uneven regional distribution of city and town formations. No other region illustrates this better than the North East. This complex topic is examined with reference to the “tribal metropolis” of Shillong in Meghalaya, which is experiencing a rapidly changing urban landscape. How urban space is governed in Shillong is analysed. In doing so, contestations by various stakeholders regarding urban expansion and development along with its implications for the tribal population living in the vicinity of the city are examined.

I am thankful to Mahua Bandyopadhyay for reading an earlier draft of the paper and the anonymous reviewer for their comments.

Much like in the rest of the world, tribes in India were traditionally associated with land- and forest-based livelihoods. Accordingly, their traditional habitats have been rural and forested areas. However, this changed during the colonial period. Tribal people were not only integrated into the modern state, but also into the wider economy and society; however, this integration was far from uniform. This modernisation had a far-reaching impact on tribal society, resulting in changes in different spheres of their societal life. Following independence, the process of change has accelerated, and much has been written on the different aspects of these changes. Some of the most striking changes in the tribal society of Meghalaya are the transition from agriculture to modern occupations, the expansion of modern education and the emergence of the middle class, the switch from traditional political institutions to modern institutions of governance, and the shift from traditional religions to different denominations of Christianity.

However, there has been another form of change in tribal areas that has remained unattended. This concerns the urbanisation of tribal areas and tribal people. This process too can be traced to the colonial period. Since the region brought under colonial rule was vast, it led to the setting up of a number of administrative centres for effective administration. The colonial administration needed literate individuals to run the modern administration. As tribal people were not familiar with a tradition of reading and writing, the colonial administration encouraged educated people from the plains to settle in tribal areas to run the day-to-day administration. Soon, the emergence of such administrative centres gave rise to trade and commerce, which was again carried out by the people from the plains. Thus, while tribes encountered those towns during their occasional visits, they did not form a part of the town.

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Updated On : 20th Sep, 2019
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